An Invitation to Join Us on an Exciting Journey

American Jewish Life in Transition

The launch of Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah comes at a time when many American Jews are once again looking in the mirror and pondering the image they see.  Whether the most recent portrait, painted by a large-scale survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, leaves one hopeful or distressed, there is one fact that it is incontestable:  American Jewish life today is diverse, dynamic, and multi-faceted, perhaps more so than ever in the past.

Traditional avenues for Jewish involvement – synagogues, communal organizations, Israel – still speak powerfully to many Jews.  But, many others are seeking new and different ways to express their sense of Jewishness, either as supplements to or substitutes for these traditional modes.  And, for the vast majority of Jews, the major factor that determines whether and how they will activate their Jewishness is encapsulated in a simple question:  Do the Jewish institutions, experiences, people and teachings they encounter enrich and provide real value for their lives?

Fostering Living Torah

We believe that the answer to this question can and should be resoundingly affirmative.  We believe that Jewish wisdom, sensibilities, and experiences can help people lead more purposeful and fulfilling lives.  We believe that Judaism is a dynamic, evolving wellspring in ongoing dialogue with the world around it, and brings a powerful vocabulary of accumulating wisdom to this conversation.  We believe that this vocabulary has grown and changed over time and must continue to do so, but that such change should be made with deep respect for and knowledge of  the insights embodied in our texts, traditions, and historical experience.  We believe that this wisdom is the collective product of all those who have grappled with Torah over the centuries and have used it to illuminate, guide, and ennoble their lives.  We call this “Living Torah,” and seek to place ourselves in this continuum of Torah wrestlers, aiming thereby to keep Torah alive and vibrant.  And, we believe that this Living Torah can be a force for change beyond our own community, as Jews and “Fellow Travelers” from all backgrounds, inspired and guided by its wisdom, act to repair and perfect the world.

Many Jews today have never encountered this kind of Torah.  Happily, we see a movement of individuals, organizations, and even self-organizing groups taking shape across Jewish communities that are offering a growing number of opportunities to change this reality.  Through an exhilarating variety of approaches – from lively and penetrating text study, to creative forms of ritual and spiritual practice, to active pursuit of a more just and sustainable world – they are connecting Jews and others to Jewish wisdom, sensibilities, and experiences that are enriching people’s lives and inspiring them to incorporate Jewish insights and practices into their daily actions in ways both traditional and new.  This movement for Living Torah – one that includes rabbis and educators, grass-roots activists and philanthropists, entrepreneurial innovators and national organizational systems, thought leaders and Jews-on-the-street – has the potential to reshape and reinvigorate American Jewish life in the 21st century.

Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah:  Our Role and Our Invitation

As a foundation, we are privileged to identify with and support this movement.  We take seriously the role we can play in helping to nurture and accelerate its growth.  We plan to do this in a variety of ways — through identifying and disseminating principles of effective practice, sharing the vivid stories of those who are part of this endeavor, grant-making, network- and capacity-building, and being a trusted ally and forceful advocate.

Above all, we seek to be a good partner with others on the journey, learning and sharing our insights as we go.  This movement for Living Torah is still a work in progress.  We want to work with you all to shape the content and concepts that define it, to refine its methods and tools, to forge stronger connections among its members, and to enable it to reach broader constituencies.

We are near the beginning of our journey as a foundation and want and need your insights, your suggestions, your critiques.

Do you see the American Jewish scene today as we do?  Do you sense the moment we sense? What are we missing?  Where are the arenas of opportunity?  How can we work together to make a meaningful difference?  What are the challenges?

Please post a comment to share your thoughts and your experiences.

Please visit our Resources page to read other thoughts about Living Torah and contemporary Jewish life, and please give us your suggestions for additional resources we can make available.

This is a time of both discontinuity and great opportunity for American Jewry, its institutions, and its philanthropists.  We want to do our part to meet the challenge and seize the opportunity.   We look forward to partnering with you in this endeavor.

Leave a comment

5 thoughts on “An Invitation to Join Us on an Exciting Journey

  1. One way to manifest living Torah is to empower our colleagues and students to document how they translate the middot of the Torah into their lives. This can be easily done by inviting our fellow Jews to create their own web-based Jewish knowledge products such as web camera casts, screen recordings, audio files, e-portfolios, songs, raps, blogs, etc. For more information on this process of translating one’s Jewish life experiences into digital artifacts take a look at these two links: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=edeewDS-G18&feature=youtu.be and https://docs.google.com/document/d/1mtHLXpMqNZROxCLY_3z50Rg5sJg34WKE-TSuDoHeyEU/edit?hl=en_US

    Thank you. Richard

  2. Thank you for the invitation, I accept!
    I am the founder (am I the only member?) of a movement very similar to Living Torah and that is Quotidian Judaism..a Judaism for the every day. I am committed to connecting real life questions and needs to the “wellspring” of Judaism.

    Why am I so passionate? Because I’ve been lucky to discover from what has been given to me a Judaism that helps me live every day–how to be a better wife; how to balance quiet and hurriedness…ways to be uplifted….ways to lift up others…
    So I’m in.
    Let’s work together to turn a daph to a dance; to turn a ritual to a smile; to turn a pasuk to a treasure; to turn a chant to a prescription for healing.

    Looking forward to seeing this vision in people’s lives.

  3. I couldn’t agree more. Many are up in arms over the Pew study and American Jewish Engagement, and while as a young Jew this is concerning, few are talking about this as an optimistic crossroads for opportunity.
    While I can’t say I wasn’t engaged in the Jewish Community back home (I spent the past several years working for various Jewish organizations) I still felt the urgent need for a new more enriching and purposeful Jewish experience.
    This year, I left my home in Colorado (which I have never done for more than a few weeks) to embark on a journey which would (and still is) opening doorways and paths towards enriching my life. For the past three months I have been privileged to be studying and volunteering in Israel as part of BINA’s Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa post college volunteer program. Here we have been vigorously investigating our Jewish traditions, identities and values in attempt to refine ourselves as Jews and professionals and do our part to create a more just world.
    While here, a teacher taught me that a yeshiva needs windows. What we learn from the Torah and our traditions should never be confined to our study. It should lead to action (a discussion of much rabbinic debate, I have learned) both within ourselves and within the communities we study/live in. To me, this is the epitome of this noble concept of “Living Torah”. When I spend two days a week volunteering at an adaptive sports program for children and adults with disabilities, I am living and breathing the ideal and value that we were all created in B’tzelem Elohim (in G-ds image). Likewise when I help teach English to Arab Israelis in my neighborhood, I feel I am fulfilling the mitzvah of loving “the strangers as yourself” as well as the overall significance the Torah places on education. My hope is, that through our study, our struggling, and our understanding (or even sometimes lack of understanding) of the Torah we will be able to live with a full, balanced and dynamic approach to our Jewish values and lives.
    I feel blessed to be part of such an enriching experience and can’t help but wonder if more Jews of my generation would benefit from such an immersive form of “Living Torah”. I applaud your optimism that this is a wonderful and challenging time in the story of American Jewry and consider myself a partner in the quest to create a new, meaningful chapter in this ongoing saga.

    • Simi, thank you so much for your comment. Yes, yours is exactly the kind of experience — and response to it — that we hope to help foster. Please continue to share your experiences and your thoughts, and to have a wonderful year.

  4. I think a lot about the Talmudic story in which Moses did not recognize the Judaism of Rabbi Akiva’s yeshivah but was comforted to know that this was in fact the same Torah that was given to him at Sinai. (Menachot 29b) I think we have the opportunity to be like the generations around Rabbi Akiva. That is to say, while I certainly pray that our circumstances are less bloody than those of Akiva and his era, we too have the possibility to respond to the changing world around us with passion and commitment to the richness of our tradition and the creativity to explore new modalities. It is an exciting and serious responsibility and it is wonderful to consider what we can work on together! I am so grateful to be part of the conversation!

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