Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Emerging Spiritual Paradigm

This article appeared in Sh'ma this month along with an article published by me. This is a thoughtful analysis of what is happening in American Jewish religious life at the current moment and Seattle is blessed with at least two very exciting examples of this. I am attaching my article in a separate post. Rabbi Dov

The Emerging Spiritual Paradigm
J. Shawn Landres

The past few years have witnessed a renaissance in Jewish religious life through the formation of new spiritual communities unbound by conventional expectations about the roles and parameters of a synagogue. These new groups — led mostly by Generation Xers (born 1965-83) and Millennials (born 1983-2000) — crave spirituality, but they aren’t interested in rote rules or in lightweight worship. Instead, they focus on devotional experiences that move beyond the walls of the synagogue, build community, and, perhaps most of all, create what they call an authentic connection to their traditions and to God. De-emphasizing the 20th-century themes of Holocaust memory and “Israel right or wrong,” the leaders are formulating a community-based spirituality through a return to Judaism’s sacred pillars of Torah, prayer, and social justice.

My colleagues and I at Synagogue 3000 call this phenomenon “Jewish Emergent,” because of similarities with a Christian movement known as the Emerging Church. Partly in response to the “church-growth” and “seeker-sensitive” movements that have fueled the expansion of megachurches such as Willow Creek, Saddleback, and Lakewood, “Emergent” Christian theologians and pastors have united to create new spiritual communities based on ritual innovation (including a return to traditional liturgical forms) and a renewed commitment to social justice.

Three broad streams of Jewish leaders and communities are emerging: independent minyanim, “parashuls” (analogous to parachurches), and congregational communities of practice. The independent minyanim tend to be organized around lay-led Shabbat worship, while the parashuls are led by charismatic entrepreneurs creating connections beyond traditional institutional boundaries; leaders of the third type, whether they admit to it or not, are reinventing or replacing the synagogue. While all three types attract unaffiliated individuals looking for more episodic individual spiritual expression, the independent minyanim and the new congregational communities of practice seem to be magnets for highly-educated but disaffected Jewish summer camp and Hillel alumni.

Both Jewish and Christian emerging communities practice what one leader called “orthoparadox” — the creative tension that arises when doctrine and intentional practice are given equal weight in organizing a community’s priorities. Congregation Tehillah’s Rabbi Shoshana Leis describes it as having “Kaplan on my left and Heschel on my right.” Like their Christian counterparts, Jewish Emergent communities are blurring the line between the “sacred” and the “secular”; they are ignoring traditional institutional boundaries to do their work wherever it is, especially in local urban neighborhoods. Put another way, the institutions are driven by actions, not defined by an address. And perhaps partly as a result, there is room for serious Jewish theology as the ground of both prayer and activism.

Relationship, not contract or program, is the driving metaphor for many Jewish Emergent communities. As Rabbi Dov Gartenberg of Panim Hadashot notes in his blog [and see essay in this issue — ed.], “hospitality is making a huge comeback as a central religious ideal. The shared meal, the open door, the nonjudgmental acceptance, the care for the other is a central overarching aspect of a spiritual life.”

To be sure, much of the outreach and hospitality characteristic of Jewish Emergent is reminiscent of strategies employed by Chabad, Aish HaTorah, and other Orthodox outreach organizations. Hospitality is not exclusively an Orthodox trait, and when it is combined with a nonjudgmental approach to personal religious practice and an attention to social justice not normally found in the ultra-Orthodox world, it becomes a potent spiritual practice with major implications for the way Jewish institutions engage with Jews of all kinds.

To some observers, the recent ferment appears similar to the chavurah movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. There are three key differences.

First, while both are intentional communities, the 1960s chavurot were far less concerned with traditional ritual practice: many chavurot were created to engender ritual freedom. Almost all Jewish Emergent minyanim and congregations, as well as many parashuls, devote considerable time and energy to worship.

Second, from a broader sociological standpoint, chavurot were vehicles for a more individualistic seeker spirituality characteristic of baby boomers; their organizational heirs are the small groups prevalent in many evangelical churches and often found in synagogues as “Jewish journey groups.”

Third, as Rabbi Andy Bachman, co-founder of the Brooklyn Jews community, has pointed out, unlike the 1960s chavurot, today’s Jewish Emergent groups are decidedly non-utopian in their pragmatic approach not only to social justice in an imperfect world, but also to the instability and uncertainty that has come to characterize the post-boomer life course.

“We’re all standing on the threshold,” remarked IKAR’s Rabbi Sharon Brous at an S3K gathering of Jewish Emergent leaders, “but not necessarily of the old doors.” Jewish Emergent resists easy definition: its postdenominational cant reflects an attempt to find the essence of Jewish spiritual commitment, one free of labels or packaging. “We’re creating new doors, we’re creating windows, we’re knocking holes in the wall,” Brous continued. “We hear the voices from the outside differently than they may have been heard before.” Though its leaders exhibit a rich diversity of approaches and philosophies, they do share the values they practice and an emerging vision of Judaism as a relational conversation aimed at spirituality in intentional community.

J. Shawn Landres is Director of Research at Synagogue 3000 (http://www.synagogue3000.org/) and a Visiting Research Fellow at UCLA’s Center for Jewish Studies. He has co-edited and published three books and is the author of numerous academic and popular articles, most recently, “Jewish Communities in the Americas,” in A Handbook of Global Religions (Oxford, 2007). His latest book, co-edited with Oren Stier, is Religion, Violence, Memory, and Place (Indiana, 2006). He wishes to thank Joshua Avedon and Ben Callet for their contributions to this essay.

Innovation in Jewish Life

Dear Friends,

I am enclosing a PDF of the June's Sh'ma Journal. This is an outstanding publication which focuses on Jewish issues and concerns. This month the journal is focusing on innovation in American Jewish life. I have an article in the issue. I am attaching a pdf of the issue in this file which you may look at. If you are impressed, consider subscribing to this excellent publication by going to their website:
Download shma_june06.pdf

Monday, June 19, 2006

Summer Message #3 The Accident of Being Jewish

The Accident of Being Jewish

I strongly subscribe to the opinion expressed by Leon Wieseltier in his book, Against Identity. "Every inheritance is an accident. This is what religious, sexual, and ethnic identity is designed to make one forget. For a feeling of contingency, it substitutes a feeling of necessity. But it is not necessary to be necessary, if one is prepared to work. There is no shame in being accidental." People call me up in my capacity of Rabbi of Panim Hadashot. They tell me they are born Jews.

They have Jewish genes. They are Jewish to the bone even if they practice another religion. I don't believe in Jewish genes except to the extent you may get an inherited disease. I don't believe that Jewish genes make you believe unique things or behave in certain ways. I do think that upbringing and culture matters, so there are a range of so called Jewish behaviors and attitudes that a person may acquire through a wide range of upbringings which could be called Jewish. I have a broad definition of Jewish culture and it can be transmitted in various ways. But I also believe there is content to Judaism. Judaism stands for specific ideas and perceptions of the world. To learn these a person, Jew or non-Jew, must make effort to understand the core of the culture, the guts of the religious life, or the language and values of the people.

Wieseltier continues, "Rabbi Yose said: Make yourself fit for the study of Torah, for it is not an inheritance." Not an inheritance: this from the first century in Judea , gives the problem of tradition, the illusion of tradition, in all its brutality.....For centuries we have been warned. The biological deos not establish the spiritual. Like the sins of the fathers, the illuminations of the fathers will not be visited upon the sons. So you want Jewish spirituality. You have to work for it. It is not automatic.

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg6-19-06

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Summer Message #2 Why Be Jewish?

Dear Friends,
We have chosen to wrap the Panim Hadashot High Holiday program around a theme: Why Be Jewish? The High Holidays is a time when Jews gather. The traditional format is to pray most or all of the days. But one of the big breakdowns in modern Jewish life is the connection of the Jew to the traditional prayers. So our experiment is based on gathering Jews to study and converse on Jewish themes as an alternative path to marking these special holidays. The theme of Why be Jewish? gets to the heart of the matter. How do we ground a commitment to living a Jewish life, of expressing a positive Jewish identity? Do the traditional answers to this question make sense? Are there new answers to this question? During the summer months I will reflect on the question in this blog. I welcome comments and thoughts and hope you will join us in examining this question when we gather on Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur.

Leon Wieseltier wrote a beautiful little book in the 90s called Against Identity. It is aphoristic in format and is filled with profound observations on identity and contemporary culture. Over the next few entries I would like to share some of the most thought provoking passages and relate it to our question.

This passage is found on page 25. "Kierkegaard said that it is easier for somebody who is not a Christian to become a Christian than it is for somebody who is a Christian to become a Christian. I am always at a disadvantage toward my own tradition. I am not only quickened by my intimacy with what I have been given, I am also dulled by it. I lack the wakefulness of the stranger. I should conduct myself toward the tradition to which I have fallen heir like an actor who has played a scene poorly: I should go out and come in again."

It has certainly been my experience working with converts that it is easier for somebody who is not a Jew to become a Jew than it is for somebody who is a Jew to become a Jew. Now this might sound shocking, given that Judaism carries a whole lot more cultural baggage (specific language, land, ethnicity). But I think the observation makes sense from the perspective of motivation. It is now commonplace to see Jews by Choice show much more fervor and interest in Judaism than their born Jewish partners. It is also common to find Jews either complacent or alienated about their legacy. Adulthood is a second chance for Jews to go out and come in again.

This is the basis of asking the question of Why be Jewish? To some the question makes no sense at all. Some of us feel Jewish to the bone and have never felt the need to articulate the question, much less answer it. But we no longer have singular identies and affiliations. Many ways of being tug at us. So what does the Jewish 'piece' have to add to who we are? Does the Judaism of my childhood make any sense in adulthood? If I did not get much Judaism in my childhood, what does it have to add to my adulthood?

Wieseltier adds on page 27: "To know about a thing that is yours is to know little about it." I think this is true of Jews today. It was true of Jews (Israelites) in the Exodus. God picks a stranger to lead them out of Egypt. So maybe the solution today is to make ourselves strangers temporarily to our own tradition to reassess its importance in our lives.

Judaism greatly emphasizes Kavanah-intention and purity of heart. Posing the question of Why be Jewish? restores the possibility of kavanah to living a Jewish life. Intentionality lifts up our acts and our values to a higher level. That is why the question is appropriate on the Days of Awe when we seek to move our lives to a higher level.

Shalom, Rabbi Dov Gartenberg6-18-06

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Summer Message #1

Dear Friends,

The summer is almost upon us and it is time to relax and enjoy the good weather and the company of family and friends. Panim Hadashot will scale down its activities to a minimum from June to August. If you are interested in hosting a Shabbat around Seattle, we still have openings during most of this period.

At Panim Hadashot we are busy planning for the fall and the coming year. We are planning a wonderful and unique High Holiday program which will complement the Shabbat around Seattle events that will continue in the Fall.

The Panim Hadashot High Holidays will feature the following

· A Unifying Theme: "Why be Jewish?" withs study sessions and forums on Rosh Hashannah afternoon, Kol Nidre, and Yom Kippur afternoon.

· Two beautiful High Holiday Seders, including a Rosh Hashannah Seder on Friday, Sept 22nd and a Feast Before the Fast prior to Kol Nidre on Sunday later afternoon, October 1st with the ritual foods prepared by Emily Moore, renowned Seattle Jewish chef

· Expanded "Services for the Ambivalent" on Rosh Hashannah morning, Kol Nidre, and Yom Kippur morning.

· Our entire program will take place at the gorgeous grounds of Bastyr University and St. Edwards Park in the Juanita-Kenmore area above Lake Washington with outdoor programs planned.

· Family programming will also be offered as well as concurrent childcare to make our program family friendly.

We chose the theme "Why Be Jewish" to explore the contemporary meaning and relevance of Judaism for Jews with complex identities. How do we integrate our Jewish sensibilities and identity with our other frames of reference? What in Judaism speaks to our current reality? What in Judaism does not? How do we fashion a passionate and thoughtful commitment to Judaism which is a force for good in the world and within Jewish life? We want to utilize the period of the High Holidays to reflect on these questions and start the new year.

We also want to celebrate the beauty of Judaism by sharing with the community the beautiful seder traditions of this season. We will offer the first public Seudah Hamafseke-the feast before the Yom Kippur Fast. Rich with symbolic foods and uplifiting rituals and activities, this meal will enable participants to ready themselves for the great day of atonement and offer time to pause to reflect on the past year and hopes for the coming one. Along with the Rosh Hashannah seder these public seders enable participants to share this season with family, friends, and new faces a festival meal in a relaxed and spiritual manner.

More information will be forthcoming as the summer progresses. If you are interested in reserving a spot (since space will be limited), please write to Cynthia, my assistant, cynthia@panimhadashot.com.

On a personal note, I am overjoyed to announce that I am soon to marry. My fiancee is Robbie. She is a lovely person, full of life and kindness. Our plans are to marry in the late fall. Thanks for the many well wishes.

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg