A Listening Tour weekend in Boulder
May 24, 2016
The ALEPH / Jewish Renewal Listening Tour began in May of 2015 with a weekend in New York, co-hosted by Romemu and by Yeshivat Maharat. (I wrote about that right after it happened -- Sidewalk havdalah.) As it turned out, our final Listening Tour trip took place one year later almost to the day.
Rabbi David, our executive director Shoshanna, and I arrived in Boulder late last Thursday night and went directly to the home of ALEPH Board member Judith Dack, who graciously hosted us for the weekend. On Friday morning, after Rabbi David and I indulged in some early mountainside davening, we went to the campus of Colorado University for a focus group. The Boulder focus group featured rabbis and laypeople and academics, as well as representatives from the CU Boulder Jewish Studies department, the Boulder JCC, and the Denver-based nonprofit organization Judaism Your Way, among others.
That afternoon we toured the new Boulder JCC campus. That wasn't originally on our agenda, but I'm so glad we managed to add it to the day. The campus is beautifully-designed, and every element of its construction seems thoughtful and well-chosen. While there, we had the opportunity to visit the Reb Zalman room -- a room in the JCC's library that is filled, floor-to-ceiling, with books that had been part of his own home library. It's only a tiny fraction of his rabbinic library, most of which is still in the house where he lived, but it offers a glimpse of who he was through the lens of some of the books he cherished.
After a dinner with the Nevei Kodesh board, we davened on Friday night at Nevei Kodesh with Rabbi Sarah Bracha Gershuny and the house band (which, to my delight, featured not only piano and violin but also standing bass!) I was particularly moved by their choice to set Ahavat Olam, the evening prayer that speaks of God's enduring love for us, to the melody of the love song "Erev shel shoshanim"... and by the fact that before counting the Omer, we sang "Bati l'gani," Reb Zalman z"l's setting of verses from Song of Songs.
We davened on Shabbat morning at Pardes Levavot. The co-rabbis there, Rabbi Victor and Rabbi Nadya Gross, were out of town at a family simcha (joyous occasion), so we experienced a contemplative chant-based service led by a congregant. Here too there were sweet nods to the memory of Reb Zalman z"l -- including the use of his four-part chant "It is perfect / you are loved..." Services were followed by a potluck lunch where we held a Listening Circle, harvesting stories and frustrations and hopes from members of that community.
During the afternoon, Rabbi David and Shoshanna and I went to Reb Zalman's kever (gravesite.) I was moved to see -- and to add to -- the collection of pebbles and small precious items that people have left on and around the headstone. We davened mincha (the afternoon service) there on the grass beside his stone. Then we sat for a long time and talked about Reb Zalman and about our own hopes and dreams for what the future of ALEPH and Jewish Renewal might be.
Late in the day we met with the board of directors of the Yesod Foundation. It was a pleasure to be able to thank them for everything they did to uplift Reb Zalman and his work, including establishing the Reb Zalman Legacy Project, and to talk with them about what their future might hold. That was followed by a potluck dinner at Nevei Kodesh, which was in turn followed by a poetry reading. I shared poems from Toward Sinai and from Open My Lips -- poems for the Omer journey, and poems for the poignant liminal time when Shabbat begins to give way.
After the poetry reading we moved into a community open mike, harvesting yearnings and "ouches" and needs and hopes from the Nevei Kodesh community. That open mike began in a unique way: before we began moderating the conversation as we usually do, everyone in the room took a turn telling us something they hoped we would carry away with us from our time with their community. We wrapped up the night by meeting with Rav Bracha to talk about her community and the Listening Tour and ALEPH and what might come next.
On Sunday we met with Eve Ilsen, a teacher and writer and student of noted mystic Colette Aboulker-Muscat. (She's also the widow of Reb Zalman.) Reb Eve will be teaching with us at Shavuot at Isabella Freedman in a few weeks (sign up now!), and will be teaching at this summer's ALEPH Kallah, too. (You can sign up for that now too.) We spent the morning bringing the Listening Tour to her, receiving her hopes and dreams for the ALEPH that is to come. After a final lunch meeting with Rabbi Tirzah Firestone and David Friedman, we bade Boulder farewell and began the long journey home, grateful to all of our hosts -- and to all who participated in the weekend's conversations -- for opening their homes and their hearts.