Professional Biography:

Rabbi SaraLeya Schley was ordained in 2005 by the ALEPH Rabbinical Program of the Jewish Renewal Movement.  From 2001-2021 she served many communities throughout the West as spiritual leader:  Renewal, unaffiliated, and Conservative.  Between 2008-2014 she was Rabbi to Chochmat HaLev in Berkeley, CA.  In 2019 she was designated a Senior Rabbinic Fellow by the Shalom Hartman Institute. Having moved back to Northern Nevada in 2018 to live closer to family, she leads prayer and leyns Torah regularly.  She continues to be involved with various Renewal communities, including Wilderness Torah, Torah of Awakening and Chochmat HaLev, as an adjunct leader, teacher and elder.

In 2017, she received a special ordination from the Integral Halachah Institute as a placeholder within the Jewish Renewal movement for a dynamic and responsive relationship to the halakhic process. 

She leads ritual and prayer and teaches across the spectrum of Jewish practice, bringing a spiritual and ethical perspective to her love of traditional text study.  Facilitating vibrant, individualized life-cycle rituals brings great joy to her work as a Rabbi, particularly working with multi-faith and non-traditional families.

She is mother to three married adult children and savta to her four beloved grandchildren. 

Other Degrees and Certifications:

  • 1971 M.A., University of Pennsylvania
  • 1973 M.Phil., Thesis: The Perception of Musical Form, University of Edinburgh, Scotland
  • 1977 M.D., University of Pennsylvania
  • 1996 Masters in Counseling, University of Phoenix, Tucson, AZ
  • 1998 Certification:  Academy for Guided Imagery 
  • 1999-ongoing: Facilitator, Soul Memory Discovery
  • 2015 Wise Aging Facilitator training, Institute of Jewish Spirituality

Personal Spiritual Journey (the very short version)….

I am often asked how an Ob-Gyn physician evolved into a Rabbi….

My parents were first-generation Americans, their parents having immigrated from the Pale of Settlement at the turn of the 20th century. I grew up in the Conservative Movement in Philadelphia.  There, nuggets of prayers and nusah (the melodies for the prayer service) were deeply implanted into my soul and heart by our old-world hazan, but I did not find the answers to the existential questions that disturbed my intellectually curious mind.   Although I would not have used that terminology back then, during the 70’s, I found my spiritual sustenance in the mountains and while rock-climbing.  And this was the path I followed throughout medical school and during the early years of my medical practice. So long as periodically I was on top of a mountain or suspended from a cliff with a wide vista, my spiritual thirst was quenched.  In 1981, I moved to Bishop, CA and eventually married my climbing partner (who is not Jewish).  After moving to Reno, NV, in my mid-30’s, when my children were born, I was surprised when I realized that their Jewishness was important to me. 

Then, when the children were still young, I developed a problem with the nerves in my arms that made grasping objects impossible (it turned out to be a combination of over-use injury and genetics that is not-uncommon in climbers).  I could no longer do surgery, rock-climb, pick up my children with my hands, reliably hold onto dishes, ride a bike or play the piano.   A dark night of the soul ensued and, in 1997, through an unlikely chain of connections, I made my way to Elat Chayyim, the Jewish Renewal retreat center near New Paltz, NY.  Finding there a vibrant, joyous, embodied, mystical, spiritual Judaism, I was immediately entranced, and, within 2 years, I had decided to join the Aleph Rabbinical Program (despite my minimal starting knowledge base).  I often describe the process as stepping into a whirlwind as a novice and being spit out the top as a Rabbi 6 years later. 

Incidentally, with surgery, yoga and meditation, the hands are much better, although not strong as before.  I continued to work as an office-based physician throughout my rabbinic career until retiring from medicine in 2015,