Local woman is ordained a Hebrew priestess
A traumatic incident changed the course of Batya Minsky Diamond’s life, leading her to become a Hebrew priestess.
Five years ago, her daughter was severely injured in an accident. The family was overwhelmed coping with the girl’s hospitalization, when Diamond did something she never expected to do.
She reached out to the community for help.
“I was looking for spiritual help and wanted the community to send their thoughts and prayers our way,” she said.
People reached out to Diamond’s family in a big way, doing things like arranging meals for them so they could focus on their daughter’s healing. Their kind acts helped the family emotionally.
“I realized how much it took to ask for help and how generous people were by offering it. So, I thought, how can I receive and how can I give help?”
Fast forward to today, and Diamond is carrying out her plan to help others in her position as a Hebrew priestess.
A former resident of Wilton, Diamond now lives in Norwalk and recently became part of the TLC Networking Group there, a group of independent practitioners, healers, and yoga teachers.
Through that group, Diamond offers rituals for anyone in transition, such as people who are going through divorce or empty nesters.
Diamond also volunteers for a women’s circle for the new moon and she held a summer solstice celebration at her home. She also volunteers at Silver Hill Hospital.
On Aug. 9, Diamond took things one step further in her spiritual journey, when she and 21 other women were ordained by the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute at a ceremony at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, Conn.
As a Hebrew priestess, Diamond is not a rabbi and does not have an official position in the Jewish religion.
But she is a spiritual leader. She assists with wedding ceremonies, bar and bat mitzvahs, Jewish study classes, and leads Jewish high holiday services at the Wilton Library, among other things.
“For me, being a Hebrew priestess means guiding people on a spiritual path in a personal way, connecting to the earth, elements and nature,” she said.
The Kohenet Institute, which ordained Diamond, is described as “an utterly new, yet ancient movement, drawing on stories of women of the Bible and Talmud as well as ancient, medieval, and modern ritual practices to create a Jewish experience that is transformative, reverent, and inclusive,” according to Rabbi Jill Hammer, co-founder of Kohenet and the director of spiritual education at the Academy of Jewish Religion.
To earn the Hebrew priestess designation, Diamond enrolled in the Kohenet program consisting of seven weeklong retreats over the course of three years at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village.
During the first cycle of training retreats, the group explored 13 archetypes of the ancient Hebrew priestesses, including maiden, midwife, prophetess, mother, wise woman, shamaness, lover and fool.
After studying ancient Israelite sources, Jewish texts and folklore, the group focused on life-cycle ritual skills, such as birth and naming ceremonies, coming-of-age and wedding rituals, and funeral and death rites.
“I had the opportunity to learn from wise teachers,” Diamond said. “One taught me speaking and listening. Another is a writer who showed me how she weaves together teachings and stories from the Bible. Herbalists and activists also inspired me, so I am more active now in voter registration and activism,” she said.
What she especially liked about her group was the diversity of the women involved, ranging in age from mid 20s to 70s. “There were Jews of color and a trans woman, so I had arms wide open for people of different backgrounds,” she said.
Born in Brooklyn, Diamond grew up on Long Island, N.Y., and went to Hebrew day school through eighth grade. At her bat mitzvah religious ceremony when she was 12, she recalls not being allowed to read from the Torah because she was a girl.
“In the 1970s, in Conservative and Orthodox Judaism, girls were not allowed to read from the Torah,” she said.
Being excluded from that experience because of her sex stuck with her, and in 1995, Diamond underwent a spiritual awakening after her son was born.
Following his bris religious ceremony, Diamond said she needed to understand where she stood with her Jewish faith. “It came alive to me through music. I started writing songs of inspiration and motivation,” she said.
Diamond became a performing musician, playing guitar, keyboard and hand drums.
As Ellen Diamond, she worked for 95.9 The Fox, then WEBE 108 as a traffic reporter and disc jockey.
In 1996, Diamond changed her first name from Ellen to Batya, concurrently with her spiritual awakening. “Bat means daughter and Ya means divine, so Batya means daughter of the divine,” she said.
As a Hebrew priestess, Diamond is spreading the divine word through rituals, ceremonies, and her music. For more, visit batyadiamond.bandcamp.com.