experiments, instruments & measurement book

If You Really Listen: Yachdav 2015

If You Really Listen: Yachdav 2015
Posted by Ben Alpert in Yachdav

By Cyd Weissman

This Thursday, April 30th, at our annual Yachdav Gathering, over 130 educators from The Coalition of Innovating Congregations will gather in NYC to listen. What an odd activity for a group known for doing. The Coalition is known for creating new models of Jewish Enrichment, such as learning that happens in homes, and in yoga studios. We’re known for creating Jewish learning that makes bunks, tribes, buddies, and havurote instead of classrooms. We’re known for making madrichim, chiefs, morei derech, and counselors instead of teachers. Our reputation is for designing Whole Person Learning that speaks to knowing, doing, believing/valuing and belong, not just learning for recitation or fun.  We’re not known for sitting. What emerges when makers and shakers sit and listen?

Josh Nelson, performing song and leading text study, will set the kavanah for Yachdav with a passage from Talmud:

“And it shall come to pass, if listening you shall listen” (Deuteronomy 28:8): if you listen, you will continue to listen, but if not, you will not listen.

והיה אם שמוע תשמע וגו’ אם שמוע תשמע ואם לאו לא תשמע

I confess, I have the bad listening habit described in the latter part of the text. Often, way too often, I only hear the first part of someone’s story, or comment. I hear something said, and my mind starts sparking. I get excited. I have a counter thought. Instead of listening to someone’s full comment, I’m ready to respond mid-way through their sharing.

If I have a dollar every time I heard my husband say, “Let me finish.” I’m not fully listening. I’m engaged. But that’s not good enough. listening_skills

Thursday’s listening schedule will include:
1. The Innovation Marketplace – A new space for folks who care about Jewish education to listen to one another.. .to shop around like in any marketplace for good ideas and tools for educational change. It is a place to hear a voice and share your own.

2.  Teen Voices – Funded by The Jim Joseph Foundation, the Jewish Education Project went to Boston, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Denver to listen to 150 Jewish teenagers. These teens ranged from high to low engagement in Jewish life. What did we learn from their stories? What do they value? What can you hear in their struggles? What we hear should make us pause before we design one more program for them.

3. Parent Voices – Thanks to UJA-Federation, we hired ICW Consulting, led by Ilene Wasserman, to conduct focus groups with 100 parents across New York. These parents send their children/often join their children in the new models of Jewish Education. Oh my, what we heard! There is a new story to tell about parents. Their voices we’ll urge us to walk through new doors as educators.

4. New ResearchProf. Steven M. Cohen, has heard a new generation of parents and learners. He no longer is quoting a study that says one-day-a-week religious school harms, not helps Jewish identification. He has powerful new research that will equip us for a new trajectory of education.

Educational leaders will hone their listening skills in sessions about listening when God is present; listening as a community organizer; listening for advocacy; listening as a designer and listening for the whole story. Experts can help us have helpful listening habits.

We’re a busy Coalition. We’re constantly on to the next innovation. What happens if we shift the energy from creating to listening? What gets created in that listening? How different is the creation, once we listen? What will emerge if you really listen?

A Happy Coincidence: My Third Josh Nelson Performance will be at Yachdav

A Happy Coincidence: My Third Josh Nelson Performance will be at Yachdav
Posted by Ben Alpert in Yachdav


By Jessica Rothbart

“You’re from Toronto? Do you know my friend Jared?”
“ I know you from Boston University’s Hillel!”  
“Don’t I remember you getting bat mitzvahed with my baby cousin?”

Jewish geography is an amazing game. As I have moved through my life, Jewish geography has been a common theme. I was brought up in an involved Jewish home, then I chose Jewish extra-curricular activities and now I work at a non-profit Jewish organization. How do I continue to be surprised when familiar faces pop up?

Lucky for me, one of those familiar faces is Josh Nelson. Heading up the Josh Nelson Project, he is a singer, song-writer musician who is leading the charge of making beautiful, creative music that defies how Jewish music fits into the modern landscape. He will be performing as our “opening act” at this year’s Yachdav Gathering. I was excited to hear that he was chosen to kick off our wonderful day of communal learning. Yachdav is our annual day of learning with member congregations from the Coalition of Innovating Congregations. We welcome education directors, lay leaders, clergy, and teachers to come together to network, learn, celebrate, and grow in a cumulative experience that shares our accomplishments from the year and builds connections to each other. Some people may know Josh from his recent turn as Shlomo Carlebach in the Broadway musical Soul Doctor. Others may recognize him from his shock of jet black, curly hair. josh nelson

Good news, fans. I don’t think the hair is going anywhere. In fact, I remember that hair in two distinct performances from my adolescence (as a curly girl myself, I’m always on the lookout for others in the curl club). The first was at camp. One Sunday at Camp Ramah in New England, we were told there was going to be an evening performance of a band called Yom Hadash. This band featured two brothers who were not trying to make Jewish music cool – they were actually doing it! The rock infused beats got hundreds of campers off their tuchases and had us dancing until what felt like the wee hours (probably 9pm). A fan was born!

The cover of the Yom Hadash album “When We Were Young” featuring the red sun that was featured the band’s shirt.

The cover of the Yom Hadash album “When We Were Young” featuring the red sun that was featured the band’s shirt.

The next time I saw Josh with Yom Hadash, it was at a USY event in Weston, Florida. There was a critical mass of us high school aged, Floridian Ramahniks who piled onto the yellow school bus to get a dose of the excitement that Yom Hadash had brought to camp. We danced in the social hall with other audience members, hearing a mix of original Yom Hadash songs and some fabulous covers. “Mustang Sally” stands out in my mind – it was the first time I had heard it. At the end of the night, I bought a black t-shirt with a glowing red sun, the design from their album over. I’m pretty sure I still have it somewhere.

Now as a professional and mother, it’s so exciting to be able to relive these memories for the first time watching him perform as his solo act. I’m especially excited to hear his piece L’Dor Vador live, which rings especially true now  with two infants at home. Thanks to the good fortune of Jewish Geography I doubt this will be my last run in with the performer.

Hope to see you at Yachdav!


Preparation Materials for Monday’s Call with Rabbi Shai Held

Posted by Ben Alpert in Webinars, Yachdav

R. Shai Held

June 2014

 Abraham Joshua Heschel: The Call of Transcendence

There’s still time to sign up! The conference call will take place on Monday, June 23rd from 12-1 pm.


1)     The greatest beauty grows at the greatest distance from the ego (God in Search of Man, p. 404)

2)     A man entirely unconcerned with his self is dead; a man exclusively concerned with his self is a beast.   The child becomes human…by becoming sensitive to the interests of other selves.  Human is he who is concerned with other selves.  Man is a being that can never be self-sufficient, not only by what he must take in but also by what he must give out.  A stone is self-sufficient, man is self-surpassing… A vital requirement of human life is transitive concern, a regard for others, in addition to reflexive concern, an intense regard for self.  At first the other selves are considered as means to attain the fulfillment of [a person’s] own needs.  The shift from the animal to the human dimension takes place when, as a result of various events, such as observing other people’s suffering, falling in love or by being morally educated, he begins to acknowledge the other selves as ends, to respond to their needs even regardless of personal expediency (Man is Not Alone, pp. 137-139).

Wonder and Self-Transcendence:

3)     The soul is endowed with a sense of indebtedness, and wonder, awe, and fear unlock that sense of indebtedness. Wonder is the state of our being asked.

In spite of our pride, in spite of our acquisitiveness, we are driven by an awareness that something is asked of us; that we are asked to wonder, to revere, to think and to live in a way that is compatible with the grandeur and mystery of living.

What gives birth to religion is not intellectual curiosity but the fact and experience of our being asked (GSM, p. 112).

4)     How shall we ever reciprocate for breathing and thinking, for sight and hearing, for love and achievement? (Man is Not Alone, p. 39).

5)     The more deeply we meditate, the more we realize that the question we ask is a question we are being asked; that man’s question about God is God’s question of man (GSM, p. 132)


God and Self-Transcendence:

6)     To the prophet, God does not reveal himself in an abstract absoluteness, but in a specific and unique way—in a personal and intimate relation to the world. God does simply command and expect obedience; He is also moved and affected by what happens in the world and he reacts accordingly. Events and human actions arouse in Him joy or sorrow, pleasure or wrath. He is not conceived as judging facts, so to speak, “objectively,” in detached impassibility. He reacts in an intimate and subjective manner, and thus determines the value of events. Quite obviously in the Biblical view, man’s deeds can move Him, affect Him, grieve Him, or, on the other hand, gladden and please Him. This notion that God can be intimately affected, that He possesses not merely intelligence and will, but also feeling and pathos, basically defines the prophetic consciousness of God (Between God and Man, pp. 116-117).

7)     The God of the philosophers is all indifference, too sublime to possess a heart or to cast a glance at our world (MNA, p. 244).

8)     Biblical religion begins with God addressing man, with His entering into covenant with man.  God is in need of man.  A Supreme Being, apathetic and indifferent to man, may denote an idea, but not the living God of Israel (The Prophets, vol. 2, p. 15).

9)     Implicit in Heschel is an interesting hierarchy: the God of Israel is all transitive concern, the human being is an alloy of transitive and reflexive concern (not to mention bald egocentrism and self-assertion), and the God of Aristotle is nothing but reflexive concern (or perhaps better: no concern at all). In the ways that matter most to Heschel, then, Aristotle’s God is less than a human being, not more (Shai Held, Abraham Joshua Heschel, pp. 140-141).

10)  To respond to God is, quite simply, to bring an end to callousness and indifference. It is in this context that Heschel’s polemic against what he considers the Hellenization of Jewish theology should be understood… Heschel deems the God of Aristotle, Philo, and Maimonides to be so transcendent and self-contained as to be altogether heartless and aloof. In a world of genocide and atomic devastation, a world in which human beings are heedless and uncaring, what good is such a God? In a world in which man is impervious to the suffering of his fellow, what could be more otiose than a God who is an Unmoved Mover? In what we might imagine as a perverse form of imitatio dei, according to Heschel an indifferent God can only yield an indifferent humanity. But the God of the prophets is entirely different, profoundly affected by the cries of the oppressed and downtrodden. The God of Israel is a God of pathos and concern, and to worship this God–really to worship this God–is to have our indifference shattered, and our stubborn selfishness torn to shreds (Shai Held, Abraham Joshua Heschel, p. 232).


11)   We do not step out of the world when we pray; we merely see the world in a different setting.  The self is not the hub, but the spoke of the revolving wheel.  In prayer we shift the center or living from self-consciousness to self-surrender.  God is the center toward which all forces tend.  He is the source, and we are the flowing of His force, the ebb and flow of His tides.

Prayer takes the mind out of the narrowness of self-interest, and enables us to see the world in the mirror of the holy.  For when we betake ourselves to the extreme opposite of the ego, we can behold a situation from the aspect of God (Man’s Quest for God, p. 7).

12)   What intrinsic connection is there between self-transcendence and the aspiration to bring God back into the world? For Heschel, I would suggest, human selfishness and divine immanence are at eternal loggerheads: an excess of self, the kind of self-centeredness that values only expediency and utilization, closes off one’s capacity to hear and respond to the call of the other (as well as of the Other). This is true both of individual lives, and of the collective life of humanity: the more focused we are on ourselves, the less porous we are, and thus, the less able to be penetrated by the word, will, and presence of God we render ourselves. Self-transcendence, in contrast, is a kind of tzimtzum, a self-contraction that allows the other (and the Other) to make a claim upon us. In the act of overcoming myself (in prayer or elsewhere), then, I create an empty space, as it were, in which the word of God can be heard and the presence of God can dwell. Thus, in transcending the self, the human being invites God’s return into his own life, and into the life of humanity as a whole… Overcoming oneself, then is a form of opening oneself. God dwells, the Kotzker famously taught, wherever we let God in (Shai Held, Abraham Joshua Heschel, pp. 227-228).


Worth your Weight?

Worth your Weight?
Posted by Ben Alpert in Cyd Weissman, Yachdav


By Cyd Weissman

Have you ever heard the phrase “Worth your weight in gold”?  Gold is very high right now and without giving away my weight, I will say according to today’s prices, I’m worth over 2.5 million dollars. Feeling pretty millionaire right now.

gold 2

Rabbi Shai Held, at Yachdav, taught over 100 educators, lay leaders and clergy that  self worth that is “comparative or competitive is fool’s gold.” Of course he wasn’t talking about comparisons  per troy ounce. Rather he was referring to the most common practice that each of us has. We hold a core belief of self that our worth comes from the  I’m smarter-more beautiful-more-successful-than-others-standard. Or the opposite is true as well. I’m less worthy because I’m less-intelligent-beautiful-successful-standard.

I still remember as if it were today, my minimal shameful value on that standard in seventh grade math. Mrs. Dyer would call out the test scores, Larry Shtasel, 97; Ricky Margolius 92, Cyd Gold –yes my maiden name is Gold–61. (I totally had a crush on Larry… tall with a smile and he could divide… had my first kiss with Larry even though I couldn’t divide)

“It’s fool’s gold,” said Rabbi Held to believe that your sense of self-worth comes from such a standard. He spoke about his experience as the Harvard Hillel rabbi. The freshmen class was regularly in his office suffering from the discovery that they were just average. As high school seniors they were the valedictorians. As Harvard freshmen they were just like everyone else. So what was their value?

According to Rabbi Held’s teaching of Jewish text, we can know authentic self worth by realizing 

  • No one in the history of the world until now, and no person in all the history of world to come will be just like you.
  • God, with a great love, created us uniquely- given each of us unique gifts
  • We are loved-greatly- by God in our singularity and uniqueness
  • This is our worth
  • Self worth is not something you earn… you have to attempt to live up to it… this is our responsibility in life
  • “God’s love is a call to service, and we answer not as human beings in general but as human beings in all of our particularity.”

In a culture that insists on comparisons, how can we possibly develop self worth based on our uniqueness?


Parents can make a difference, according to Rabbi Held.

“Next time someone asks, ‘How is your daughter?’ don’t answer, she got this so and so award, say she helped someone this week.”

“I tell my son,” Rabbi Held said, “that Abba and Mommy love him very very much. And knowing that in some way someday I will disappoint him, miss that mark of love in some way, I tell him that God loves him even more. In this way my son will always know that love.”

We as educators can also play a role. What would our settings look like if they were designed to help a child know his or her unique gifts? What would children experience when they entered the spaces of Jewish learning that expressed God’s love for them? What does Jewish space feel like that helps a child know a self worth that has nothing to do with trophies and grades, popular and not popular? Rabbi Held writes, “A real teacher works with her students’ individuality in two ways: She teaches in a way that the student can hear and learn, and she elicits from him his own unique insights and inspiration.”

That’s our exploration this year. Taking on the charge of Rabbi Held, The Coalition of Innovating Congregations will experiment, and learn what it takes to help children and parents have a language, an experience and an expectation of self worth without comparison.

Let’s start to play with this. What is one thing you could do to help a child flip his/her sense of self worth on its head?

To follow Rabbi Held’s teaching sign up for his weekly writings HERE.

What Does the Universe Need Me to Do?

What Does the Universe Need Me to Do?
Posted by Ben Alpert in Yachdav


By Ellen Rank

Last Thursday, leaders of 60 congregations from the NYC area gathered for The Coalition of Innovating Congregations Yachdav, our annual end-of-year day of learning and celebration.  We were privileged to learn with Rabbi Shai Held, a brilliant speaker, and Co-Founder, Dean and Chair in Jewish Thought at Mechon Hadar. We delved into deep text study with Rabbi Shai Held, looking into “Flipping Self-Worth on its Head: A Jewish Theology of Human Dignity and Self-Worth.” As Rabbi Held reminded us, we each experience the world through our own lens, in a unique way. So, too, I imagine that everyone left the text study thinking about ideas to which they connected personally as well as a new understanding of the Jewish value: Self-Worth.

I was fascinated listening to Rabbi Held speak of how we are each required to step up and fulfill our obligations – to do what the universe needs us to do. And, that, even if we have avoided fulfilling our obligations, we can change our ways, and step up and do what is needed by the universe.  I loved when Rabbi Held reflected (in the name of Rav Kook) that Yom Kippur is a time for asking forgiveness for not stepping up, for not doing the obligations that the universe needs you to do. He explained that the late afternoon reading on Yom Kippur of the Book of Jonah, in which Jonah–after great hesitation–finally steps up to his obligation, highlights that we, too, – even at a late hour – can change and live up to our value.

After studying with Rabbi Held, I have a greater appreciation for this Jewish value of Self-Worth, and I wonder: How do we help our learners to value themselves, to see themselves as being important in the universe, and having responsibilities to the universe? How do we guide learners to appreciate that each person is valuable? These are essential questions. It is our responsibility as educators to design powerful learning experiences that will deepen our learners understanding of Self-Worth and responsibility. Let’s take advantage of our terrific network of Innovating Congregations and share our ideas on how to build Self-Worth.


Yachdav 2014 – SELF-WORTH: Flipping it on its Head

Yachdav 2014 - SELF-WORTH: Flipping it on its Head
Posted by Ben Alpert in Yachdav


By Cyd Weissman


Bean in Chicago. Have you seen your reflection?

Yachdav: Together. Yearly, the Coalition of Innovating Congregations, 60 congregations in New York gather to celebrate and learn from one another. A big idea we all share is creating Jewish learning for the whole of a person. We are not in business just to know stuff or do stuff. Jewish learning for the whole of a person is our work.

This Thursday, Rabbi Shai Held, Co-founder of Hadar Yeshiva, will lead our learning to understand how we can flip this notion of being a person-of self worth on its secular head. Is there a Jewish way to think about self worth that may be in contradiction to popular culture? I’ve been thinking about it.

The first thing that comes to mind I must be a coffee bean. I start the day with Dannon Coffee Yogurt. I’ve been launching my day this way since my junior year of high school. As the morning hours tick I drink one to two cups of coffee-mostly decaf. When decadent, when yearning for sweet satisfaction, I indulge with coffee ice cream and a dollop of chocolate. So if the saying is true that “You are what you eat,” I’m the bean.

Or am I my roles? I am wife to Jay, mother of four, mother-in-law to one, sister to Alan and Lisa, educator in New York, friend to wonderful women and a handful of men, cousin, grandmother of two, daughter to Rosalie and David and neighbor to Sheffield Lane. I am woman. I am Jew. I am American. It’s nice to meet you.

Or possibly I’m my resume. I am, as our times insist, the sum total of my colleges and jobs and activities. I am the University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania State University and Gratz College. What a funny combination of ivy Jewish practicality. I don’t belong to clubs per se, but I’m in Facebook groups and would say I’m an aspiring blogger, reader, and writer.  My sports are limited to putting on hard hat and hard boots for a ride on a horse and putting on sneakers for long walks with my husband. So that’s who I am? A degreed worker with too little time for hobbies?

I’m also short. I’m short according to all the images in magazines, and movies and daily culture. I’m short in weight… or let’s say over weight. I need to stand up straight and stop aging—looking my age. The daily mirror and personal reflection remind me that I’m short of what I could be and should be.

I’m short in all my roles, where I can be better and do better. I can be more patient, more loving, and be a better listener. I can keep a cleaner house and spend more time helping others. Yes, the list is longer, but don’t need it all hanging out there. So I’m short, even though I’m 5’5″.

Which ever definition you pick-my food, my activities, my roles, the images of our times the sum and total of me-my self-worth comes from circumstance or achievement. I’ve got to earn myself worth. I’ve been working on it and still come up short.

Clearly I need Rabbi Shai Held’s teaching: Flipping Self Worth on Its Head. A Jewish Theology of Human Dignity and Self-Worth. This Thursday, Rabbi Shai Held is going to challenge my notion of self worth.

Is there wisdom for folks like me who have built a life of fullness and shortness?

Is there a guide from our Jewish teaching to counter young people’s core belief that the college they get into, and the clubs they belong to in service of a resume are their sum total?

We’ll study on Thursday and I’ll share. In the meanwhile I’d love to hear your thoughts.

What are the guts of self worth?  If I’m not a coffee bean, what am I?

Texts to Study Thursday:
1. Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5
Therefore was Adam created singly: (1) to teach you that if anyone destroys a single soul,* Scripture charges  him as though he had destroyed an entire world, and if anyone saves a single soul,* Scripture credits her as  though she had saved an entire world. (2) And [Adam was created singly] for the sake of peace in the human race, so that no one might say to his fellow, “My ancestor was greater than your ancestor,” (2b) and that the heretics should not say, “There are many powers in heaven.” (3) And [Adam was created singly] to proclaim the greatness of the Blessed Holy One, for a human being stamps many coins with one die and they are all alike one with the other, but the King of the kings of kings, the Blessed Holy One, has stamped all of humanity with the die of the first man, and yet not one of them is like his fellow. (4) Therefore each and every person is obligated to say, “For my sake was the world created.”

*Some versions say: “from Israel”

2. Mishnah Avot 3:14
Rabbi Akiva used to say: “Beloved is the human being, for s/he was created in the image of God. Even  more beloved is s/he for it was made know to her/him that s/he was created in the image of God, as it says,  ‘For in the image of God God made the human being’ (Genesis 9:6).”

I Don’t Speak to My Son

Posted by Ben Alpert in Cyd Weissman, Yachdav


By Cyd Weissman

My first urge was to resist the chat coming from the man who sat next to me on the train yesterday. I wanted my own space to read Shai Held’s book on Heschel which begins by identifying the callousness of modern man because of technology. Heschel says I am in a state of looking out for my needs and missing wonder in the world, which has me missing out on appreciation, and service, then anchoring myself in history so I can know transcendence. Ok, I put the book down and gave my attention to the man who clearly wanted to talk.

He started with the movie Noah— reviewed in the morning paper. My commentary, “It is hard for me to accept Russell Crowe in the role of Noah. Noah is supposed to be a righteous man, and that actor doesn’t seem quite right. On the other hand, according to the Bible, he is righteous in his age, which means he doesn’t have to be so perfect, just better than the others around him.”

From there he carried the conversation to his daughter’s 21st birthday where some of the girls got so drunk that they were doing things they would be very embarrassed about. “I told my wife, don’t repeat those stories.” “Yes, there is a teaching that once you let the feathers go from a pillow you can’t gather them up again, just like gossip, once you say it, those words can’t be taken back.”

Was it the Heschel or something about this man with glasses, and a nose that said he had spent a good deal of time drinking, that made me go preacher?

Lee, I learned, was planning a celebration for his 25th wedding anniversary. He had the minister and 50 guests coming as a surprise for his wife. He planned for them to reenact their wedding vows. “Should I bring her wedding dress which is sealed and have her change into it there? One of my sisters says, yes, and the other says, no. What do you think?” ” Really she can fit into it?” asking with amazement, because I’m not sure I could get my right arm into my own wedding dress.” “Yes, the same 105 pounds as when I married her.”

Lee quickly went from celebration to heartache. He had already told me he had made a lot of money in computer software, lived in a 5 bedroom house, and in the summer went to their shore house. Then: “I don’t speak to my son.”

“Anyone who knows me, knows I’m all about family. My son was my everything. He’s my oldest. My son is handsome and athletic. I went to every game he ever played. After he graduated college he thought I’d still be his scholarship, you know what I mean, pay for everything. That was two years ago. And last year I had to do tough love. He didn’t want to work, just take. I haven’t spoken to him in months. He won’t pick up the phone or answer my email.”

Back to celebration., he went on, “My son won’t be at our anniversary celebration. I know how hard that will be for my wife.”

“Did you invite him?”


In great detail he described how he missed his son. His son also blamed everything on him. He knew he was doing the right thing, yet wasn’t sure. “I heard he has two jobs now to pay his rent in San Francisco.”

“Can I offer some advice?” Hey, he had already asked me about the dress. With his permission: “Can you write him a letter? A handwritten letter that says:

I love you. I’m sorry for the pain.
I miss you. Mom and I are celebrating our anniversary in two weeks.
Our twenty five years together has been through difficult and good times. That’s love.
It won’t be the same without you.
I will send you a ticket if you can come.
Love, Dad

And this man who had, during a short ride, given me the accounting of his life, listing fifty guests, twenty-five years of marriage, five bedrooms, three children, two houses and a lost relationship with one son, started to cry. I went on, “You would send the letter without the expectation that your son will respond or come. Just send it so in his time of figuring this out he’ll know, you love him. That’s all. Every boy has to do his struggle to become a man. Eventually, forgiveness comes. That might be in a month or a year or five years. But it will come.”

“I can do that. A handwritten letter,” he agreed.

Lee had a ticket for the Acela express train and mistakenly got on the regional rail. When he left he said it was meant to be that we had sat next to each other. He wished me many blessings. One more parting, he added, “God bless you.” Is this what Heschel was talking about?

Heschel, the First Fifty Pages

Heschel, the First Fifty Pages
Posted by Ben Alpert in Yachdav


By Cyd Weissman

On May 8th, at Yachdav, our yearly gathering of the Coalition of Innovating Congregations we will learn with Rabbi Shai Held the author of Abraham Joshua Heschel: The Call to Transcendence. Shai, a Jewish celebrity these days, is the co-founder of Mechon Hadar and known as “an amazing teacher.” All sixty congregations will receive a copy of his book. My assignment: Read it first. Second assignment: Understand it.

Moving from thumbs scanning text messages and mind numbing news headlines to reading a book of deep thought requires adjustment.  I have to quiet down and focus. So I’m trying to use my usually silent train ride to read a real book that has pages that actually turn – No Swipe. Making my assignment more difficult is the man sitting next to me who hasn’t stopped talking to his female colleague across the aisle. She hasn’t stopped chanting “Right,” “I know,” and “ok.” (Is that all you want to hear? Apparently).

I realize I’m actively participating in the very technology deafening-leave-me-alone so I-can-do-what-I-want existence addressed by Heschel in the first 50 pages of the book. We live in a time, he wrote decades ago, where technology leads to us to live with “callousness.”

As a Jewish educator, I’m reading the book guided by the question: In what ways will The Call to Transcendence revive my soul and my work with children and families? As if speaking directly to me, I can imagine, while he pushed his up his glasses that are as au currant as his answer: “there is no education for the sublime. We teach the children how to measure, how to weigh. We fail to teach them how to revere, how to sense wonder and awe.” (p. 43)

Yes, I want to say, we know how to teach them to recite, to engage in activities but for what purpose?
He responds, “The task of religion [religious education] is to instill a sense of “perpetual surprise, a willingness to encounter the world, again and again as if for the first time.” (p. 30)

Without wonder, according to Heschel, we are consumed with self and then we are a “beast.. an animal” concerned only with self satisfaction. The world, the space on the train, and even God, is here to serve my need, we’ve come to believe. According to Heschel technology has led us believe “the only criterion of value is what is useful for the fulfillment of my own desires and aspirations.” (p. 39)

The logic I hear from the first 50 is that technology and routinization lead to us to take the world for granted. “The world is my toolbox.” The remedy for this “the world is my oyster approach” that leads us to turn so inward we lose connection to others is wonder.

With wonder, we have a sense of indebtedness. “In receiving a pleasure, we must return a prayer; in attaining a success, we radiate compassion.” (p.37 & 29). So if our purpose is to release a will to  wonder, which enables gratitude/indebtedness which can lead to faith. “What we lack is not a will to believe, but a will to wonder…we can will ourselves to wonder.” (p. 52)

What will we do differently if our work is to release a will to wonder?

What is the learning that moves us from “self enclosure” to a “deeper sense of compassion and empathy for others”?

What is the learning that intensifies our search “for meanings that somehow lie just beyond sensory appearances” (Fuller, p. 51) and overcomes “the exclusive realty to the stubbornly selfish ‘I’?” (Held, p. 51)

What learning might help me respond differently to the noise, (a.k.a. people)  sitting next to me? What do you recommend? Let me see if the answer is in the next 50 pages.


Yachdav 2014 Photo Submissions

Yachdav 2014 Photo Submissions
Posted by Ben Alpert in Celebrating Congregations, Yachdav
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