Programs Archive

Progressive Judaism in the 21st Century

The landscape of the American Jewish landscape has changed dramatically over the past generation.

While the Orthodox Jewish world generally expands, many non-Orthodox Jewish communities are shrinking. The ethnic “glue” that held liberal Jewish communities together is rapidly being replaced by a multi-racial, intermarried and very mixed population. It is time for liberal Jewish communities to open their doors wide, and welcome all who are interested in exploring the great gifts of Jewish living, teaching and values. We will explore ways to embrace this approach and some of the challenges we will face along the way.

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Seven Is the Magic Number

The cycle of seven is the organizing principle of the Torah, hence of Judaism. The seventh day, the seventh month and the seventh year all point us toward restoring a right relationship between ourselves and each other, and between the human community and the earth.

The cycles of seven remind us to stop doing and remember being, to stop lording over and remember humility, to release and let go and remember the simple joy of being alive. Seven is the magic number, the number of completeness and of fulfillment and of God. By studying the patterns of seven in the Torah, Judaism’s deepest teachings about how to live in balance with the cosmos and with each other come into crystal focus.

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Avodah She’balev

An Experimental Guide to Uplifting Jewish Prayer

One of the terms that the Sages gave for prayer is Avodah She’balev, which means “the service of the heart”, or more aptly, “Heart Work.” Prayer is meant to awaken us emotionally and move us spiritually. However, that rarely happens unless we also let prayer touch and open our hearts.

In this workshop we will explore rabbinic, Hasidic, and contemporary teachings about how to pray. We will immerse ourselves in some of the most beautiful and well-known prayers, and discover their inner poetry. We will learn about the deep structure of the Jewish prayer service. And we will find out how prayer can be a practice that keeps our hearts open and supple.

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Whither Zionism?

Past, Present and Future

In recent decades “Zionism” has become a flashpoint in the war of words about the nature of the Jewish State. An examination of the history and changing meaning of Zionism can help us sort through the conflicting and confusing debates that surround us. Zionism was conceived in the late 19th century as the national liberation movement of the Jewish People. During the 20th century the Zionist movement achieved its outrageously unlikely dream of establishing the State of Israel as an independent Jewish nation in the Land of Israel, the Jewish ancestral homeland. But what does it mean to be a Zionist now in the early 21st century? 

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Turn It and Turn It

Uncovering the Treasures of the Weekly Torah Portion

When we learn how to study Torah in the Jewish way, by looking at its every facet and layer, we enter into a 3,000-year-long conversation on how to live a life of purpose and meaning

Torah study is an inexhaustible and wondrous activity. We can approach the text as spiritual teaching, history, allegory, sacred myth, literature, self-help…and find our way to unanticipated insights and wisdom no matter what our starting point. All one needs is a healthy sense of curiosity and an open mind.

Whatever the time of year, Rabbi Jonathan will serve as a skillful and generous guide as we explore the Torah portion of that week. Even the sections most obscure to the modern reader will yield their hidden bounty. Close readings, classical commentaries and interpretations, creative writing, discussion, song, even theater games can unlock the riches of the text, and engage our full selves in studying Torah. From a single class to an entire weekend, we can immerse ourselves in creative Torah study, a discipline much richer than you ever imagined.

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Pirkei Avot

A Jewish Spiritual Guidebook

Pirkei Avot – The Wisdom of the Sages – is a carefully constructed collection of spiritual aphorisms from the 2nd Century CE. Our ancient rabbis were teaching us not only how to lead ethical lives, but also how to awaken to the presence of God within and all around us.

The teachings challenge us to refine attributes such as humility, stillness, curiosity and grace that will allow us to understand what it really means to be servants of the Divine.

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Introduction to Jewish Mysticism

Human beings appear to be “hard-wired” to be able to experience the interconnectedness of all creation. When we are graced with that kind of experience, we wish to describe it, share it, and re-enter that consciousness. Every culture develops metaphors and techniques that provide a pathway toward the experience of Oneness. Jewish mysticism is one of those roadmaps.

In this workshop we will explore the origins and central teachings of Kabbalah, the mystical realm of Jewish wisdom. We will especially focus on the Tree of Life, which is the central metaphor and map in Kabbalah for the inner life of God, the inner life of Creation, and the inner life of the human soul. We will explore and meditate on this Tree.

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Healing the Jewish Self

It’s good to be a Jew – really! Not necessarily easy or problem-free, but fundamentally, life-affirming-ly, soul-enriching-ly good.

After more than a quarter century as a rabbi, I am convinced of the worthiness and richness of pursuing a Jewish path (and there are many possible expressions of that path.) And yet so many of us are ambivalent about our Jewish identity. Perhaps we suffer from “Post-Traumatic Synagogue Disorder”, having been raised in a spiritually empty house of worship that was dramatically dissonant with our own experience of the sacred. Perhaps we assumed that Judaism was too tribal, and we longed for the universal. Perhaps the terror of the Holocaust loomed too large. Perhaps no one ever even showed us how to begin.

“Healing the Jewish Self” is a workshop refined over the past 30 years that offers us a radically safe, welcoming and accepting space to explore our Jewish identities, even the painful parts, and to shed light on those shadowed and sometimes hidden places of doubt, criticism and pain.

In this transformative workshop, through lecture and discussion, interpersonal sharing, joyous Shabbat services, spiritual teaching from the Jewish tradition, visualization, creative movement, and song, participants can explore their relationship to Judaism in a safe, confidential, and “judgment-free” environment. By identifying and exploring the negative stereotypes we have absorbed as Jews, we will grow in love and compassion for ourselves and for one another.

There is not some single “right” way to be a Jew. This workshop will help you be the Jew that you would like to be, choosing today rather than reacting to the past. Whether you are a first-timer or have attended this workshop before, you’ll thank yourself for coming.

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All My Bones Shall Praise

Praying through Movement, Song and Dance

Do you long to move, to fill your lungs, to sing out, to more fully express the life that flows through you? Full-bodied, full-hearted, full-throated expression: this is a good way to pray.

It’s sad that prayer has become so disembodied – it becomes dry and incomprehensible. Prayer is not a laundry list; prayer is an expression of our innermost yearnings, joys, and desire to feel connected to life within and around us!
The siddur – the prayer book – is a script, but unless we fully inhabit our role as worshippers, and embody the script, it remains lifeless on the page and in our mouths.

You don’t have to “believe” in order to pray. The answer to our prayers is the experience of being more fully alive. And the vehicles and vessels for our “aliveness” are these astonishing bodies that we inhabit.

In this workshop we will awaken and embody our prayers and the prayers of our ancestors. Through movement and vocal exercises, improvisational scores, text study, and a sacred and safe environment we will become a praying community, and join our energy to the chorus of life that is always joyously resounding throughout the universe. There are no prerequisites – physical limitations are not an obstacle. Our experience will be rich and joyous and will forever change your understanding of the power and purpose of prayer.

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The Art of Blessing

Jewish practice is filled with blessings, for almost every possible occasion or activity. We also bless one another. Blessings carry genuine power, and transmitting the energy of blessings makes one into a channel of awareness and goodness.

In this workshop we will learn how to be expert blessing-givers. We will experience the power of blessing: how it nurtures gratitude in the giver, and is a mindful tool for bringing us into the present moment; and we will practice the beautiful art of blessing others, giving them our best in the form of energy and loving words. We will also study the deeply meaningful structure of the traditional blessing formula
Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha’olam – Blessed are You, YHVH, our God, Sovereign of Time and Space. Properly understood, each word of that formula clarifies our intention as we bless.

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