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Rabbi Denise Handlarski

Oraynu’s Spiritual Leader and Program Director
Licensed to perform marriages

Rabbi Denise Handlarski was ordained in 2013 by the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism. She was appointed Oraynu’s Rabbi in June 2015, succeeding Rabbi Karen Levy (now Rabbi Emerita) in that role, following Rabbi Levy’s retirement. She served as Assistant Rabbi for two years, and as a Madrikha prior to that. She also works with the school and teen programs, and leads young adult programs for those in their 20s and 30s. Denise represents Oraynu on the Toronto Downtown Jewish Community Council. She is also an active member of the Association of Humanist Rabbis.

For her Rabbinic thesis, Denise studied the Torah and its commentaries, producing a weekly Humanistic commentary on the weekly sections (parashot). Her interest in Jewish texts includes reading and teaching the Torah as literature, a paper on which she presented at the Modern Language Association (2012). Denise also loves reading and leading discussions about Jewish novels and literature. For Oraynu’s past several Yom Kippur “Stories of Transformation” events, she has researched and written stories about South African anti-apartheid activist Arthur Goldreich, children’s author Maurice Sendak, feminist poet Adrienne Rich, and pro-choice advocate Henry Morgentaler.

Denise has a Ph.D. in English literature from York University, as well as a Master’s Degree in Jewish studies from York. She has also earned degrees in literature, gender studies, and education, all of which support her rabbinic work. Denise is interested in feminist and female-centred Jewish text and programming, and has run sessions on the Book of Ruth from a feminist and Humanistic perspective, as well as written papers about Jewish feminism. As a life-long educator, Denise enjoys teaching and learning with groups of all ages, from adult programs, to school-based lessons, to study groups. She has coordinated education programs, taught in B’nai Mitzvah classes, and worked in many Jewish and non-Jewish education contexts.

In addition to her work at Oraynu, Denise teaches at the Trent School of Education, helping ground emerging teachers in literacy and social justice training. She is still active in the schools with the Toronto District School Board. And she teaches self-defense courses for women.

Denise loves the way in which rabbinic work offers her an opportunity to connect with congregants and the broader community. Whether through life cycles events such as weddings or baby-namings, public education programs, or congregational work, Denise is inspired and delighted by her community, and hopes to offer those in her community some inspiration in return.

Contact: rabbidenise@oraynu.org