Jewish Life is Waking Up
Premiering Wednesday, December 2
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Many times people come to rabbis with serious questions. But sometimes, rabbis go to one another. This is one of those times.
Long before the pandemic, Jewish communal life was already in a state of change. Definitions of what held us together, of how we define ourselves were in a state of flux, debatable.
Now, with the pandemic, societal forces have accelerated, and possibilities that were once taboo (zoom shabbat, anyone?) are on the table. Once again in our history, our understanding of what it means to be in a community, what it means to pray, not to mention how our prayers relate to the world around us and to whom we are supposed to pray, are ripe for reinterpretation.
One of us, Rabbi Ed Feinstein, is the rabbi of a large, long-standing and multi-generational synagogue in Los Angeles. The other, Rabbi Noa Kushner, is the rabbi of a young-ish, experimental community in San Francisco. We found we both had similar questions regarding the future of Jewish life: Who is God for this moment? Does the pandemic hold Jewish meaning? What are the communal responses, what is the Torah we might strive to articulate and uphold?
Not fully reaching the answers ourselves, we went to some of our rabbis: We invited a series of thinkers who we felt could begin to address aspects of these questions and to help us. We looked for people who were already on different edges of Jewish life: R. Yitz Greenberg just completed a work of theology articulating God’s role and ours in the world, Avivah Zornberg offers that Jewish texts reveal layers of ambivalence and trauma and, as such, have much to say in this very moment. We asked a world renowned Kabbalist (Melila Helner) what spirituality has to do with anything material, a well respected activist (R. Jill Jacobs) how she knows what to fight and when. We found artists, Israelis and Americans — sometimes all three — if they would be part of our search mission, our collective effort to find out how Jewish life is waking up now, and importantly, how we might help it wake up.
Sometimes rabbis and teachers can repeat their stories (guilty as charged). We tried to find ways to really push our conversation forward, away from what sounds good and is already known, towards the less confident intersections of partially developed and even undeveloped thought. Our aim was not polish (read: one take) but rather the articulation of the beginning of ideas that feel new or newly true.
We may or may not have asked our friends and teachers to tell us their favorite jokes, but you’ll have to see us all in action to find out. We’ll just say here that we think laughter is going to be necessary in whatever comes next. Rabbi Ed Feinstein Rabbi Noa Kushner
Dr Yehuda Kurtzer, Pres, Shalom Hartman Institute, North America
Rabbi Roly Matalon, Bnai Jeshurun, New York
Prof Melilah Hellner-Eshed, Hebrew University, Jerusalem
Rabbi Tamar Elad-Applebaum, Zion, Jersusalem
Rabbi Benay Lappe, Svara, Chicago
Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, Hadar
Rabbi Amichai Lavie-Lau, LabShul, New York
Prof Ari Kelman, Stanford University, Palo Alto
Rabbi Jill Jacobs, T’ruah, New York