Jewish Identity and a New Vocabulary

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By Rabbi Lee Moore

 

This article was originally published in eJewishPhilanthropy on May 30, 2016, contributing to ongoing discussions in that publication.  

“Jewish identity” is too vague and ambiguous to be a useful construct as the end-goal of Jewish education and Jewish life. In his eJPpiece “Speaking of Jewish Identity” Andres Spokoiny presents this idea and then asks exactly the right question: given that the language of “Jewish identity” is increasingly “limiting us and conditioning us in ways that are detrimental to the objectives we claim” … what words are more specific and effective that can lead us into a constructive discussion about outcomes in Jewish life?

Speaking of words, we have a vocabulary list to offer. It’s not complete, but it starts to approximate a way we might speak about how “Jewish ideas, values, languages, history, rituals, emotions, and behaviors inform particularly Jewish lenses and tools to interpret reality and flourish as human beings” – to address Spokoiny’s challenge.

Over the last two years, Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah has been experimenting with a framework that we call Jewish Sensibilities. Continue reading

Teshuvah & Forgiveness

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A small gift to help sustain you though a meaningful fast this Yom Kippur – In this episode of our podcast Becoming Jewishly Sensible, Rabbi Lee Moore interviews writer Susan Terkel in a conversation that digs into teshuvah and forgiveness.

Susan Terkel is the author of numerous books about medical and social issues, including Feeling Safe, Feeling Strong (one of the earliest books about child sexual abuse) and Finding Your Way, a book that explains ethics for teens. Her book People Power was on the American Bookseller Association’s “Pick of the List,” and Ethics was selected as Hungry Mind Review’s “Editor’s Choice,” and recommended reading by Parents Magazine. Colonial American Medicine was selected for Science Books and Film’s “Best Children’s Books” list. She has written two books about drug policy: the first earned starred reviews; the second was selected for the American Library Association’s “100 Books a College-Bound Student Should Read.” Recently, she coauthored Small Change, selected a finalist for Books for a Better Life Award, and featured in USA Today.
Ms. Terkel is a graduate of Cornell University, where she studied Child Development and Family Relationships. She also studied Social Work at Case Western Reserve University. In addition to writing, she is an artist, wife, mother, grandmother and schmoozer.

Becoming Jewishly Sensible – episode 1: Lech Lecha

We are proud to introduce our podcast: Becoming Jewishly Sensible.

Becoming Jewishly Sensible explores Jewish Sensibilities, distinctively Jewish mindsets that influence how we take in experiences, make sense of them, and choose to act.

In this inaugural episode, host Rabbi Lee Moore interviews Maggid Zelig Golden on the Sensibility of Lech Lecha.

 

Please leave us a comment – let us know what you think, and help us shape our future episodes.
Help us out – One Click and you’ll instantly Tweet: Check out the new podcast from @lippmankanfer, Becoming Jewishly Sensible http://ctt.ec/VWu8a+

Brit, An Unlikely Midrash

We think of the Jewish Sensibility Brit as a call to articulate explicit norms that, when practiced, nurture community.

Contemporary writer Anne Carson wrote a poetic meditation titled Book of Isaiah, Part I, as part of her book Glass, Irony, and God.  Read it here, courtesy of The Poetry Foundation.

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What is the nature of partnership, of contract?  How can principles of Brit guide us in relation to our community, our nation, our collective identity?

Share your thoughts on this poem and the Sensibility of Brit in the comments.

Teaching Torah through Brokenness

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Guest post by Rabbi Paul Steinberg

The following was originally published June 9, 2015 by eJewishPhilanthropy.  Many thanks to Dan Brown and Rabbi Paul Steinberg for allowing us to repost on this blog.  In his reflections on the work of Beit T’shuvah, Rabbi Steinberg offers depth and personal insight to two Jewish Sensibilities – Shevirah and Teshuvah.

In 1972, during the television program Eternal Light, Abraham Joshua Heschel vigorously exhorted: “Here stands a man and I’ll tell you, this is a man who has no problems. Do you know why? He’s an idiot!” So it is: to be a mindful human is to have problems. Certainly, these problems include those of the world: injustice, corruption, poverty, warfare, hunger, and on and on. As Jewish mystics identified long ago, the world is broken and is in need of healing, and we should be doing what can to mend such brokenness.

Yet, not only the world has problems or is broken. The Talmud declares that each human being is a world unto him or herself and, therefore each one of us experiences brokenness. Continue reading

What is a Jewish Sensibility?

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Have you ever seen a piece of art, encountered a new project, or heard a snippet of conversation between two people and thought to yourself, ‘hm … that’s so Jewish’? Not because of particular images or words that were used, but rather the way thoughts were processed, the way connections were made, the way people responded to each other.

All cultures have particular mindsets that get passed on from generation to generation, shaping how its people make sense of the world, as well as the spectrum of possibilities for how one might respond to it. So too, Jewish culture exhibits features that, often on a subconscious level, inform how people take in what they experience, make sense of it and then act accordingly.

In 2003, Vanessa Ochs  used the term sensibilities to describe “particularly Jewish ways of thinking about what it means to be human, ways that guide and orient a person’s actions and choices.” Merriam-Webster defines a sensibility as “an awareness of and responsiveness toward something.”  Sensibilities are like mindsets through which the core activities of perceiving the world, processing those perceptions, and responding to them take place.They cut across categories of knowledge, emotion, valuing, relationships, and behavior… and are applied toward life situations in such a way that involves all four of those levels.

How does this happen? Why does it matter? Continue reading

Call and Response – The Jewish Wisdom behind Compassion

“Cultivating compassion and empathy is at the very heart of Judaism’s vision of a spiritual life. To take Judaism seriously is to commit to growing kinder, to showing up, and being present with people during moments of pain and suffering.”

The world is and has always been a place of great beauty and painful, dark, troubling events. Looking back at this past year, in particular, the flow of suffering seems to be a rising tide. We see and feel deeply the magnitude of crisis and tragedy and pain, both global and intensely personal – the thousands dead of Ebola, the protests of Ferguson and beyond, the victims of Har Nof. And now Paris.

It is easy to feel overwhelmed, to protect yourself from deep fear by distancing yourself, to go numb. Continue reading

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.

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