A sweet Shabbes (and then some) in Michigan

What a gift it is to get to spend a Shabbes (and then some) the way I just did!

On Friday night, Rabbi David and I went to Shir Tikvah in Troy, MI, to serve as the official ALEPH representatives at the installation of our dear friend and colleague (and fellow ALEPH Board member) Rabbi Aura Ahuvia as the new rabbi there.

We spent most of the evening on the bimah with Hazzan Steve Klaper and Rabbi Arnie Sleutelberg, the four of us surrounding Rabbi Aura and singing with her in impromptu harmonies. We sang three different "Lecha Dodi" melodies, one of which I'd never heard before. We sang "Yihiyu L'ratzon" and "Oseh Shalom" to the tune of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." I think the highlight of my night was Shir Yaakov's "Higale Na" -- one of my favorite melodies to harmonize to, with some of my favorite people to harmonize with. I know I've said this before, but singing beloved liturgy in harmony with beloved friends who love the liturgy as much as I do is basically my idea of heaven. It was also a particular highlight to hear words from Reverend Bill Kondrath as part of Rabbi Aura's installation -- he was one of my teachers at Clergy Camp last summer.

On Shabbes morning we gathered with the Pardes Hannah community, which is led by Rabbi Elliot Ginsburg (known in the ALEPH world simply as Reb Elliot.) Reb Elliot teaches Hasidut in the ALEPH Ordination Program. I've davened with Reb Elliot before, when I was in rabbinical school, but there's a difference between being with someone in the unique holy container of an ALEPH Ordination Program intensive, and being with them in their own home context, their own home community. I loved getting to see what kind of services he leads when he's at home with his own congregants. I shared poetry interwoven with the morning service, and Rabbi David shared a beautiful d'var Torah on the weekly Torah portion, healing from hurt, and vision.

Part of the fun of the Listening Tour we engaged in over our first fifteen months as co-chairs of ALEPH was getting to daven in so many different ALEPH places around the continent. No two Jewish Renewal services are the same. While both Shir Tikvah and Pardes Hannah use their own homegrown siddurim (prayerbooks), the two siddurim are different. The Shir Tikvah siddur is beautifully designed and thoughtfully put-together. Reb Elliot's siddur is packed full of great poetry (Louise Glück, Mary Oliver) and texts from the Jewish mystical tradition. As a liturgy geek, I love seeing what texts people use when they daven. And as a Renewalnik, I love seeing how skilled leaders of prayer take whatever texts are in their book and bring them alive in a way that brings the daveners more to life ourselves too -- to me that's one of the practices at Jewish Renewal's core. 

After lunch, Rabbi David and I spoke with the room a bit about ALEPH and Jewish Renewal, which led into a rich and thoughtful conversation about Jewish Renewal's past, present, and future. That led seamlessly into some mid-afternoon text study. Reb Elliot had prepared texts from two Hasidic masters, Netivot Shalom and Kedushat Levi, on the week's Torah portion. There was a moment when we were all sitting around the living room with text handouts, and someone made a fabulous point that incisively made the text and its relevance more clear, and I couldn't help beaming, and Rabbi David turned to me and murmured "welcome home." It did feel like a kind of homecoming: to be seated in the house of my teacher and friend, learning with dear friends again, immersing ourselves in words of Torah at the afternoon peak of a prayerful Shabbat. 

And then came Saturday night, a havdalah program called An Evening of Song and Spirit(s) in Detroit. The program was created by Rabbi Dan Horowitz of The Well, and co-presented by ALEPH and Hazon (and supported by the Covenant Foundation; thanks to all of the above.) The event was held in a place called Ponyride, a coworking space and event space located in an old warehouse. Rabbi Dan led us in dance niggunim. Cantor Michael Smolash of Temple Israel led some beautiful niggunim (wordless Hasidic melodies), as did Rabbi Alana Alpert (who chose to bring one of my favorite melodies from Nava Tehila, the Jewish Renewal community of Jerusalem -- the niggun they call Into the West.) Reb Elliot offered teachings from the Zohar at the intersection of the old week's Torah portion and the Torah portion for the week that was on the cusp of beginning. Rabbi David offered a contemplative / experiential deep dive into portals in holy time. And I shared poems from Open My Lips and from my as-yet unpublished next manuscript Texts to the Holy

Sunday was a day of deep ALEPH conversations with our hosts, Reb Elliot and his wife Linda Jo Doctor (who, like Rabbi Aura, serves with us on the ALEPH Board.) We started talking shop over coffee first thing in the morning and didn't stop  until evening when it was time for the two of us to regretfully take our leave and head for the airport to return home. (And yes, we managed a trip to Zingerman's in there -- which is every bit as fabulous a place as their catalogue had led me to believe.)

A weekend like this one may be physically tiring, but it's emotionally and spiritually restorative. I'm so grateful to our hosts in Troy and Detroit and Ann Arbor for welcoming us into their homes and communities and prayer spaces, and for the opportunity to have my heart and soul enlivened by the feeling of "coming home" into communities where I had never before been.

Michigan, here I come!

On the roadI'm heading to Michigan today with my ALEPH co-chair Rabbi David Evan Markus. We have a few special things on our schedule for the weekend.

Tonight we'll be at Shir Tikvah in Troy, MI, to serve as the official ALEPH representatives at the installation of our dear friend and colleague (and fellow ALEPH Board member) Rabbi Aura Ahuvia as the new rabbi there.

Tomorrow morning we'll daven with Pardes Hannah, the Jewish Renewal / ALEPH Network minyan in Ann Arbor which happens to be led by our dear friend and teacher Rabbi Elliot Ginsburg (who taught both of us Hasidut in rabbinical school.) 

At both of those Shabbat services, we'll both offer some words of Torah: Rabbi David in prose, and me in poetry. 

And tomorrow night we'll be in Detroit at The Well for An Evening of Song and Spirit(s). (If you're interested in joining us, register at meetyouatthewell.org/song. Space is limited, so sign up now!)

While we're in the area, we're hoping to see other hevre (colleagues), meet with some folks who are interested in ALEPH, and hopefully make a visit to Zingerman's, since I've been enjoying their mail-order business for years but have never been there in person.

I'm looking so forward to being with friends and colleagues this Shabbat. If you're in Michigan I hope to see you at Shir Tikvah, Pardes Hannah, and/or The Well!

A sweet Shabbat to all who celebrate. 

Standing against oppression

I am proud and humbled to serve, with Rabbi David Evan Markus, as co-chair of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal which just put out this statement and petition. If the President-Elect were to require Muslims to register with the government, we encourage all Americans to register with them. As Jews we have living historical memory of that kind of state-sanctioned mistreatment, and we will not stand idly by if it is perpetrated again. The text of the resolution is below; it's also at change.org where you can add your name.


Standing With Non-Jews Against Oppression



As initially proposed by ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal 


President-Elect Trump repeatedly has advocated and expressed his intention that Muslims resident in the United States will be required to register as such with the United States government; and

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution bans state action in respect of any establishment of religion, including tests and other qualifications on the basis of religion; and

Article II of the United States Constitution obliges the President of the United States to take care that the Constitution and laws of the United States are faithfully executed; and

Incitement and intolerance of invidious discrimination on the basis of any religion, ethnicity, race, gender, nationality or sexual orientation cultivates a civic climate that countenances all such discrimination, including anti-Semitism; and

Incitement and tolerance of religious discrimination have no place in any civil society; and

The Jewish people have living memory of anti-Jewish legislation and other official discrimination in Nazi Germany, including civic disqualification and registration with the government, preceding the Holocaust; and

Core Jewish spiritual values teach that one must not stand idly by the blood of one’s neighbor (Leviticus 19:16), and that one must love one’s neighbor as oneself (Leviticus 19:18); and

Principles of deep ecumenism  view all religious traditions as potential paths to the sacred; and

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi  z”l (of blessed memory) professed faith with the Sufis of Hebron to exemplify the spiritual principle that Jews can and must stand in faithful co-religionist solidarity with Muslims;


If Muslims are required to register as such with the United States government, then all Jews — and all other persons in familial or communal relationship with Jews — are urged to register as Muslims immediately; and

All Jewish clergy associations based in the United States — including OHALAH (Renewal), Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform), Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative), Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association (Reconstructionist) and Rabbinical Council of America (Orthodox) — as well as the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, its constituent organizations, all Jewish seminaries and other institutions of learning, and all other Jewish organizations, are urged to adopt, implement and publicize this resolution by all available means; and

All other clergy organizations and other faith-based organizations operating or having influence in the United States are urged to adopt, implement and publicize corresponding versions of this resolution most suitable to the tenets and contexts of their respective faith traditions; and

If Muslims are required to register as such with the United States government, then a goal is established that every United States resident promptly will register as a Muslim; and

Each ratifying organization will transmit a copy of this resolution to the official government office of Donald J. Trump as of its date of ratification; and

This resolution will be publicized by all available means.


Prayer After the Election


Today mourning and celebration commingle.
Jubilation and heartache are juxtaposed
In neighborhoods where lawns proclaimed
Support for different candidates, on Facebook walls
And Twitter streams where clashing viewpoints meet.

Grant us awareness of each others’ hopes and fears
Even across the great divides of red state and blue state,
Urban and rural. Open us to each others’ needs.
Purify our hearts so that those who rejoice do not gloat
And those who grieve do not despair.

Strengthen our ability to be kind to one another
And to ourselves. Awaken in us the yearning
To build a more perfect union. Let us roll up our sleeves
Whether today we feel exultation or sorrow, and together
Shape a nation of welcome and compassion.

Let ours be a land where no one need fear abuse
Or retribution, where every diversity is celebrated,
Where those who are most vulnerable are protected.
May bigotry and violence vanish like smoke.
May compassion prevail from sea to shining sea.

By Rabbi Rachel Barenblat


Written for (and first published at) Kol ALEPH, the blog of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal.

Meet you at the Well for "An Evening of Song & Spirit(s)" on 11/19

If you're in or near Detroit, meet you at the Well on November 19?

The Well is an innovative community-building, education, and spirituality outreach program geared toward the needs of young adults and those who haven't connected with other more mainstream institutions. I've wanted to visit for a while, and I'm excited to have the opportunity to do so with my ALEPH co-chair Rabbi David Evan Markus and our friend and teacher Rabbi Elliot Ginsburg. 

Rabbi Dan Horwitz has graciously invited us to be part of An Evening of Song and Spirit(s) beginning at 8pm on Saturday, November 19. We'll make havdalah and weave together an evening niggunim, stories, Hasidic teachings, and poetry. It will be yummy.

Song and Spirit

If you're interested in joining us, register at meetyouatthewell.org/song. Space is limited and tickets are $10/ person. Deep thanks to Rabbi Dan for inviting Rabbi David, Rabbi Elliot, and me to share teachings, songs, stories, and poetry at this havdalah event. Hope to see some of you there!

Ain't nothing like the real thing

Real-thingThis is a short passage from Jewish With Feelingco-written by Joel Segel and Reb Zalman z"l  -- I reviewed the book here back in 2005. We talked about this passage a couple of weeks ago on the final day of Joel's Big Sky Judaism: The Everyday Thought of Reb Zalman class at the ALEPH Kallah.

I love Reb Zalman's metaphor of apples and prayer. When I moved to rural New England, I discovered that a honeycrisp apple picked right off the tree is mind-blowingly glorious! And it bears almost no resemblance to a golden delicious apple that's spent who-knows-how-long in storage. (If you don't live in a place where great apples are grown, extrapolate to something local and seasonal where you are.)

We all know that a factory-farm-grown piece of fruit that's spent ages in a refrigerator box doesn't hold a candle to something fresh and organic and picked right off the tree in season, in context, in the place where its roots have drawn sustenance. And Reb Zalman z"l recognized that the same can be said of the difference between rote unthinking prayer, and "the real thing." 

The first thing that changed my life when I encountered living Jewish Renewal at the old Elat Chayyim on my very first retreat was Jewish Renewal prayer. (I wrote about that a little bit in a blog post in 2012 -- Ten years in Jewish Renewal.) That's where I first experienced contemplative chant-based prayer, where one takes pearls from the liturgy and sings them over and over, going deeper and deeper into the words and their meaning. That's where I first experienced ecstatic prayer, where one can get so swept up in the davenen and the melodies and harmonies that one enters another state of consciousness altogether. That's where I first discovered that I could talk not only about God but also to God. It's not hyperbole to say that my life has never been the same. 

Reb Zalman used to talk about "freeze-dried" prayer. Our siddurim (prayerbooks) are like the dehydrated or freeze-dried food we send into space with our astronauts, but in order to be nourished, we need to add the "hot water" of heart and soul. We need to enter into the words on the page, to be willing to open our hearts, to take the emotional risk of speaking not about the Divine but to the Divine. And the difference between "wrapped and refrigerated" prayer and deep devotional davenen is as dramatic as the difference between a pasty pale wintertime grocery store tomato and a ripe, flavorful, spectacularly delicious heirloom tomato plucked from the vine and eaten before it's even cooled off from the August sunshine in which it was sustained. 

When I write about prayer, I tend to write most often about joyful prayer -- like the Kabbalat Shabbat service with Nava Tehila at the ALEPH Kallah two weeks ago. But sometimes deep davenen comes from a place of grief and fury, and that too can be sustaining to heart and spirit. What heart and spirit need is full expression. Meaningful prayer isn't just about being clappy-happy -- it's about being real, and bringing your real self, your whole self, to your davenen. It's about opening yourself up. It's about seeking the real thing, and seeking to be the real thing, instead of settling for the out-of-season peach that barely has any flavor.

Here's one more pearl from Reb Zalman:

Experiences of God are not that hard to come by: all that's required is a little yearning, a little searching, a welcoming of God within. Va-asu li mikdash v'shochanti b'tocham, says the book of Exodus (25:8): Only set aside a place, and I will come. 

May it be so. Shabbat shalom to all who celebrate!

Jewish Renewal and the Jewish future on Judaism Unbound


A while back Rabbi David and I were interviewed for the Judaism Unbound podcast, wearing our ALEPH Alliance for Jewish Renewal co-chair kippot. Our episode is the first episode in a four-part series that will also feature The Kitchen (and its Hello Mazel initiative), OneTable, and (as always) podcast co-hosts Dan Libenson and Lex Rofes -- and it's now live and available for download and listening


At Or Shalom in Vancouver on the Listening Tour. 

We talked about the history of Jewish Renewal and its core tenets, about "inventing" one's own form of Judaism, about the tension between structure and flexibility in Judaism writ large, and what it might look like to give the next generations the "keys to the car" and let them shape the Judaism they most need. 

Here are a few teasers to whet your appetitite:

“What is the Judaism that you yearn for? What is the Judaism of the future that you want to see? And the follow-up question becomes ‘How can we help build that Judaism?’ ‘How can you help bring that about?’” -- Rachel

“There is no such thing as the Renewal prayer book. The Renewal prayer book defeats the point. You should be able to evolve a Renewal experience from any book or no book at all..."

"It’s not like you have to go to minyan three times a day or else you’re not a good Jew. What does it mean to evolve a Judaism where there are many [other] on-ramps? Well, some people are going to resonate with music. Some people are going to resonate with meditation. Or making a meal, or social justice. Whatever brings you to ‘wow,’ that’s the stuff that we work with." -- David

Judaism Unbound, a project of the Institute for the Next Jewish Future, describes itself as "a project that catalyzes and supports grassroots efforts by 'disaffected but hopeful' American Jews to re-imagine and re-design Jewish life in America for the 21st century." (Sounds right up ALEPH's alley, doesn't it?) Our conversation with Dan and Lex was terrific. I hope you enjoy: Jewish Renewal and the Jewish future on Judaism Unbound

A teaching from Joel Segel on equalizers of heart and soul

Master-your-equalizer_On the first day of Big Sky Judaism: The Everyday Thought of Reb Zalman z"l, Joel Segel took us into an imagined conversation with Reb Zalman about rationalism:

"I hear where you're coming from. I understand the appeal of the intellectual. And: you're a musician, so you know what an equalizer is, yes? Imagine that at the bottom of the equalizer, instead of Hz and kHz are written labels that read intellectual, emotional, physical, spiritual.

I'm hearing that your intellectual faders are up, and all the rest of them are down. So try an experiment. Pull up the faders in heart space. What happens in you when you pick up the heart fader? Maybe what happens is that you experience yourself feeling an internal voice chorusing 'Ribbono Shel Olam thank You thank You thank You.' Push down the intellectual fader and pull up the emotional one and see what arises in you." 

The four equalizers map, of course, to the Four Worlds about which we so often speak in Jewish Renewal: assiyah (action / physicality), yetzirah (emotions / heart), briyah (intellect / contemplation), and atzilut (essence / spirit.) Everything is always happening in all four of these realms at once, though many of us feel more comfortable in one of these worlds than the others.

At lunch after class I shared this image with a friend who knows something about recording music, and she pointed out that the name "equalizer" points the layperson in the wrong direction. The goal isn't to make all of the faders "equal." For one track one might want more treble; for another track, more bass. Just so, the internal equalizers about which Reb Joel was teaching us. Maybe when I'm hiking in the Colorado hills my physical fader is high, since I'm unusually aware of my body and my surroundings -- whereas when I'm davening, my emotional and spiritual faders might be at peak.

Different moments in the day, different days in the week, require different balances. The goal isn't to perfectly equalize our experience of the four worlds -- or at least I don't think it is. The goal is to cultivate awareness of which world(s) I'm living in, and to learn the practice of adjusting my own psycho-spiritual faders. Just as different instruments speak different languages but they're all needed in the orchestra, just so different parts of ourselves need to be allowed to speak as we inhabit the four worlds in different ways.

Four glimpses of the pre-Kallah Shabbat


Mincha in the mountains.


Unlike at last Kallah (when we were on a lake -- an easy natural mikvah), no formal mikvah experiences are scheduled for smicha week. But on Friday afternoon of my first week here, two friends and I decide to create our own. We make our way to the campus rec center, where there is a huge pool with a beach-like slope at one end, and a large and spacious hot tub, too. We opt first for the hot tub, and -- immersed in its foaming waters up to our necks -- we talk about what we need to release from our lives in general and from the week now ending in particular. And then we immerse. It's not a kosher mikvah, of course -- it's a swimming pool, with no source of living waters; for that matter, we're wearing swimsuits -- but on a spiritual level when I emerge from the waters after my final immersion I feel lighter. More radiant. More ready to welcome Shabbat.



As I make my way back to my dorm after the festive meal that followed Kabbalat Shabbat, I am drawn to the trio of guitarists sitting on one of the semicircles of big stones on the lawn outside the building. (So are a few dozen other people.) I settle happily on one of the big rocks that serves as a bench, and as they play and sing, the assembled group sings with them. They play (and we sing) the birkat hamazon (grace after meals), prayers, folk songs, new melodies, old melodies. In between singing harmony with my friends, I have conversations with current and prospective ALEPH students, with faculty, with other musmachim (alumni / ordinands). We sing and sing and sing. And sing some more. Between the singing and the Shabbat wine, by the time I stagger up to my room (well after midnight, which means it's well after my bedtime!) I am exhausted... but grateful.



On the campus where we're staying the grounds are pretty flat. But off to one side there are mountains, and I don't want to spend two weeks at the cusp of the Rockies and never actually see the mountains themselves! So on Shabbat afternoon two friends and I head to Horsetooth Mountain Park, and we walk up into the hills. It's a hot day, and we're at altitude; I huff and puff more than I would prefer. But the hills around us are extraordinarily beautiful. My spirits are lifted by the grasses and piñon pines and wildflowers, by the clouds scudding across the blue sky, by the sound of wind in the grasses. We sing bits of the Shabbat afternoon service to the special nusach (melodic system) used only at that time on that day. "Mincha" means offering or gift. In that moment, singing bits of the ashrei on a trail in the hills in the sunshine, everything feels like a gift.



After evening davenen we make our way outside for havdalah. We form a huge circle, arms around each other. Fragrant teabags are passed out for our b'samim, the spices we will bless to prevent ourselves from fainting as the second Shabbat soul departs. Havdalah candles are lit. We sing the words I love so very dearly: hineh El yeshuati, evtach v'lo efchad... (This is the God of my redemption; I trust, I am not afraid...) We sing the blessings sanctifying the One Who makes divisions between Shabbat and the week. When the candles are extinguished a few people sing to Elijah the prophet in Ladino, and then we sing Eliahu HaNavi and Miriam HaNeviah in Hebrew, and then people start dancing as the musicians keep on playing. La-yehudim haita ora -- a prayer for light and joy and honor for us in the week now beginning. We sing, and we dance, and the week begins. 


Related: Six jewels from Clergy Camp.

Six jewels from Clergy Camp


Thursday morning davenen. A rainbow of tallitot (prayer shawls); a rainbow of neshamot (souls).


On Monday morning, the Fourth of July, we daven in semicircles of chairs beneath the trees. It feels so good to be sitting beside some of my dearest beloveds and beaming at others across the semicircle.

And then when we get to the blessing for redemption (emet v'yatziv, for those who know the liturgy) ALEPH rabbinic student Jessica Shimberg starts singing "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of Hashem," and a ripple of laughter runs around the space. We sing the whole prayer to the melody of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, with gusto and multi-part harmony. Mi chamocha ba-eilim Adonai -- the words scan perfectly, and there is something wonderful about setting our song of redemption to this old American hymn. It feels glorious -- both the playful creativity of the melodic choice (the kind of thing Reb Zalman z"l used to love) and the heart with which everyone sings the words.

Davening with heart and creativity and with my loved ones always feels like coming home.



On the first morning of class with Rabbi Jeff Fox we study Talmud, Tosafot, Judith Plaskow, Tamar Ross, and Rambam, all of which inform our conversation about geirut (conversion) and the unfolding of Jewish tradition. I can feel synapses sparking to life that haven't been lit up in ages. The text study is enlivening, and the conversations that it engenders are even more so.

We talk about Ruth and Ezra as opposite Biblical paradigms for how to relate to conversion. We talk about how Rashi sees the Exodus to Sinai journey as parallel to, and as a kind of, conversion. We talk about Jewishness as spiritual practice and Jewishness as peoplehood and what happens when we try to separate those two. We talk about the implication of seeing the Sinai moment as the paradigmatic experience of Jewishness if that moment occurred only for the men.

I wish I could send a message back in time to my collegiate religion major self. Could I have imagined then that someday this would be my life: sitting around a table with wise colleagues who are at least as passionate about Judaism as I am, grappling with tradition, asking hard questions and taking joy in the wrestle?



Each of the three daily services are led by groups of students. I remember being a student and working with my friends to plan and co-lead services for smicha students' week -- trying to find the right balance between tradition and innovation, stretching our skills, sometimes falling on our faces, finding our wings as davenen leaders and learning to soar.

One morning the prayer leaders take lines from Lin-Manuel Miranda's sonnet and use them as a call-and-response prelude to the bar'chu, the call to prayer. When the whole room choruses "Love is love is love is love is love" I get goosebumps.



Around the room, Rev. Bill Kondrath has posted signs with drawings of different emotional states, labeled with single words: "scared," "joyful," "sad," "mad," "powerful," "peaceful." He invites us first to stand beneath the sign depicting the emotional state that felt most safe to us in childhood. Then to stand beneath the sign depicting the emotional state we felt least able to express in childhood. And then to stand beneath the sign depicting the emotion we habitually substitute for the one we didn't feel safe expressing.

In the conversation that ensues, one of my classmates mentions Reb Zalman's teachings about the need for rabbis to serve as geologists of the soul. This is maybe especially true for those of us who serve also as spiritual directors: it's our task to help those whom we serve to uncover the gems buried in the strata of their own hearts.

Some of what we find inside is joyful, and some of what we find can feel like land mines. But the only way to defuse the land mines is to find them and gently dismantle them, and the only way to uplift the gems is to unearth them and polish them and let them shine.



Thursday morning. We are once again davening outdoors, this time in a little courtyard. It's the second day of Rosh Chodesh (the new moon -- the beginning of the lunar month of Tamuz). We sing the blessing for Hallel in a lusty call-and-response. And then my friend Hazzan Dave Abramowitz, who goes sometimes by the nickname "Tall" (for reasons obvious to anyone who knows him), belts out chasdo, ki l'olam chasdo to the tune of "Day-O." I've sung Psalm 118 to this melody before, but with his big baritone voice leading us, the singing is extra-delicious. 

A little bit later in Hallel, when we sing Zeh hayom asah Adonai, "This is the day that God has made: let us rejoice and be glad in it!" I think: yes. Yes, it is. This very day is a day created for us to rejoice in it. Every day is a day created for us to rejoice in it. How fortunate I feel to be in a place, this week, where it is so easy to access that awareness.



Getting to study conversion all week with the rav who authored this teshuvah on the presence of a male beit din at the immersion of a female convert [pdf] is a mechaieh -- it's life-giving. The conversations are fantastic and thought-provoking. Over the course of the week we study Yevamot. We study rabbinic teshuvot (responsa). We learn the strange story of Warder Cresson. We study the stories of the converts of Hillel and Shammai, and the story of the student of Rabbi Chiyya.

We talk about the physical process of conversion, and we talk about the psycho-spiritual process of conversion. We talk about what it means that there are people who won't accept certain conversions, and about the implications for someone who might convert under one set of assumptions and then shift to a different community of practice. We talk about motives for conversion: how much do motives matter? We talk about: what does it mean to come beneath the wings of Shechinah? What does it mean to accept the yoke of the mitzvot?

At the end of our last class we go around the room and each person mentions something in our learning that especially moved us. We close with a kaddish d'rabbanan, the special kaddish recited at the end of study, in gratitude to and in honor of our teacher. It has been an extraordinary week of learning. I am so grateful.

Off to Clergy Camp!

ClergycampgraphicI'm on my way today back to Colorado for two weeks of ALEPH programming. The ALEPH Kallah begins on July 11, and of course I'll be there for that -- wouldn't miss it for the world. But I'm going to be there this week, too.

During my years of rabbinic school, I always went to another week of ALEPH learning before the Kallah -- what we called "smicha students' week" (or "smicha week" for short), a week-long learning intensive with the ALEPH Ordination Program community of students and faculty.

We would daven together three times a day, learn together all day and all evening, and generally enjoy the pleasure of steeping in one another's company and in our studies. The classes we took during those intensive weeks would continue via teleconference calls (or, by the time I finished the program, webconference video calls) for months thereafter. 

Last time I did that was summer of 2010. (I wrote about it here: My last smicha students' week. That's where I wrote the poem that begins "Don't chew on your mama's tefillin...") As that poem makes clear, I had an infant at the time, and navigating his needs while immersing in study and community made that a week not quite like any other.

The following January I was ordained, and since then, I haven't attended smicha students' week -- it's not for me anymore. I've felt some sadness about that. I miss the hevreschaft (community of learners) and the spirited daily davenen. But it's a natural consequence of finishing rabbinic school, so I accepted it... until now.

This year ALEPH is piloting a new program for ordained clergy, which we're calling Clergy Camp. Those of us who are ordained and practicing in the field are invited back during smicha students' week for our own dedicated learning track. While the students are doing their learning, we'll be doing our continuing education. We'll get to share meals and davenen with the ordination program community. I anticipate that it will feature much of the joy I used to take in smicha students' week -- without the stress of being a graduate student! 

During the mornings I'll be studying geirut, conversion, with Rabbi Jeff Fox, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Maharat, the groundbreaking Orthodox seminary ordaining women to serve as clergy. During the afternoons there will be a skills practicum taught by Reverend Dr. Bill Kondrath, Director of Theological Field Education at Episcopal Divinity School. During the evenings we'll be integrating our learning via group hashpa'ah (spiritual direction.) It promises to be a rich and full week. I'm incredibly excited about it. To those whom I'll be seeing at Clergy Camp, and those whom I'll be seeing at Kallah next week: travel safely!

An ALEPH Listening Tour week in California

25790244914_d8ecaa678c_zHow can I begin to write about the sum total of ten days of ALEPH / Jewish Renewal Listening Tour travel? This is our twelfth of thirteen trips over the course of a year. The others were weekends or conferences: deep and intense, but relatively brief. This one lasted for more than a week, and the level of depth and intensity did not falter. 

I began in Las Vegas at a P'nai Tikvah Shabbaton for which I was the visiting scholar. Rabbi David began in San Diego at the Spiritual Directors International conference, connecting with spiritual directors both inside and outside of the Jewish Renewal community, and did a community Listening Tour open mike with Elijah Minyan and Shirat HaYam

We met up in Los Angeles. We did a community open mike there, with a ma'arv service, hosted by Holistic Jew. We met with a focus group at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, and with Ziegler's dean Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson. We met with Rabbi Mike Comins of Lev Learning. We met with a focus group from the Academy for Jewish Religion California and talked about interseminary collaboration. We davened on the beach.

We traveled north. We did a dinner and a community open mike at Chadeish Yameinu in Santa Cruz. We had a lunch and a focus group conversation with the Aquarian Minyan. We met up with Rabbi Noa Kushner from The Kitchen, and Jeff Kasowitz and Rabbi Adina Allen from The Jewish Studio Project. We met with a group of millennials and young leaders convened by Hazzan Shulamit Wise Fairman of Kehilla. We met with Rabbi Michael Lerner of Beyt Tikkun.

26408034396_dc4d38be1c_zWe co-led davenen at Holistic Jew in LA, and participated in leading davenen at Kehilla Community Synagogue. At Kehilla Rabbi David was the darshan -- teacher of Torah -- on Friday evening, and I was the darshanit on Saturday morning. We leyned from Torah on Shabbat morning before a beautiful community babynaming. We spent Shabbat afternoon holding a community open mike session.

We dined with theKehilla Community Synagogue board and the Chochmat Ha-Lev board. We traveled from hither to yon across communities and neighborhoods in the Bay Area. We stopped often to marvel at California's palm trees, blooming roses, sea otters, and vistas where Pacific waves are rolling in to shore. We did a community open mike at Chochmat Ha-Lev, once a Jewish meditation center and now a congregational community of practice. We flew home. 

26369480892_9b059b9258_zThose are the outlines of our itinerary, but they barely scratch the surface of the conversations, the deep sharing, the hopes and dreams articulated, the rebuilding of bridges, the new and renewed connections contained within our week-plus on the road.

Everywhere we go, we hear some things that are unique to the place that we're visiting. No two communities have the same history, the same needs, the same story. And everywhere we go, we hear some things that resonate with things we've heard in other places we've been, which means that the harmonies of common notes are beginning to emerge. I'm beginning to get an idea of what it will be like to begin working on Renewing Renewal, the report that Rabbi David and I intend to offer before Rosh Hashanah. What will be the integration of this fifteen months of traveling, opening our hearts, and listening with all that we are?

25848716563_0c688f9266_z (1)Right now I'm thinking about (what were for me) unexpected similarities between Vancouver and California, and about the West Coast and its general friendliness to innovation. I'm thinking about how deliciously different is the davenen at each of these Jewish Renewal communities -- and also about what makes the davenen feel similar in heart and spirit even when it takes different forms.

The Bay Area has a unique Jewish Renewal history, and I'm fascinated to see that some of the spectrum of differences spanned within ALEPH writ large is also spanned within the Jewish Renewal communities of the San Francisco Bay Area. I love this evidence of Jewish Renewal's multivocality.

We have one more Listening Tour trip to go: the Denver / Boulder area in late May. We have online focus groups scheduled with states and countries we couldn't manage to reach in person. We're always receiving emails in response to our big questions about what you hope the future of Jewish Renewal will be. And as we move into summer, the Listening Tour will reach its conclusion and we'll dive into synthesizing what we've heard -- though of course the holy work of listening will always be part of our service as co-chairs, even when the formal tour is complete.

26198300790_2d9b2e44f5_z (1)It's humbling to hear people's deepest yearnings for Judaism and for spiritual life. And it's awesome to have an opportunity to serve an organization that I think can bring those yearnings to fruition.

Special gratitude is due to Rabbi Diane Elliot of Embodying Spirit, Enspiriting Body and Rabbi David Cooper of Kehilla Community Synagogue for facilitating our connections with various branches of the Bay Area Jewish Renewal community.

Photos from top to bottom: us with dean Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson from Ziegler; with an Aquarian Minyan focus group; with a focus group of young leaders convened by Kehilla Community Synagogue; at Chochmat Ha-Lev. These photos and many others are in my California Listening Tour flickr photoset.

Oceanside shacharit

26118979020_91dc1d7b7f_zOne of my dreams, for this week in California, was to manage to daven one morning on the beach. As it turns out, it's only about a block from the friend's house where I've been staying to the edge of the Pacific.

As we walk down to the beach, the sun is shining brightly in a sky of pale robin's-egg blue. As we draw closer to the water, the wind lifts up my featherweight rainbow tallit around me like wings. 

We settle on the sand. Whoever feels moved offers the beginning of a prayer -- either a beloved melody, or the beloved lilt of weekday nusach -- and the rest of us join in. We work our way through the whole matbeah, the ancient ladder of the prayer service.

At the appropriate moment I chime in with part of the Song at the Sea, because -- well, here we are, at the seashore on the cusp of Pesach. Ozi v'zimrat Yah -- "My strength is in Your song..." Next time I sing those words at havdalah they will have a different feel.

Seagulls fly overhead. A sandpiper pecks at the wet sand by the water's edge. Two wetsuit-clad surfers paddle out into the water, and from time to time I see one of them stand and glide a ways in toward shore.

We move in and out of nusach. We have moments of silence which I spend beaming. We sing "Mi Chamocha" to the melody of "Adir Hu," a Pesach song, which evokes years of Passover memories. When we rise into our amidah, our standing prayer, I have a shivery moment of recognition. Recently I had a mental image of a doorframe on the beach at the edge of the sea. Suddenly the sea ahead of us here reminds me of the view through that door.  

We close with "Eli, Eli," a setting of a poem by Hannah Szenes. In English, it can be rendered as "My God, my God, I pray that these things never end: the sand and the sea, the rush of the waters, the crash of the heavens, the prayer of the heart." As we walk away from the beach, the prayer of my heart is a fervent Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.






Four happy daveners, primed now for fabulous morning meetings!

(L to R: me, Rabbi T'mimah Ickovits of Holistic Jew, ALEPH's Rosh Hashpa'ah Rabbi Shohama Wiener and my co-chair Rabbi David Evan Markus.) 

Many thanks to the kind stranger who graciously snapped our photo so we could all be in the picture.

Jewish Renewal on Radio Centre-Ville

Radio-centre-ville-3When we were in Montréal last month on the ALEPH / Jewish Renewal Listening Tour, Rabbi David and I -- along with Rabbi Jan Salzman, visiting from Burlington, and Rabbi Shalom Schachter, visiting from Toronto -- were interviewed by Leslie Lutsky for Radio Centre-Ville.

The interview will air on April 9th at 8:30 in the morning on 102.3FM and online at Radio Centre-Ville. It will also be available as a podcast for a week.

Here's a taste of what we had to say:

Jewish Renewal is the most recent expression of the yearning of the Jewish spirit. We understand Judaism and all spiritual life to evolve. We have been doing it for thousands of years, and we never imagine stopping. Jewish Renewal understands this , and evolves pathways of spirituality that are based in the ways of the earth, based in the collectivity of political, economic, social and spiritual expressions, understands that Jewish life has never been frozen in a time or place or one way of doing things or being…and so ALEPH, as the umbrella organization for Jewish Renewal, understands and seeks to achieve a world that is beyond denominational lines, that is beyond the fractures of one way of being spiritual or religious, and to work with others who are like-minded and like-hearted in bringing that kind of Jewish spirituality into the world. -- Rabbi David Markus

Jewish Renewal takes a variety of forms. It’s not one single thing everywhere you go. It’s characterized by heart, by spirit, by direct experience of connection with the holy and with God, by music, by creative liturgy, innovative approaches to liturgy and prayer, by a commitment to social justice and transformation of the world... [In] anything that identifies as Renewal, you will find most if not all of these things. -- Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

Deep thanks to Leslie for interviewing us, and for giving us the opportunity to share some of what's exciting to us about Jewish Renewal with the listeners of Radio Centre-Ville. 

A Listening Tour weekend in Vancouver

26058278726_157e7bec26_zEvery stop on the ALEPH / Jewish Renewal Listening Tour is different, and every one has been amazing in its own way. But I suspect that our weekend in Vancouver may stand out in memory as one of the most memorable experiences in a year-plus of remarkable experiences.

Maybe that's in part because we traveled such a very long way to be there. Maybe it's in part because we were visiting such a storied community, one of the largest and longest-standing Jewish Renewal communities in the world. Maybe that's in part because the people at Or Shalom welcomed us with such open hearts.

Our visit began with a dinner gathering with members of the host committee, and then after a too-short night of sleep continued with brunch with a group of Or Shalom millennials who spoke to us about their spiritual lives, their hopes, and what "doing Jewish" looks like for them. 

On Friday evening I led a sweet and intimate family Shabbat circle, a few prayers and a few songs and a meditation on the week which was then drawing to its close. Then we davened with the Or Shalom community, savoring a service co-led by Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan and Rabbi Hannah Dresner (along with musicians Charles Kaplan, Martin Gotfrit, Joe Markovitch, David Kauffman, and Nomi Fenson.) We danced around the room, we sang and prayed, and we marveled at the beauty of the clearing evening sky as we opened the door to welcome the Shabbat bride. (And Rabbi David gave a beautiful d'var Torah about keeping our spiritual fires burning.) After davening and dinner we heard origin stories and histories from Or Shalom's almost forty years of existence, starting with the early years as a havurah in Reb Daniel and Reb Hanna's living room.

25481624483_023d3430dd_zOn Shabbat morning, Rabbi David and I co-led p'sukei d'zimra, the first section of the morning service. (As it turned out, we chose melodies wisely, and the community sang along with spirit.) Then we enjoyed a Shabbat morning service led in turns by Rabbi Hillel Goelman and then by Rabbi Hannah. I was privileged to offer the d'var Torah that morning, on what it means to me to be a nation of priests and how that dovetails with the work we seek to do in ALEPH. After another festive meal we facilitated a community open mike session, harvesting ideas, yearnings, "ouches," dreams, and hopes from the community at large. 

On Sunday we breakfasted with ALEPH Canada colleagues at a vegetarian Vancouver institution, spent the morning with the Or Shalom board of directors, lunched with congregants and clergy, and spent the afternoon with a 2o+ person focus group of involved and invested Or Shalom folks. In between these meetings and meals and meetings-over-meals, we managed to walk a bit by the water; to marvel at the blooming trees and the view of Mount Baker in Queen Elizabeth Park; even, briefly, to see a harbor seal in its natural habitat! Our visit wound down with a final meal, and some debriefing and visioning for the future, with Rabbi Hannah before we regretfully made our way to the airport to begin the three thousand mile journey home.

We have hundreds of pages of notes from the Listening Tour so far -- from the nine stops we've made in person, and also from countless phone calls, zoom videoconference sessions, and emails. And we have many stops yet to go -- we're nowhere near done. We're beginning to see some common themes which are emerging (which are beginning to spark our conversations about what might be in the "Renewing Renewal" report we'll be putting forward before Rosh Hashanah). I'm fascinated by the things which are parallel or similar everywhere we go, and equally fascinated to see things which are different in each place we visit.  I continue to be endlessly grateful that we get to do this work. It's an honor and a privilege to get to sit with people and hear their yearnings and hopes for what ALEPH and Jewish Renewal might become.


Dave Kauffman took some terrific photos from the Listening Tour weekend. Thanks, Dave! And deep thanks to the organizing committee and to all of our Or Shalom hosts. 


A nation of priests

(A Listening Tour d'var Torah for Shabbat morning at Or Shalom)


This week's Torah portion includes a description of the smicha (ordination) of Aaron and his sons -- the first ancient Israelite priests. The word smicha comes from a root meaning "to lean," as in the laying-on of hands. Aaron and his sons place their hands on a ram, which is then slaughtered. Blood from the ram is painted along their ears, thumbs, and big toes, perhaps representing the charge to seek holiness in all that they hear, in all that their hands create, and in every place where they walk.

When I received smicha from ALEPH, my teachers placed their hands on me as they spoke the words which transformed me into a rabbi. I experienced the press of their hands as a conduit for the transmission of wisdom and blessing. Afterward the only thing I could compare it to was the birth of my son: a feeling of yielding to a great transformative process which was rewriting me from the inside out.

My ordination as a rabbi, the seal on years of study, happened on a single day -- but the ordination of Aaron and his sons as priests lasted for seven. Seven is a meaningful number for us. Think of the six days of creation culminating in the seventh day which is Shabbat, or the seven colors of the rainbow, or the seven weeks of the Omer between Pesach and Shavuot. The Hebrew word for seven, שבע, contains the same root letters as the verb meaning to swear an oath or make a covenant. With seven days of ordination, Aaron and his sons entered into a covenant of service to the children of Israel and to God.

Here we are on Shabbat, the seventh day, reading about the ancient priests and their seven-day ritual. And maybe this ritual feels distant and foreign to us, as maybe the priesthood itself feels distant and foreign to us. But Torah also teaches (Exodus 19:6) that the hereditary priesthood of old isn't the only kind of priesthood. The whole community of Israel is instructed to be a ממלכת כהנים, a nation of priests. The priesthood wasn't just for them or for then. All of us are called into holy service. Shabbat, as the seventh day, is the day of smicha for everyone: the completion of readiness for holy service.

The Baal Shem Tov taught that access to God didn't depend on mastery of Talmud. He taught that God is available to all of us, no matter who we are or what we know. For the Baal Shem, connection with God was for everyone. Deep spirituality was for everyone. Jewish joy was for everyone. As the idea of being a nation of priests expands the hereditary priesthood to the whole community, the Baal Shem's teachings expanded God-connection to the community of all who yearn.

That democratizing impulse has always been part of Jewish Renewal, which Reb Zalman described as a new "turning" of Hasidism. Reb Zalman, z"l, reached deep into the treasure trove of our tradition. He translated prayers and teachings and experiences into a vernacular designed to reach people where they are. Today it is his students, and their students, who carry on that holy service of connecting seekers with our tradition and with God. 

Continue reading "A nation of priests" »

A Jewish Renewal Shabbaton in Montréal

25781973295_27746cd55c_zEvery stop on the ALEPH / Jewish Renewal Listening Tour is different -- because every community we visit is unique. Every community has its own dynamics, its own history, its own needs and yearnings. And, of course, every stop on the ALEPH / Jewish Renewal Listening Tour is similar -- because there is always common ground among and between the places we go, because we bring the same questions with us everywhere we go, and because as different as we all are, we're all part of the same greater whole. 

This past weekend I was blessed to travel, with Rabbi David Markus  and Rabbi Evan Krame and ALEPH's executive director Shoshanna Schechter-Shaffin, for a Listening Tour Shabbaton in Montréal. Our gathering was co-sponsored by by B'nai Or Montreal Community Shul, Mile End Chavurah, and our colleagues at ALEPH Canada. Many of the participants came from the broad Montréal Jewish community. Others came from as far afield as Newfoundland, Ottawa, and Toronto. 

Our weekend began with Shabbat dinner, graciously hosted by R' Sherril Gilbert, director of ALEPH Canada. We sat around the table with friends and family and members of the organizing committee. We blessed candles and wine and bread. We dined, and talked about Jewish Renewal, and after dinner we lingered at the table and sang songs of Shabbat, passing the guitar around the table, sharing favorite melodies and harmonies. This is one of my favorite ways to end any week. What a joy!

On Shabbat morning, we met at the Jewish Community Centre for davenen. This was a morning service with a large number of moving parts: a collaboration between clergy and lay leaders, between folks from B'nai Or and from Mile End and from Dorshei Emet (the local Reconstructionist shul), between locals and we who were visiting from afar.


I was honored with the privilege of leading shacharit, the part of the service containing the shema. Rabbi David and Rabbi Shalom Shachter collaborated on the Torah service (and I got to hear Rabbi David chant his bar mitzvah Torah portion, which was a delight). Rabbi Evan gave a stunning d'var Torah about Judaism "on the move," in which he made the case that Jewish Renewal is quintessentially a recognition of the fact that Judaism has always been evolving. I was particularly delighted when he connected the עשן, the smoke rising from our offerings of old, with an acronym for עולם, שנה, נפש / space, time, and soul. 

After a lovely potluck lunch (during which I had the opportunity to meet soferet Jen Taylor Friedman, of whose work I have been a fan for many years) we moved into an open mike conversation. Rabbi David offered some framing remarks, noting that exactly 40 years ago this month Reb Zalman z"l came to Montréal for a Jewish Renewal Shabbaton! (Forty, of course, is a number with great spiritual significance in Judaism -- so this confluence felt especially sweet.) And then we entered into our spiritual practice of reflective listening.

Everywhere we go, it's our intention to take in what people have to offer -- hopes and fears, kvetches and joys, the one thing you never want us to change, the one thing you absolutely hope we will change, etc -- without reactivity, and without giving in to the temptation to offer our own response. The purpose of the listening tour isn't for y'all to hear from us: it's for us to hear from you. We heard some really valuable things about what members of this particular Jewish community value most about Jewish Renewal, about the unique challenges of life as a triple minority (Anglophone, Jewish, and Jewish Renewal), and about this community's hopes, dreams, and needs.


After the open mike, we settled in for a focus group conversation with Canadian Jewish community leaders. This too has become part of our practice everywhere we go. During the focus group we aim to shift to a meta-conversation about systemic questions, about how local or regional Jewish Renewal interfaces with the bigger picture of the renewal of Judaism, about networks and models of governance, and about the ecosystem of Jewish innovation and how we think all of these pieces do, or should, fit together.

On Sunday morning there was a more intimate conversation among leaders of ALEPH and ALEPH Canada. We talked about the internationalization of ALEPH, about the both common and uncommon challenges of the next generation finding (and, more importantly, helping to make) spiritual revitalization for itself, about the challenges of serving the scattered people of Canada. I was especially interested in our conversation about the dispersed who may feel disconnected from community -- whether in rural areas not unlike the one where I live, or in urban areas -- and who want and need an ALEPH that (re) connects them. (There was also a radio interview with Leslie Lutsky of Radio Centre Ville. Stay tuned, I'll post a link when that interview goes live.)

After a final meal in Montréal we regretfully bid adieu to the city -- and to Canada, though to the nation itself we were able to say à bientôt, since we'll be heading back across the border in a couple of weeks for our Listening Tour stop in Vancouver.

Many people have asked us how we're able to manage these intense Listening Tour weekends on top of our other obligations -- Rabbi David's congregation, my congregation, his fulltime job as a judicial official, my fulltime job as mother to a six year old. The answer is that while it's true that these weekends are exhausting, they are also incredibly renewing. It is a joy and a privilege to get to visit different Jewish Renewal communities: to see what's similar and what's different about how we daven, what's similar and what's different about our origin stories and our hopes for the future, what's common and what's unique about where we hope ALEPH and Jewish Renewal will take us in years to come.


Next on the ALEPH / Jewish Renewal Listening Tour: Vancouver over the weekend of March 26! If you're in or near Vancouver, join us at Or Shalom.

Teaching in Tikshoret

This winter, ALEPH is launching a new adult education program called Tikshoret: Contemporary Connections in Jewish Learning. (The name tikshoret comes from the Hebrew root which means connection -- the idea is that these classes will connect participants with our tradition's many riches.) The classes will be offered online via zoom videoconferencing, will be relatively brief (a few sessions, rather than a full semester), will be affordable (an accessible taste of Jewish Renewal Torah), and should be a lot of fun. And fortunately, our first Tikshoret class is being taught by someone who won't mind if we're still working the bugs out of the system as we go -- me. 

Feb 17, 24, March 2 & 9 – 8-9:30pm Eastern (US) Time

Writing the Psalms of Our Hearts
Instructor: Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

Rachel-squareThe psalms are a deep repository of praise, thanksgiving, grief, and exaltation, one of our communal tools for connecting with God. In this class, each of us will become a psalmist. We’ll awaken our spirits and hearts by praying select psalms together, warm up our intellectual muscles with writing exercises, and enter into a safe space for creativity as we each write our own psalms. After sharing our psalms aloud and sharing our responses to each others’ work, we’ll close by davening together once more.

Learn more about Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

Cost: $125


All are welcome. If you would enjoy writing a handful of psalms, I'd love to have you in the class!

Upcoming classes will be taught by Shoshanna Shechter-Shaffin ("Eve and Lilith: Secrets of the Creation of the Divine Feminine"), Hazzan-Magid Steve Klaper, Rabbinic Pastor Dr. Simcha Raphael, and Rabbi David Zaslow -- more information about each of those classes will appear on the Tikshoret page on the ALEPH website, so check that out (and when you go there, a window will pop up inviting you to join the ALEPH mailing list -- that's the easiest way to ensure that you'll get updates on forthcoming programs and events.)

Jewish Renewal in Tablet

Tablet-orangeTablet magazine ran an article last week about Jewish Renewal.  I'm honored to be quoted in that article along with several other people whose voices and perspectives I respect. Some of the material from our interview about which I was personally most excited (talking about Jewish Renewal's "spiritual technologies" e.g. chant, davenology, sage-ing, hashpa'ah / spiritual direction) didn't make it into the piece, but it's a good article and well worth reading. Here's a taste:

While Renewal insiders are proud of the numbers of communities that affiliate with Aleph and with the growing number of students at their rabbinical school, which admitted 25 students in the last year, they also argue that Renewal’s influence can’t be counted in numbers of bodies alone.

Schachter-Shalomi hoped that Renewal would “be a virus.” According to Ingber, he hoped it would “infiltrate and infect as it were as many places as possible.” His legacy, Ingber said, “is that much to the chagrin of his students, he didn’t care about trademarking stuff. Reb Zalman was not a copyright, trademark kind of person,” even if it meant Renewal would not receive due credit.

As a movement centered around one man’s persona and charisma, Renewal is now at a critical juncture in a post-Reb Zalman era. “Everything that happens now in Renewal on some level was generated by Reb Zalman,” Magid explained. The consensus is that there is nobody who could or should take this place. “His whole upbringing was prewar Europe,” Magid added. “I think that that makes it impossible” for anyone to replace him. Like Carlebach and the Lubavitcher Rebbe, so, too, Schachter-Shalomi: These men bridged old Europe and new America, and nobody can do that anymore.

But if Schachter-Shalomi is irreplaceable, what’s in store for the movement?

Read the whole thing here: Can Jewish Renewal Keep Its Groove On? (I expect you will not be surprised to hear that my answer to that question is a resounding "yes!")

A week in ALEPH-land

I've been away from home for a week, in the Brigadoon of ALEPH-land. First there was an ALEPH board meeting; then a glorious Shabbaton (Shabbat weekend retreat); then the smicha (ordination) of new clergy; then the OHALAH conference of Jewish Renewal clergy. Every single day was jam-packed, from early morning until I fell into bed at night. I can't recount the whole thing, but here are glimpses.

The board meeting opened with morning prayer and song, and we sang again every time we began a new session after a break. I love this about this board -- that we break for prayer; that we break into song. The song which became our refrain was "Ivdu Et Hashem b'Simcha" ("Serve God with joy!") What a perfect mantra for our board service, and for the work we try to do across ALEPH writ large. 

On Friday night I sat between two of my dearest friends, resplendent in our Shabbat whites to welcome the Shabbat bride, and we sang in harmony all the way through the service. Singing these beloved words, alongside beloved friends who care about the words as much as I do, with their beloved voices intertwining with mine, always feels like coming home. This time was no exception. I am so blessed.

Saturday afternoon began with mincha (the afternoon service), where the leaders read from Torah in a way I had never seen before (sharing only a verse or two at a time, in both languages, and then offering a related meditative question for us to sit with.) There were sensory delights: mint leaves for scent, dried fruits to eat, white Colorado stones to turn and hold in our hands. That service led seamlessly...

...into se'udah shlishit (Shabbat's ritual "third meal") which was a beautiful feast of niggun (wordless melody), story, and song...which in turn segued seamlessly into ma'ariv (the evening service) which we sang in the weekday melodic mode facing the windows where the darkening sky was visible, which in turn led right into havdalah. As always when I bid farewell to a Shabbat with these friends, I wept.

One morning's davenen was billed as a "barbershop quartet" service. Two women and two men sang in a cappella harmony, encouraging us to harmonize and to join in, blending weekday nusach, other melodies we know for our daily prayers, and secular doo-wop melodies in a fabulous tapestry of sound. Another morning we sat in a circle with a rabbi-drummer and sang liturgy and niggunim, interwoven. 

Somewhere in there were evenings with friends, a guitar or two, hours of singing, and laughing until my belly ached with happiness. One night in a hotel room (probably annoying the heck out of the other folks on our floor!), one night in the "firepit," the lounge adjacent to the lobby with the fireplace and cushy chairs. Prayers, folk songs, Hebrew songs, Yiddish songs -- so many melodies and harmonies!

One night there was a kirtan ma'ariv with Rabbi Andrew Hahn, the Kirtan Rabbi. We sang his gorgeous Shviti chant (a setting of one of my favorite lines from psalms, which I have written about before, and which has even sparked poetry). I had been blessed to hear his chant a few months ago before it was released into the world, and I loved hearing it (and singing it) in this context, with this community.

On my last morning in Colorado I went with David to the Reb Zalman Meditation Room. We met up with Hazzan Steve Klaper there, and together the three of us davened the morning service. We sang, and the room reverberated with our words and our intentions, and we ended with "Ana B'Choach," the prayer we learned from Reb Zalman which asks God to untie our tangled places and help us be whole.

There were countless meetings. Some formal, some informal. Some planned, some arising spontaneously as someone found me or us in the lobby and wanted to talk. There were Listening Tour sessions. There were meals with old friends and new. There was absolutely not enough time to connect with everyone! How I wish I had mastered the art of bilocation, so I could be in two places at once.

As always, I return home with a feeling of profound gratitude for having found this hevre, this community of beloved colleagues and friends. I wish we'd had more time. I'm already looking forward to this summer's ALEPH Kallah (July 11-17, Fort Collins Colorado, preregistration is now open!) when I will get to learn and teach and study and pray and dine and sing and rejoice with these friends again.