New Rabbi Elizabeth Bonney-Cohen Has Decided To Join The HBHA Team!


Bonney-Cohen returned to Kansas after spending many years in Boston. Image by Elizabeth Bonney-Cohen.

Gabrielle Sosland, Writer

Rabbi Elizabeth Bonney-Cohen, Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy’s (HBHA) new Rabbi for Outreach and Young Family Engagement has joined us for the 2022-2023 school year. Her bright smile never fails to brighten your day when she’s walking down the hallway, and she teaches her classes with much love and dedication. Bonney-Cohen has moved back to Kansas City from Boston where she lived with her three kids Ma’or (5), Tziona (3), Tehillah (1), and her husband Matt Bonney-Cohen. Bonney-Cohen grew up in Kansas City and continued on in Missouri when attending William Jewell college for her undergraduate degree. 


“I was really involved in the church growing up,” Bonney-Cohen explains, “I did a lot of religious education, but I… always identified as Presbyterian.” Bonney-Cohen grew up attending Barstow for grade school and Sion for high school. When attending college, Bonney-Cohen received a full ride to Yale divinity school and decided to take them up on the offer. While attending Yale, Bonney-Cohen was interested in learning more about Judaism. She came across a Judaism 101 class and decided to attend it as a way to “jumpstart” her faith, but instead, she ended up completely falling in love with the religion. Bonney-Cohen says, “everything about it felt like a real sense of coming home.” 


During graduate school, Bonney-Cohen practiced different Jewish customs, such as keeping a meat and milk divided kitchen, and celebrating other Shabbat customs. She expressed how meaningful it was to her to be sitting at the Shabbat table with friends from college for hours and everyone was able to sit and converse without getting distracted or bored. She loved how “…people were really present with each other that just felt really beautiful and sacred.” 


When converting to Judaism, Bonney-Cohen was not sure how religious she wanted to be. People often ask her questions considering the customs she follows. They ask her about her level of orthodoxy because she covers her hair, but she’s a rabbi, she keeps shabbat, but she’s a feminist. This is one of the reasons she says Hebrew college was perfect for her because she doesn’t identify denominationally, but she is a “torah committed” halachic Jew. 


When asked about her experience of conversion to Judaism, Rabbi Bonney-Cohen said: 

“I am a strong feminist, and that commitment to egalitarianism is what inspired my Conservative conversion.  I still hold these values deeply.  At the time that I was first introduced to Judaism, these values left me pretty closed-off to the Orthodox world.  I pre-judged it based on stereotypes of it as insular and not welcoming of women, LGBTQ folks and others.  But, I truly believe there is something to learn from everyone, and when I challenged myself to see beyond the stereotypes, I also encountered Orthodox community as vibrant, deeply spiritual, compassionate, generous, and wise.  It’s these values that inspired my second conversion—an Orthodox one.  No one place in the Jewish world fits me perfectly, but in a way, that means that I have learned how to feel at home just about anywhere within it.”

Bonney-Cohen assisting students reading from the Torah. Image by Gabrielle Sosland.

In the future, Bonney-Cohen wants to find herself in Kansas City as part of a diverse Jewish community. She says that landing in HBHA has been incredible, and she wants to use her Jewish knowledge to educate the broader education of Jewish community. She also wants to help build up HBHA and communicate the values of Jewish Education to the whole community. 


Bonney-Cohen wants to work towards the Jewish Community seeing HBHA as a resource to the whole of the community and not just to folks who already have a robust ritual practice. She says that no matter where somebody is within the Jewish Community, they can find themselves here.


She expresses how important and special it is to her that her kids are going to be growing up in a school like HBHA. She wants her kids to see how all people “do Jewish” differently and how it is meaningful in all of these different iterations. 

Bonney-Cohen spending quality time with her family. Image by Elizabeth Bonney-Cohen.

She says, “I am so excited about the fact that our kids will get to grow up here” She loves that HBHA is a place infused with Jewish language and values and a place where you can see who you are. 

Bonney-Cohen is delighted by how the year has been going so far. It will be so nice having such a cheerful face around who will be able to teach the students at HBHA about  Judaism from a different perspective. She will be able to enlighten people all around the greater Kansas City area and only time will tell how much she will and has already positively impacted our community.