This is an invitation-only gathering for about fifty people working in a variety of different arenas, all of which could be described as "spiritual communities" in one way or another. Some of us serve congregations; others serve in other capacities. (And some, like me, do both. I'm there both as a pulpit rabbi and as co-chair of ALEPH.)
The NPSCI is intended to be a five-year project, and this initial "consultation" will help to set its direction.
Yesterday we began with some getting-to-know-each-other work. Each person took one minute to introduce ourselves to the room and say something about who we are, what we do, why we're here, what we're hoping for, etc. (And wow, this is quite a group!)
Then last night Rabbi Sid Schwarz (author of Jewish Megatrends: Charting the Course of the American Jewish Community) offered some framing remarks. Here are a few glimpses of what he said:
NPSCI aspires to support the development of spiritual communities that: a) are rooted in the wisdom and practice of Judaism, b) help people realize their full human potential; and c) inspire people to work for a more just and peaceful world...
When we are able to give people a sense of their purpose in the world, it is an experience of kedusha, holiness. Religions, at their best aspire to do both tzedek (justice) and kedusha (holiness), and often they fall short. They lose focus and perspective both on the means and the ends. But one of the things we in this room have in common is, we believe that Judaism has some chochmah, some wisdom, that can help create vibrant spiritual communities...
He talked about the need for innovation and R&D in Jewish life (a subject near and dear to our hearts in ALEPH!), the need to support and train those working within existing institutions on transformation from within, and the need to help people see that the paradigms in which we live are changing and that we need to shift our institutions to meet those changing paradigms. He asked:
Can we identify common elements that constitute a new paradigm for spiritual communities in America, and if so, what are the elements? What are the conditions for success? What best supports adaptation and innovation?
The question "what are the preconditions for spiritual innovation" is one of the core questions we're bringing to the ALEPH / Jewish Renewal Listening Tour. Any time our core questions appear in other contexts, I feel affirmed in the fact that we're asking the right questions -- and glad to be able to wrestle with these big questions in the company of others for whom they are also meaningful. Another place of overlap between R' Sid's remarks and our conversations at ALEPH was this question he asked:
What would it be like if it were presumed that a Jewish spiritual community is one which both does the healing work people need in order to become whole, and one which raises people's sights about how to contribute to healing our broken world?
Today we're exploring different themes (wisdom, justice, covenental community, sacred purpose, arts), hearing from researchers from Harvard Divinity School who are working in this arena, and breaking into affinity groups (I'll be connecting with creative and innovative pulpit rabbis.)
The NPSCI is sponsored by Clal and spearheaded by Rabbi Sid Schwarz. Its other organizational co-sponsors are Hazon, Bend the Arc, Mechon Hadar, and the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. I'm not sure yet what exactly I'll be taking away from this gathering, but I can already tell that these are going to be thoughtful, interesting, meaningful conversations about the future of spiritual community. I'm glad to be here.