Rabbis of LA | Rabbi T’mimah Was Ready the Second Time That God Called

After an 18-year engineering career, her life abruptly changed.
April 25, 2024
Ravi T’mima Ickovitz

In 1995, Audrey Ickovits was an electronics engineer. In the 49th mile of a 50-mile bicycle tour, she inexplicably fell, suffered a concussion and was laid up for months. 

“It was Tisha b’Av/Shabbos,” she recalled. “I started studying Kabbalah after that.”

Two years later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. “Hashem called me twice,” she said. “The second time I got it really right.” Piecing her life back together, she decided she wanted to study mysticism, “whatever that is.”

Today she is Rabbi T’mimah Ickovits, ritual leader, spiritual companion and founder/leader of Holistic Jew, a center for devotion and study near the ocean in Santa Monica. After an 18-year engineering career, her life abruptly changed. “I have always loved God,” she said. “I wanted to know God better. I was curious.”

For more than a decade, Rabbi T’mimah studied with leading scholars, including Rabbi Jonathan Omer-man at Metivta, a center for contemplative Judaism, and Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, father of the Jewish Renewal movement. When Audrey Ickovits was diagnosed with cancer, Reb Zalman suggested Audrey become T’mimah. “T’mimah,” she explained, “has a gematria of 495– 4 plus 9 plus 5 is 18, chai. That is what I wanted.”

”How does Hashem manifest Kabbalah? One way is through the absence or presence of light.”

Talking about 2007, Rabbi T’mimah, the erstwhile engineer explained her career change: “I tell people my last job in industry was helping people test absence or presence of light through technology. It segues back into loving and studying Kabbalah, which also is, how does Hashem manifest Kabbalah? One way is through the absence or presence of light.”

While Kabbalah may be an impenetrable mystery to some Jews, for Rabbi T’mimah, it was revelatory. “I like structure, and there is a structure in Kabbalah where we can track how the universe operates,” she said. As for a link between Kabbalah and engineering, she swiftly identified the absence and presence of light as a foundational link. Math is another link; an appreciation for numbers and the potency they have.

The tinkling of a Moroccan mobile provided the soundtrack, as the rabbi seated comfortably on a balcony of her two-story home and surrounded by the greenery she passionately loves, reflected on her second life. From where does she seek guidance? “Hashem for sure, tradition for sure, nature for sure.” 

Enjoying her pleasant surroundings not far from the Pacific Ocean, Rabbi T’mimah said she feels as if she has been preparing for these qualitative moments her entire life. “The thing about Kabbalah,” she explained, “is not about it being out there, esoteric. It’s about bringing it home. It’s about seeing Hashemin nature. Take nature – the 12 simple letters, the 12 tribes, the 12 constellations of the Zodiac, the Secret of 12. All are interconnected. It becomes like wheels turning, getting a sense where the synchronicity is and what the message is. It is tracking nature.”

Marriage between Earth and science is one of the rabbis passions. She identifies three circles: Earth spinning on its axis every 24 hours, Earth orbiting the sun every 365¼ days, moon orbiting Earth every 29-plus days. “Those three aspects define Earth’s space-time continuum.,” she says. “This is ours. This is what Jewish practice is based on.”

Rabbi T’mimah laughs when asked if she feels isolated, since a relatively small portion of the Jewish community shares her passion for this dimension. “There aren’t many people I can talk to about these things, but I have friends I can call from time to time.” Asked what turned her toward the rabbinate, she said “I had no idea Judaism was this cool.”

In her student days at Hillel Hebrew Academy and Yavneh, Audrey Ickovits wanted to be Mary Tyler Moore: the iconic hat she flings through the air, the cool businesswoman. In the classroom, she remembered being told what she couldn’t do on Shabbat, “but no one told me what I get to do on Shabbat.” She reflected on the late ‘60s and mid-70s as a post-Shoah environment.  “Everybody was scared of getting the rules wrong. Fear. Don’t make God angry.” She learned the opposite from Reb Zalman. He urged his students to serve God with joy. “I didn’t get that growing up in yeshiva, or maybe it was there and I didn’t see it,” Rabbi T’mimah said.

“I try to pay attention to what Hashem wants from me,” she says. “There’s not a whole lot I want. I am happy and content. I really want to be of service.”

The rabbi also davens and is active at the Shul on the Beach. As a member of the Green Team, “we have agreed for Kiddush to compost all of our paper plates and table cloths. [Fellow congregant] Kelsey Liber and I dreamed that up together. Probably the first Orthodox shul in Southern Cal that is composting.”

At Holistic Jew, Rabbi T’mimah hosts Shabbat services about once a month and a Shabbat afternoon service — all this apart from learning sessions. She also has compiled the “Holistic Jew Weekday Shahareet Siddur.” 

All food at community meals is ethically sourced. “Much of it is grown right here,” the rabbi said. “For Passover, we do karpas that is really fun from all these different spicy and wheat leaves [framing her property]. Our meat is ethically sourced, 100% pasture-raised.”

Is she where she wants to be in her life? “No, not quite,” Rabbi T’mimah said. “I would like to have more impact. I have Torah to teach, and I want to reach more people. I need to tell everyone how amazing Jewish practice is – it honors the time cycles, it tells us how we can meet the Holy One in our space/time continuum. I love davening, and teaching people how to daven. It’s exciting.”

Fast Takes with Rabbi T’mimah

Jewish Journal: Your favorite moment of the week?

Rabbi T’mimah: Receiving Shabbat.

J.J.: Your favorite Jewish food?

RT:  Latkes. I was born on the seventh candle of Hanukkah.

J.J. Your main unfulfilled desire?

RT: To share more Torah far and wide. To find ways to meet the hearts of people and let their hearts be expanded with Torah.

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