This weekend, my ALEPH co-chair Rabbi David Evan Markus and I are bringing the ALEPH / Jewish Renewal Listening Tour to Boston! Via emails, video chats, phone calls, coffee dates, and weekend visits to a variety of places around North America, we're spending our first year as ALEPH co-chairs actively listening to what people want Jewish Renewal, and Judaism writ large, to be in years to come.
Everywhere we go, we bring the set of questions we posed at the beginning of this adventure: What do you most cherish about Jewish Renewal, and what would you change? How can we cultivate continued spiritual and organizational innovation, both within ALEPH and in the broader phenomenon which is the continued renewing of Judaism? Given that Renewal is bigger than ALEPH, what role should ALEPH play, and how can we best bring together different people, places, and institutions doing the kind of heart-centered and innovative work we value? What are ALEPH's strengths and weaknesses? And what question should we be asking which isn't on this list -- and how would you answer it?
The format we've evolved for Listening Tour weekends features some public events and some small-group events. This weekend a small group will daven together on Friday night at a home-based minyan, and share Shabbat dinner afterwards, hosted by Rabbi Art Green. On Shabbat morning we'll meet at B’nai Or, an established Jewish Renewal community, for joyful and spirited davenen. Afterwards there will be a Lunch & Learn / Open Mike during which David and I will share about the Listening Tour and will harvest hopes, dreams, and feedback from the community. (If you're in the Boston area and want to be part of the conversation about the future of Jewish Renewal, please join us! Shabbat morning, and the Open Mike / Lunch & Learn, are open to all.)
On Shabbat afternoon and Sunday morning we'll host small-group sessions for a curated group of invited guests. We're making a practice of ensuring that in every place where we go, some of the people in our curated group are "within" ALEPH / Jewish Renewal, while others come from outside the self-identified Jewish Renewal community. All are interested in the future of Jewish life generally and heart-centered innovation particularly, and all are leaders who have a stake in what ALEPH and Renewal are and become. Shabbat afternoon's conversation will be a Vision conversation, aimed at big-picture dreaming. Sunday morning's conversation will be a Tachlis (practical details) conversation, aimed at taking Saturday's vision conversation and bringing it into reality.
We've been honored by the caliber of people who've been part of these conversations thus far. When we did this in New York, our curated group included Maggid Yitzhak Buxbaum, Rabbi Jeff Fox (the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Mahara”t), Rabbi Jay Michaelson, Amichai Lau-Lavie (of Lab/Shul), and Maggid Peninnah Schram (among others), and our Boston group is equally luminous. This coming Shabbes, we get to sit down at a table with Rabbi Art Green from Hebrew College, Rabbi Jill Hammer from the Academy for Jewish Religion, and Joel Segel who with Reb Zalman z"l co-authored Jewish With Feeling and Davening: A Guide to Meaningful Jewish Prayer (among others) to talk about the future of Judaism! We both feel incredibly blessed to be able to have these conversations.
Our New York weekend was co-hosted by Romemu (where I just went for Simchat Torah) and by Yeshivat Mahara”t, the groundbreaking seminary ordaining Orthodox women to serve as kli kodesh ("holy vessels," e.g. spiritual leaders.) Our Boston weekend will be co-hosted by transdenominational seminary Hebrew College, by B’nai Or, and by transdenominational mikveh Mayyim Hayyim. Later this fall we'll be doing something similar in Philadelphia and in Washington, DC. And in the secular new year, if we can secure the funding and can make everyone's calendars line up, we're hoping to visit Montreal, Boulder, southern California, northern California, Seattle, and Vancouver.
(For those who aren't in any of these places but would like to chime in about what you hope the future of Jewish Renewal will be, you're always welcome to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
David and I have made a commitment to a year of receptive listening, a practice which is familiar to both of us from the pastoral work we do in our rabbinates. Our job is to be open and to receive what people have to say -- the things we're happy to hear, and also the things we may not be thrilled to hear -- about Jewish Renewal in general and ALEPH in particular. And our job is also to connect that conversation with a broader conversation about the future of Judaism in decades to come.
It seems likely to us that the future of Judaism won't have the same top-down, denominational shape that's become familiar to us over the last century. We think that the future of Judaism is going to be co-created by a variety of people and institutions working together -- not a hierarchy, but a network. We hope that the future of Judaism will be characterized by the kind of meaningful innovation which has been a hallmark of Jewish Renewal from the beginning -- and we want to partner with others who are engaging in that kind of work. The Listening Tour is both an opportunity to hear from our constituency about what they want from Jewish Renewal, and a step toward bringing together some of the people and institutions doing the work of renewing Judaism across the board so that we can brainstorm together about what we want our Jewish future to be.
And when we say "our constituency," we mean both those who already self-identify as part of ALEPH or part of Jewish Renewal, and also those who don't. We want to hear from everyone who has a stake in the success of this pivot point in Jewish life – whatever your denominational affiliation may be, and regardless of whether or not you see yourself as part of Jewish Renewal now. The fact that you are reading this post is proof that you are part of the circle of people from whom we want to hear.
If you think what we're doing is worthwhile and want to support the Listening Tour and help launch the future of ALEPH and Jewish Renewal, please donate to ALEPH. (You can earmark your donation for the Listening Tour in the comments field at the bottom of the page.) And if you're in the Boston area, I hope to see you at B'nai Or for Shabbat davenen and the Open Mike / Lunch & Learn to follow.