Why do Jews today connect with Jewish practices and ideas? For some it may be a desire to pass on hallowed traditions. For others, an innate sense of pride. For still others: guilt. Or, all of the above (at some point or another).

There is another kind of motivation to ‘do Jewish’ that I’m interested in understanding, because I feel it myself and I wonder where it fits. I feel it when at a Shabbat meal I hear and sing a melody that resonates and reverberates around me – sometimes because it is the tune of that time of year, other times because of the beauty of the melody itself. It comes when I emerge from a pre-holiday mikvah, ready to be new again. It arises when I look around a kumtzitz campfire, take in the faces of people I am connected to and sense the way in which together we make a community.

If pressed to choose a word for this feeling, I would call it ‘joy.’ Perhaps I could call it ‘pleasure,’ but pleasure can sound so hedonistic. Better yet, Simcha is a Hebrew word that comes closer, but maybe that’s because I read more layers of meaning into a Hebrew term than into a stark English word. Regardless of what we call it, it is a very positive feeling. A Gen-Xer who grew up in a mostly ritually unobservant home, as an adult I participate in Jewish practices … because I enjoy them.

Not every person will find comfort – or even joy – in every aspect of the vast set of traditions, practices, philosophies and mindsets that is Judaism. Still, where do people find pleasure and joy in participating in Jewish practices and behaviors? Are there particular conditions under which people find and feel more joy ? Or conditions under which more people find joy?

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who coined the term “flow”, said that “The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” True joy – not a quick fix, but a deep, resounding sense of connection to self, others, community and our place in the world — is not about being entertained. It is about being purposefully engaged in an activity where one can succeed, be challenged and connect with others. 

So – what does that look like in a Jewish context? Of course an experience does not need to be a Jewish one in order to cause joy in its participants … but where in the range of Jewish experiences do people find the most joy and pleasure, and what causes it?  Among many organizations asking questions like these, three come to mind that we at Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah are excited to be supporting: Mechon Hadar, Wilderness Torah and Bible Raps.

Mechon Hadar


Many find joy in music. It’s hard to hear an amazing melody and not feel moved. Study after study shows that music is emotionally evocative, beyond our conscious thoughts. And singing together increases trust, empathy, and social bonds among the singers – in other words, creates fertile ground for positive emotions.

So it makes sense that from time immemorial, Jews have used melody to join togther, to track the cycles of the year, to express grief and a whole range of emotions, to build community. To this end, Mechon Hadar makes Jewish music and melodies available, each song a ritual technology for building joy and building community. They also train budding and veteran song-leaders in the subtle skill sets to help individuals feel safe enough to participate in singing. When people open their hearts to song in a group setting, they can ultimately open their hearts to much more.

Wilderness Torah


What is it about being outside that naturally (pun intended) seems to put us at ease and clears away stress? Wilderness Torah has been enabling Jews and fellow travelers to experience the sheer joy that many feel in nature in the context of Jewish community and spirituality. For, being in nature does more than just provide fresh air and inspiring views. It also helps us to connect with natural qualities that are inside of us.

Wilderness Torah has shown how spending time in nature as a community is particularly satisfying. Their community-wide festival celebrations, each tied to the Jewish calendar, involves many of the participants in helping the event to run. From kids to elders, participants roll up their sleeves together to make the event happen – and, by design, watch out for ways that even newcomers can take a leadership role that matches their growth edge.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel describes an important difference between entertainment and celebration:

People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating, we seek to be amused or entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation. To be entertained is a passive state–it is to receive pleasure afforded by an amusing act or a spectacle…. Celebration is a confrontation, giving attention to the transcendent meaning of one’s actions.

In the same way that Burning Man or music festivals provide a kind of active way for people to be involved in celebrating together, Wilderness Torah’s immersive communal celebrations reframe the Jewish holidays in an environment that creates the kind of active state that Heschel describes.

Bible Raps


For the last 7 years, Matt Bar and his organization Bible Raps have been teaching and coaching kids and teens to write and perform catchy and hip rap songs that express their own interpretations and understandings of texts. Getting involved with the music production – doing illustrations, writing rhymes, video recording and production – each student finds their own way to contribute to the multi-media process. Participants get involved in one of these artistic modalities — that they are both excited by and can challenge them at their skill level – to create a finished project of a music video. Providing multiple options for engagement increases the likelihood for a broad spectrum of participants will find their sweet spot of challenge … and enjoyment.

Now Bible Raps is rolling out a digital platform, expanding the ways that students connect to the music and its textual sources after they have experienced Matt’s exciting live show or made their own rap.

In the Hebrew language there are more than 10 words for joy, each one capturing a distinct nuance of the range of positive emotions we feel when we are connected, inspired, satisfied and/or elated. Many Jews are ready to sing together, engage nature outside, dance and find other ways of being joyful and celebrating. We are honored to be able to support Mechon Hadar, Wilderness Torah, Bible Raps, and others who are leading us on the road to joy.

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