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A healing connection

Debrah Shenefelt leads the area's only Jewish Renewal group, helping people reach spiritual healing through meditation, prayer and chants.

Published September 19, 2003

LUTZ - People might think Debrah Shenefelt is breaking new ground, that religious healing - at least in the Jewish faith - is some new fad.

But the concept is ancient. The Old Testament tells of Moses speaking to God when his sister, Miriam, was stricken with leprosy.

"And Moses cried unto the Lord, saying, heal her now, O God, I beseech thee," says the passage in Numbers 12:13.

Christians sanctioned healing throughout the Middle Ages, and many followers continued the activity at shrines of saints all over the world.

Today it's becoming more accepted in Jewish circles as well.

"We're just in a time when these kinds of things are being mined for in our religion," said 53-year-old Shenefelt, a rabbinical student who leads healing circles in Tampa.

"People have made it clear that there is a need for healing on a soul level. And because we had such a massive exodus for so long of Jews to other religions and philosophies, the rabbis responded by pointing out that healing has always been a part of Judaism. Now they teach it, too."

Shenefelt, who lives in Lutz, came to healing through her studies and through Or Ahava, the Tampa Bay area's only Jewish Renewal group. Renewal is a branch of Judaism that emphasizes meditation and other alternative forms of prayer and observance.

At her circles participants pray, meditate, sing and chant. Many of the songs and chants center on traditional prayers about Moses and Jeremiah and call for true spiritual healing.

Unlike some classic healers that center on cures and miracles, Shenefelt says her role is to "facilitate people to connect to their inner selves, and to cleave to God for strength and support."

According to the Jewish perspective, Shenefelt explained, any sort of pain results from internal struggles or challenges. Healing should address this hurt, making the person feel whole.

The healer's job is to help the sufferer understand the challenges that create the pain, integrate that knowledge, and then achieve an inner balance and spiritual growth through a dialogue and a connection with God.

"It's like a radio, where you can hear the music, but you also hear the static," she said."I try to help them get rid of the static."

Shenefelt helped found the group three years ago, and serves as its spiritual leader, holding Sabbath services once a month, as well as conducting all holiday services and counseling the members of the community.

"I do soul guidance work," she said. "I don't have the answers. I try to help people find them inside themselves."

When not involved with Or Ahava or her healing services, Shenefelt keeps busy with her studies at the University of South Florida. She also is enrolled, long-distance, in a master's program at Hebrew College of Boston. She estimates that she spends about eight hours a day studying.

It's a busy life in which she also makes time for exercise, her own prayer and meditation and teaching Judaic courses at local synagogues and Hebrew schools.

Shenefelt, a onetime policy analyst for the Illinois Department of Corrections, is married to a dermatologist, Dr. Phil Shenefelt, and has a daughter, Shaina, in ninth grade at Tampa Preparatory School.

"Sometimes she's really busy and I need her to drive me someplace, and sometimes I get fed up with that," Shaina said. "But then I calm down and realize she's just doing what she has to do, and I'm really proud of that. She's taught me to always pursue my dream."

Shenefelt's own dreams crystalized rather late in life. "I didn't realize my calling in life till I was 45. Therefore, I have very little time left," she said. "My Rebbe started training when he was 3, and here I (was) in my mid 40s. I need to get this all done now."

Despite feeling pressed for time, Shenefelt said, "I love every minute of it."

- For information about Or Ahava, upcoming High Holiday services or healing circles, call Shenefelt at 968-7850. Contact Sheryl Kay at

[Last modified September 18, 2003, 10:36:32]

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