Artist’s Statement

ariel Guest post by Ariel Burger

The following Artist’s Statement was composed by Ariel Burger to illuminate his work and process in creating the piece of art commissioned by Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah to be presented as tangible commemoration of the 2016 Lippman Kanfer Prize for Applied Jewish Wisdom.

Many choices go into any work of art, especially when it is commissioned for a specific purpose. This is even more true when those who commission the work are themselves creative thinkers. One of the pleasures of this project was the opportunity to learn and discuss concepts and content choices with the Lippman Kanfer professional team.

Because of the Foundation’s focus on “Living Torah”, and the subject of this Prize, I wanted to portray that concept, while exploring new territory and a new visual lexicon.

After developing several concept sketches, we narrowed them down to three, and then the artistic process guided me to the final image. Continue reading

Applying Jewish Wisdom – Making A Watchword

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By Jon Woocher, President

 

There’s great risk in trying to characterize the historical moment one is living in. I should know. In the early and mid 1980s I wrote about the ascendancy of an American Jewish “civil religion,” anchored in the Jewish federation system and celebrating values of Jewish solidarity and survivalism. Within a few years it had become evident that this civil religion was in fact beginning to decline in its reach and influence. Personalism, not communalism, was the growing force in Jewish life – as in American religious life in general. 1980s Robert Bellah (Habits of the Heart), not 1960s Robert Bellah (“Civil Religion in America”), was speaking more directly to the moment, and would continue to do so for several decades.

So it is with some trepidation that I suggest that the present moment in American Jewish life is marked by a growing focus on a new defining theme. Nonetheless, I believe the evidence is accumulating that this is precisely the case.  Continue reading

Reflections on the turning of the fiscal year

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The Jewish calendar includes a number of new year’s days (four, according to the Mishnah). January 1 is not among them. Nonetheless, since the transition to 2016 does coincide with the start of Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah’s new fiscal year, this is perhaps an opportune time for me to do some reflecting on the past year and some anticipating of what is to come.

Perhaps the pivotal moment of the past year for me came relatively late, in October, with the publication of a Statement on Jewish Vitality, an effort, signed by 74 leaders from various parts of the Jewish community, to mobilize support for a series of programmatic investments aimed at strengthening American Jewish life. The statement was directed at funders (like our foundation) and policy makers. It touched off a vigorous debate about the analysis and strategy underlying its recommendations, as well as the tone of the statement itself. As part of that debate, we as a foundation did something we rarely do: we issued a formal statement in response, laying out our reasons for dissatisfaction with the original statement and outlining our own vision and strategy for promoting Jewish vitality. Continue reading

Living Torah and the New Jewish Learning

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Nearly a century ago, the German-Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig called for a “new Jewish learning,” one that “no longer starts from the Torah and leads into life, but the other way round, from life, from a world that knows nothing of the Law, or pretends to know nothing, back to the Torah…. [I]n being Jews we must not give up anything, not renounce anything, but lead everything back to Judaism. From the periphery back to the center; from the outside, in.”

This remains a bold prescription – and certainly not the only way to study Torah and do Jewish education. But, the reality to which Rosenzweig was responding then is still with us today: For many Jews, starting with the text, with traditional teaching, begs an important question – why and how is this relevant to my life? Continue reading

Grantmaking 2014

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2014 was Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah’s first full calendar year of operation. Our work incorporates a variety of strategies for advancing the understanding and application of what we call Living Torah.  But our most direct way of doing so is by supporting projects and partners who share our perspective through grants. As we start 2015, it’s exciting for us to look back at the portfolio we’ve built over the last year and to take a minute to celebrate the organizations we’ll be partnering with over the next several months. Continue reading

Interpretive Boldness – another way to say Living Torah

We feel strongly that Jewish Wisdom is dynamic – often, when we describe what we mean by Living Torah, we’ll say that it’s the notion that Torah (in its broadest sense, meaning all of Jewish text, oral traditions, rituals and practices) is a legacy of wisdom that is accumulating, not one that is finished. 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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