In some ways I first encountered Jewish Renewal in 1994, when I read Rodger Kamenetz's The Jew in the Lotus. In other ways, my first encounter with Jewish Renewal came in 2002 when I gathered up my courage and went to my first week-long retreat at Elat Chayyim to learn with Jewish Renewal teachers. That was the year before I started blogging, so those of you who've been following this blog since 2003 have followed my Jewish Renewal journey through a lot of twists and turns.
I wrote here about my first week-long learning adventure with Reb Zalman of blessed memory. I wrote here when I interviewed for the rabbinic program on a Pesach retreat at the old Elat Chayyim with Rabbi Marcia Prager, the dean of the ALEPH rabbinic program (and her husband Hazzan Jack Kessler, head of the ALEPH cantorial program). I wrote here when I mailed in my application and was accepted into the program -- and when I took my last class -- and when I received smicha.
A new chapter in my life with Jewish Renewal is beginning. Some of you may remember that I spent a week in Colorado in January. I was there for an ALEPH Board meeting and for the OHALAH conference (the annual gathering of Jewish Renewal clergy.) It was a marvelous week, for so many reasons. There were also interesting things happening that week about which I didn't write at the time -- including some big-picture conversations about the future of ALEPH and of Jewish Renewal.
The big question was how ALEPH and Jewish Renewal should move through and beyond this first year after the death of Reb Zalman (z"l). Whom could we ask to steward the ALEPH Board and Jewish Renewal through these transitions, deeper into a future in which Renewal's unique gifts can be better-shared with the world? This would be an organizational transition, in a sense, from first generation to second generation. Both our choice, and our process, needed to reflect our values. The ALEPH Board wanted to select its next leadership thoughtfully and with intention.
The idea arose that ALEPH should have two co-chairs. Two people could bring different strengths to the work at hand, and different skillsets, and different energies. Just as Torah study unfolds best in hevruta, not alone but between a pair of study-partners, the work of leading ALEPH forward could also benefit from two perspectives. Two can be wiser together -- more than the sum of their parts. The co-chairs would need to be not only passionate about Jewish Renewal, but also able to work well together. To my great delight, everyone seemed to agree on who the two co-chairs should be.
With Rabbi David Markus in Boulder, August 2014.
I am humbled, honored, and overjoyed to be able to tell y'all that starting later this year, I will become one of the co-chairs of ALEPH: the Alliance for Jewish Renewal, along with my longtime hevruta partner Rabbi David Markus.
Jewish Renewal has changed my life. I know that sounds corny, but it's true. This is where I've found spiritual sustenance. This is where I've found community. This is where I've found teachers who opened up for me the incredible well of Jewish text and tradition. This is where I've found models who show me how to live with prayerful consciousness; who teach me how to balance a love of what came before with a fearless embrace of how Judaism continues to evolve and unfold in today's world.
Jewish Renewal gave me a way of thinking about how different religious traditions relate to one another and to ultimate truth. Jewish Renewal gave me access to the many meditative practices which had been relegated to the dusty attic of Jewish tradition, returning them to their rightful place as central Jewish spiritual technologies. It's thanks to Jewish Renewal that I know how to pray -- not just how to fluently navigate the words of our classical prayers, but to actually inhabit them.
It's also thanks to ALEPH that I have my rabbinate. In that sense, ALEPH is responsible for every moment in the life of my community over which I've been blessed to preside, from ordinary Shabbat mornings to extraordinary Yom Kippurim, from babynamings to funerals and everything in between.
Pesach is just over the horizon. One of the things I love about Pesach is the call "let all who are hungry come and eat; let all who are needy come and celebrate the Passover with us." I think a lot of people are spiritually hungry, and may have grown so accustomed to that hunger that they don't even notice it's there anymore. I think Jewish Renewal has sustenance to offer. And I am incredibly excited about getting to help share those gifts with the world. Let all who are hungry come and eat, indeed.
Better yet, I get to do that hand-in-hand with my hevruta partner of the last 20 years. What could possibly be sweeter?
You can read the official release about this news here on Kol ALEPH: ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal Names New Leadership. (There are some lovely quotes of acclaim for the two of us; many thanks to the rabbis and scholars who expressed those votes of confidence!)