Every 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.