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The Voice of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal
Updated: 4 hours 42 min ago

Words of Torah from Caryn Aviv

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 08:33

This d’var Torah was offered last Shabbat morning at the ALEPH Board strategic planning retreat.

Shabbat shalom. Last week we celebrated Purim, with its themes of concealing and revealing. This week, in Ki Tisa, there’s more hide and seek. The parsha begins with deep spiritual transmission between the Divine and Moses about the building of sacred space. We learn of the requirement to give a half-shekel, to build our community’s holy meeting space and purify our collective accumulation of spiritual shmutz. We are given instruction in who will participate in the building sacred space, and we hear the radical teaching to celebrate sacred time of kedusha and menucha – holiness and rest. Both of these teachings illuminate how to build and be built in relationship to what’s holy, and to strengthen our relationship to being alive.

The narrative then moves to anxious and fearful regression of the Israelites, who are waiting for Moses at the bottom of the mountain. They experience collective separation anxiety. They insist that Aaron create a Moses substitution/replacement security object, and build a Golden Calf. The Divine sees what’s happening, and expresses anger toward the people to Moses, who pleads with the Divine for compassion. Moses descends down the mountain. He sees the separation anxiety substitution object, and his anger flares. He dramatically shatters the tablets of our freedom teachings. He burns the Golden Calf in the fire of his disappointment, frustration, and perhaps shame that his brother and the people were unable to trust in the process. Moses begs the Divine for forgiveness of the people, and asks God to lead him and the Israelites out of this constricted spiritual state.

Finally the parasha closes with a second encounter at Mount Sinai. The Divine instructs Moses to carve two more tablets, and climb the mountain alone. The text says:

As My Presence passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock and protect you with My hand until I have passed by.

Then I will take My hand away and you will see My back; but My face must not be seen.

It is in this place, of concealment, seeking, and presence, that Moses experiences connection with the Sacred, and a profound covenantal promise.

In that encounter, the rabbis imagined the Ineffable wearing a tallit, singing to Moses, what we now sing to God as the core of our own Selichot, our prayers of forgiveness:

יְהוָה Adonai
יְהוָה Adonai
אֵל El
רַחוּם Rachum
וְחַנּוּן VeChanun
אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם Erech appayim
וְרַב-חֶסֶד VeRav chesed
וֶאֱמֶת VeEmet
נֹצֵר חֶסֶד לָאֲלָפִים Notzer chesed laalafim
נֹשֵׂא עָוֹן Noseh avon
וָפֶשַׁע VaFeshah
וְחַטָּאָה VeChata’ah (breakages and ruptures)
וְנַקֵּה VeNakeh (accepting apologies to mend relationship)

Rambam argued that these attributes are not inherent in God, they are the method of divine governance, delivered in a conceptual form that we as limited human beings can understand. In the Sifre, these attributes are called “derakim” – the ways of divinity. In other words, these attributes are not just qualities – they are profound practices to emulate and embody.

For centuries, we are the ones who voice these words as a plea, to be forgiven for our shortcomings and our mistakes. We don’t sing these on Shabbat, because they are such deeply personal supplications. And our mystical tradition introduced the singing of these words when we take the Torah out of the Aron Kodesh for Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot. But in the Torah, it is God singing these to Moses, and to us – as an invitation and a promise. And perhaps, we might see this as a love song for how to live in right relationship with God and with one another.

It’s not accidental that God describes the importance of Shabbat as a source of blessing and sacred power in the same parsha where God sings and teaches us the attributes of divinity as a source of blessing and sacred power. The 13 attributes God sings to Moshe are a reminder, that every day we are given the opportunity to live in right relationship with the Divine.

We build this relationship through our doing 6 days of the week and then celebrating creation and simply being. Shabbat is an amplification, a manifestation, and a fruition of all those qualities in Shemot. When we embody and practice those ways attributed to the Great Mystery, in the rhythm of Jewish time, we have the opportunity to experience kedusha and healing in our world.

May we build sacred spaces and communities, erech appayim, v’rav chesed v’emet, slow to anger and filled with kindness and truth. May we be built by our holy work this weekend in partnership with the Divine to embody those wondrous attributes of Godliness.


Rabbinical student Caryn Aviv, who serves as ALEPH Student Board representative on the ALEPH Board, was profiled in our web series Faces of Renewal.

Rabbi Hannah Dresner featured in Sh’ma

Mon, 03/20/2017 - 14:39

The latest issue of Sh’ma is themed around Dayenu | דַּיֵּנוּ‎ – It would have been enough.

This issue’s Ni’shma page features the voice of Rabbi Hannah Dresner, who serves Or Shalom in Vancouver, part of the ALEPH Network. Rabbi Hannah was ordained by ALEPH as a rabbi, a mashpi’ah (spiritual director), and a dayan. She writes:

…The Sfat Emet (Reb Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger), teaches that in seeing ourselves as having participated in the Exodus, we must imagine emancipation from our own narrow straits, in an ever-occurring deliverance. Just as the Torah received at Sinai was an extension of the biblical redemption, so, too, “the redemptions of the future will be followed by quests into unknown territory, as we search for the new paths that will be created.” (Sfat Emet 3:86)

In other words, we must do everything in our power to work toward liberation from the bondage of our time…

Read her whole piece, along with words from Rabbi Zoë Klein and Alicia Svigals:

Faces of Renewal: Rabbi Geela Rayzel Raphael

Mon, 03/20/2017 - 09:43

“Priestess Rabbi” Geela Rayzel Raphael

Rabbi Geela Rayzel Raphael describes herself as an “unorthodox visionary rabbi.” Originally from Knoxville, Tennessee, she brings the soul and hospitality of the south into her rabbinate. With her open heart, and sense of feminist mysticism, she finds home in the Jewish Renewal movement. “My rabbinic goal is to bring as much joy to Judaism as I can muster,” she says, “and that is a signature value of Renewal Judaism.”

“Reb Rayzel” is an award winning singer/songwriter/liturgist with six recordings to her credit.  She has collaborated on three albums with the singing group MIRAJ. Her solo recordings, Friday Night Revived and her Bible Babe’s a Beltin’ CD have received international acclaim. Her most recent release is May the Angels Carry You, a companion to the book of the same title by her husband, Dr. Simcha Raphael, featuring Jewish prayers for the end of life. “Music is the language that moves me to cry, and dance and pray,” she says. “Music says it all.”

She teaches frequently on esoteric subjects, including kabbalah, dreams, angels, and the soul. She aims to specialize in presenting complex traditions in an entertaining and educational manner. In addition, Reb Rayzel also creates handpainted silk tallitot/prayer shawls and huppahs/wedding canopies. Her most recent creative endeavor is a deck of papercut Shechinah Oracle cards researched from Jewish text and tradition. “The art of my soul moves me to create beauty in all forms. I found a home in Jewish Renewal because of the community of artistic co-creators I found here.”

Reb Rayzel sojourned in Indiana for university, where she received a BA from Indiana University in religious studies. She also holds a Masters in Contemporary Jewish Studies from Brandeis.  Her journey then took her to Toronto Canada where she worked as a Hillel Director at York University. She’s also been fortunate enough to live in Israel for two years, studying at Pardes and at the Melton Center for Jewish Education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Her angels then guided her to deepen her connection to the Jewish community, and she landed at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College as a Wexner Graduate Fellow. She has lived in Philadelphia since 1989.

Today, Reb Rayzel has a private practice in the Philadelphia area where she counsels couples and helps them prepare for life cycle ceremonies. She leads tallit painting workshops, does readings of the Shechinah Oracle for groups, jams at musical Shabbat services, and basically will answer the call wherever the Holy One wants her to go. She has been the spiritual leader of three congregations, served as a chaplain, and worked for Hillel doing outreach to students. Currently she serves Darkaynu in Warrington, PA.

As a self-identified “priestess Rabbi,” she is guided by her angels in service to Shechinah, the Feminine Divine path in Jewish tradition. “Renewal made space for the Divine feminine to flourish, that’s why I’m home here.”

This profile is part of Faces of Renewal, an ongoing series of profiles of people who are renewing Judaism in our day. 

Rabbi Diane Elliot – Featured Spiritual Teachers For The Winter Feast for the Soul

Mon, 03/13/2017 - 16:58

From January 15 through February 23, 2017, Rabbi Diane Elliot, Director of ALEPH’s Embodying Spirit, En-Spiriting Body program, was one of nine featured spiritual teachers for the Winter Feast for the Soul, an on-line meditation community that each year supports participants from all over the world to engage in a 40-day daily meditative practice period. This year’s Feast was dedicated to the creation of “World Peace through Inner Peace” and included guided meditations by teachers representing a variety of traditions, from Tibetan Buddhism to Christian mysticism to Sufism. Rabbi Elliot’s embodied kabbalistic meditations, collectively titled “Nurturing the Inner Tree of Life,” were listened to over 800 times by meditators around the world. They are still available for listening and will be archived on the Winter Feast for the Soul website ( in perpetuity.

If you would like to learn more about Rabbi Diane Elliot and her Embodying Spirit, En-spiriting Body program, go to

The next week-long retreat, coming up May 15-21, 2017, in northern California, will focus on Embodying Torah.

Seeking applicants for Kallah 2018 Team

Tue, 03/07/2017 - 14:37

Applications are open now for the Kallah Leadership Circle, as well as for the various other committees we’ll be assembling as we draw nearer to summer 2018.

If you’re interested in helping us create the next ALEPH Kallah, please fill out the enclosed survey and let us know your talents, interests, and qualifications.

We’ll hold on to all applications, so if you aren’t selected for the Kallah Leadership Circle now, we’ll keep your name on file for when we assemble the other committees we’ll be pulling together in months to come!

If you can’t see the embedded form, you can go directly to it here.

Stop hiding; let yourself go free – by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

Mon, 03/06/2017 - 07:00

The festival of Purim (coming up this Saturday) is a holiday of concealment. At Purim we read the Scroll of Esther, a delightfully bawdy Persian court soap opera which doesn’t appear, at first glance, to have much to do with spiritual life or with God. Jewish tradition doesn’t shy away from this oddity — we embrace it and find meaning in it.

The quintessential act of Purim is להתחפש, a reflexive verb which means to dress oneself up or to conceal oneself. We do this when we dress up in costumes on Purim. Esther does this when she hides her Jewishness (until the moment comes for her to reveal herself and in so doing save the day). God does this in concealing God’s-self entirely; God is never even mentioned in the megillah (though to the discerning eye God’s presence may be subtly manifest even so.)

Purim is about the self-reflexive act of hiding. But what happens when we shift that verb and make it no longer reflexive? We get the verb לחפש – to search. And searching is one of the quintessential moves we make before Pesach. On the night before Passover begins, there’s a tradition of lighting a candle and searching our homes for “hidden” hametz (leaven), a physical hide-and-seek game that represents a deeper inner searching. We read in the book of Proverbs (20:27) that our own souls are God’s candle — just as we search for hidden leaven by the light of a physical candle, God uses our souls as candles to illuminate all that’s hidden in the world.

When we search for hametz, we’re not just looking for bread crusts. We’re also seeking spiritual leaven, the puffery of pride and ego, the sour old stuff within us which needs to be discarded in order for us to move toward freedom.

The shift from להתחפש to לחפש, from concealment to searching, is the fundamental move we’re called to make as spring unfolds, as we move from Purim (festival of masks and concealment) to Passover (festival of searching and liberation). At Purim, we may be hiding — from others, and even from ourselves. Maybe it feels dangerous to let ourselves be known. Maybe there are truths we don’t want to admit. Maybe we think there are parts of ourselves we have to hide in order to move freely in the world. Maybe we think we are better off if we conceal the parts of ourselves of which we are ashamed, or the parts of ourselves which don’t meet others’ expectations.

But in order to move toward freedom, we have to turn the reflexive verb outward: we have to move from hiding (from) ourselves to searching for what’s been hidden. If God hides in order that we might seek, then it stands to reason that so do we. We have to unearth precisely our own stuff which we have hidden from the world. We have to unearth precisely our own stuff which we have hidden even from ourselves. The hopes and yearnings that we’ve tried to keep under wraps, the sorrows and fears that we’ve tried to hide, from others and from ourselves.

May we do that unearthing through therapy, or hashpa’ah (spiritual direction), or a writing practice, or a prayer practice. Maybe we do that unearthing through conversations with a trusted friend who can help us see ourselves more clearly than we could see on our own. Maybe we do that unearthing through studying texts and delving into the passages that resonate with us. There are many ways to do the work of searching for who we really are. What’s important is that we light the candle and we do the searching. Passover will come in the fullness of time no matter what, but the journey of the Exodus will mean more if we’re willing to do this inner work.

The hametz we need to root out is not our imperfections (because everyone is imperfect) but the way we try to hide our imperfections, the way we shame ourselves for our imperfections. The internal narrative which says that we are only lovable, or only worthwhile, if we keep parts of ourselves — our quirks, our mistakes, our tenderest places — hidden. The need to conceal oneself can become a kind of Mitzrayim, a place of constriction. In order to emerge from the tight places in our lives, we need to stop hiding. We need to move from concealing ourselves to searching for ourselves in order to let ourselves go free.

And the journey takes us one step further. We move from concealment (Purim) to searching (Pesach) to revelation (Shavuot.) Purim’s reflexivity primes that pump: first we own (and prepare to relinquish) our own hiding. Then we search for our deepest truths and begin to experience the freedom of wholly being who we truly are. Only then can we be ready to receive revelation anew. The journey to revelation begins right now. The places where we’ve hidden our hearts from others or from ourselves aren’t impediments to the journey: they are the spark that will ignite the inner spiritual journey of our transformation.



Rabbi Rachel Barenblat serves with Rabbi David Evan Markus as co-chair of ALEPH. This teaching, originally posted at Velveteen Rabbi is dedicated to him with gratitude.

Choose life that all may live, by Rabbi Rhonda Shapiro-Rieser

Fri, 03/03/2017 - 12:59

I could have been one of Donald Trump’s guests when he spoke to Congress recently. He brought three families whose loved ones had been killed by an illegal immigrant. I lost my parents 17 years ago to an illegal immigrant who was driving drunk on a Sunday morning in Boca Raton, Florida. My narrative of the events these last years has always focused on the drunk driving, on alcoholism and its effects. But I realize there is another piece of the story. My parents were killed by an illegal immigrant.

Had the president invited me to be his guest, however, I would not have come. Because President Trump does not speak for me. His actions do not represent me. His edicts do not ease my suffering. I do not want to punish all illegal immigrants for the actions of the one. That is the way of darkness.

The man who killed my parents was sentenced to 23 years in jail. It could have been 43 years, but I advocated for mercy since he was 26. I am not a saint. I made myself forget the name of the man who killed my parents. I do not know what he looks like. He is in prison and I do not know if he is alive or dead, nor do I care.

But I had an experience at the time, a flow of grace that kept me from rage. I remembered the words of Thich Nhat Hanh. “this is because that is.” At first I was angry, then I thought, with whom? The drunk driver? The farmer who hired him? The people who got the beer he drank? The person who loaned him the car to get more beer? These people are all connected. The connection between them brought that man to that intersection at that time.

In the last few days I have come to greater connections. The farmer who can not harvest his crop without undocumented migrants. The system that exploits them. The poverty that makes someone go far away from home in an effort to better themselves—a desire common to all of us. The undocumented immigrant is the personification of the American ideal—to pull yourself up by the bootstraps. In the case of the man who killed my parents, there is the crushing pain when one’s dreams of a better life disappear. Pain that is numbed by alcohol. These are all connected. Who do I blame? Who do I rage against?

We are a rich nation willing to tolerate poverty here and around the world. We think the solution to problems is punishment. We build walls. We suffocate those among us who have suffered and still dream. My own country is also in the series of connections that put that man at that intersection on a Sunday morning. I do not want to put all alcoholics in prison because one killed my parents. In fact our judicial system is much more lenient with drunk drivers than it is with undocumented immigrants. I do not want to punish all undocumented immigrants because one killed my parents. I spurn the way of darkness.

There are probably people living here who have been convicted of serious crimes as undocumented residents of this country. I think they should be deported. For the rest, I say welcome. “This is because that is.” Welcome, let us help you, let us connect so that on a Sunday morning all of our connections put you at that college, that good job, that wonderful family rather than that intersection. Choose life that all may live.


Rabbi Rhonda Shapiro-Reiser, ordained by ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal in 2015, serves as Jewish advisor to students at Smith College in Northampton, MA. The opinions expressed in this essay are her own.

Rabbi David Ingber on welcoming the stranger

Fri, 02/10/2017 - 11:59

Rabbi David Ingber’s Friday night sermon from Romemu last week is about doorways, and welcoming the stranger, and how we are all “immigrants” in this life, and what Jewish tradition asks of us as we relate to others. Here’s a taste:

“It’s an essential core piece of our human story. Boundaries, permeability, relationships. All of this is what it means to be human, and it’s part of the Jewish self-understanding, part of what we tell ourselves as Jews in our narrative.

Doors and doorways are fundamentally about liminality. About the in-between; about the spaces, whether physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, where we are in-between. We as a people have been known from time immemorial as those who cross over. We are the children of Abraham, the ivri. We know what it is to be boundary-crossers…

Every child who is born into this world is born an immigrant. Each and every human being comes into an unknown world whose culture will have to be learned. We begin life as immigrants, as boundary-crossers, as those who leave and who enter, who come and go through life’s doorways.”

The sermon is available both on Soundcloud and on YouTube:

On Soundcloud: People of the Door.

On YouTube:

(If you can’t see the embedded video, here’s a link directly to it at youtube.)

Deep thanks to Rabbi David Ingber for this deep Torah, both timeless and timely.

Shabbat shalom to all.

Faces of Renewal: Rabbi Shefa Gold

Mon, 02/06/2017 - 09:05

An Interview With Rabbi Shefa Gold of C-DEEP (the Center for Devotional, Energy, & Ecstatic Practice)

The author of The Magic of Hebrew Chant, Rabbi Shefa Gold is also a recording artist and the director of the Center for Devotional, Energy and Ecstatic Practice in New Mexico. She is interviewed here by Rabbi Rami Shapiro, a member of ALEPH’s Advisory Council:

I’ve been told by many spiritual teachers, especially within the Hindu tradition, that the most powerful spiritual practice for our time is chanting. Would you agree with that?

I’m not going to speak for everyone, but for me, chanting—the musical and rhythmic repetition of a sacred phrase from a holy text—has been the doorway into the depths of my own heart and into the heart of my inheritance, Judaism. For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with the sounds of Hebrew prayer, not just for what they meant but for where they could take me.  I found that if I focused in on one phrase, repeating it with a compelling melody, then that phrase could transport me to expansive heights and fathomless depths.

The phrase you inherit from Judaism, but the melodies are your own.

Besides becoming a spiritual seeker, I knew myself as an artist, and I found my voice through poetry and song. Though I’m argumentative by nature, I learned that my arguments only led me toward grief and separation. In contrast, my poems and songs connected me to others, opened my heart, and opened doors of exploration and adventure.

Is it the words or the melody that matters most to you?

Rather than juxtapose words and melody, I prefer to speak of sound and silence. When I first began chanting, I was in love with sound. I experimented with melody, rhythm, harmony, tone, and pitch. But after a while I began to appreciate the silence as well. It was as if the chant opened a door, and through the silence I could walk through the door and receive the true blessing of my efforts. I fell in love with the silence.

What is the true blessing?

The true blessing is the capacity to listen ever more deeply. To listen to the sound and the silence. And in this listening I am opened to the truth of essential unity that embraces all diversity.

How does that happen for you?

When I find words that speak to me, I seek through melody to step into the state of consciousness from which these words emerged. When I embody the truth of this sacred phrase, my world is transformed…

The core of my inheritance can be summed up in three challenges: to love God with all my heart, all my soul, and all my might; to love the other as myself; and to love the stranger. I want to return to those core challenges and find a practice that will help me meet them. Chanting is the most powerful vehicle I have found as I open to the centrality of love.

Speaking to spiritual seekers from any path and no path, how would you direct them to the experience of the power of chant?

Come to a sacred text with a vulnerable heart, acknowledging your own place of longing. Then, let yourself play with the sound of those words. Imagine that they are incantations whose power will be unlocked through your loving intention, through melody, harmony, rhythm, and breath. And then pay careful attention in the silence to what door has been opened by the chant. Resolve to enter. Let the beauty of chant move you through that door, and take pleasure in every step of the journey.

Abbreviated from a longer interview published in Spirituality & Health magazine; reprinted with permission.

This interview is part of Faces of Renewal, an ongoing series of profiles of people who are renewing Judaism in our day. 

ALEPH Statement on Immigration Ban

Mon, 01/30/2017 - 08:08

On Friday President Trump issued an Executive Order banning immigrants from Muslim majority nations.
ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, responds in the strongest language possible:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.” (US Declaration of Independence) “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)

We, all of us are descendants of immigrants. Every one of us in these United States came here from elsewhere. It is only the small minority of indigenous peoples who can claim otherwise. Jews have learned from the experience of our relatives how dangerous a ban of people who are different than “us” or from someplace else can be. We know the consequences of calling someone the “other.” We know.

It is because of this experience, because of the foundational documents of our country, of the words in the Hebrew Bible that give us clear guidance: to protect ourselves we must protect others, to care for ourselves we must care for others, we must love our neighbor as we would love ourselves.

ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, as a faith-based, heart-centered, Jewish organization stands with our neighbors, stands with those who are different, stands with those who are from elsewhere to defend their rights, to defend our rights, to fulfill the holy and moral imperative of to love the stranger as we would love our very own. As such we call on President Trump to rethink and rescind his executive order. As Nelson Mandela said, “To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity”. Those of us in the faith-based community must help all to realize the fullness of their humanity; those in the political community must remove impediments to that sacred mission.

Faces of Renewal: Rabbi David Zaslow

Thu, 01/19/2017 - 09:58

An interview with Rabbi David Zaslow

How long have you been part of Jewish Renewal?

Since 1988 when Rabbi Ari Hirschfield z”l and Reb Zalman zt”l accepted me in their private smicha program. I was ordained by them in 1995 under the further direction of Rabbi Marcia Prager and Rabbi Yitzhak Husbands-Hankin.

What original contributions have you made to Jewish Renewal?

In poetry we speak about poets who make a breakthrough, and those who interiorize, or help advance the breakthrough. I haven’t made any original contributions to Renewal, but I’m honored to have done the work of interiorization. I’ve taken the infrastructure of Reb Zalman’s theology and developed it in terms of Jewish/Christian relations, as well as an understanding of Hebraic thinking through etymological word studies.

What do you mean by etymology?

Every word in every language has a root that is a metaphor. When we study etymology we’re looking at the archaeology of language. We can learn a lot about how our ancestors were thinking by studying the way they coined and understood words. For instance the Hebrew word “olam” means “world” as when we describe G-d as melech haOlam, “Ruler of the world.” But we use that same word when we say l’olam va-ed meaning “forever and ever.” So it seems that time and space were intimately linked to our ancestors. Time represented by “forever,” and space represented by “world” or “universe.” Our ancestors might have had an understanding of what Einstein called the time space continuum thousands of years ago.

Can you unpack the concept of Hebraic thinking?

The notion that there is no distinction between the animate and the inanimate realms can be seen in Psalm 148 where the Psalmist is addresses elements in nature in the way that all indigenous people do – not as if they were alive, but experiencing them as actually alive. Also, today we make a distinction between the living and the dead. Our ancestors made no such clear distinction. The ancestors, though not here physically, are spiritually alive and accessible to us. These are a few examples of Hebraic thinking

You’re author of Jesus: First-Century Rabbi. Tell us more about your work with Christians?

We use the term JuBu, HinJu, or SuJu with a sense that we can hyphenate ourselves with the Buddhists, Sufis, or Hindus. Yet, with Christians we would never do that. We recognize that groups like Jews for Jesus are nothing more than missionary groups. Yet beneath the surface of the distinctions between Christianity and Judaism there is an inherent unity. Our stories are uniquely different and yet parallel. When we remove our fear of missionary encroachment we find great synchronicity with the theology of our Christian friends. Reb Zalman’s dialogues with Thomas Merton are extraordinary. Reb Zalman was not afraid to speak using Christological language, and Merton responded in kind with language about Judaism that had never been said before by a Christian theologian. Reb Zalman is to say “it’s a difference of approach.” If we approach Christians and Muslims with respect, looking for commonality, that’s what we’ll find. That’s the kavannah (intention) behind my interfaith work.


This interview is part of Faces of Renewal, an ongoing series of profiles of people who are renewing Judaism in our day. 

Prayer For The Musmachot

Sun, 01/15/2017 - 13:22

These are the names of the daughters of Israel
Who came into the womb of narrow unknowing
Each with her household, to be rebirthed anew,

Called by name at the moment of becoming
No less than the stars that shine in their time
By which to count a promised people of light.

Birthing took time, but they’re vigorous in living
And giving life-giving life from essence of soul,
The single point of light that is light before light.

It did not merely appear in your wild and waste:
You saw, daring to turn toward flame of heart,
Standing open to touch and tend the holy,

Hearing your name as never before called from the
Name as never before spoken, becoming in all ways
Within you What is Becoming always within you,

Now ready to shine as never before, for you as the very
Top of the mountain that glowed with the radiance of
Birth herself in truth and love and pain and hope.

These are the names of the daughters of Israel
Come to lead from narrow unknowing to rebirth anew
With eyes wide open – daring to turn aside and see

The flame of heart, to help all of us stand open to
Touch and tend the holy, to hear and become –
Next links in the unbroken chain of always becoming

Now given to their care, placed on their shoulders,
Hearing their names as never before, leaning back into
History’s hands: from where we stand, go forward.

Dedicated with love and blessing to the
ALEPH Class of 2017

Rabbi Rachel Hersh
Rabbi Diane Lakein
Hazzan Jessi Roemer
Rabbi Susan Shamash
Rabbi Jennifer Singer

Rabbi David Evan Markus & Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
Co-Chairs, ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal


Winter Feast for the Soul

Wed, 01/11/2017 - 12:53

ALPEH’s very own Rabbi Diane Elliot is one of eight featured teachers in this year’s Winter Feast for the Soul, a 40-day World Wide Spiritual Practice Period, beginning January 15

If you would like to join the course there’s no cost to participate, and you’ll be provided with all the materials you need on-line, including a series of 40-minute recorded meditations to guide you for each day of the practice period. 

So if you find yourself in need of some support for your ongoing meditation practice and want to be guided by wonderful teachers and accompanied by fellow meditators from all over the world, consider making this commitment to yourself and your inner life. You’ll find everything you need to participate at:

A haftarah for Martin Luther King weekend

Sun, 01/08/2017 - 07:00

We’ve linked before to this article by Hazzan Jack Kessler, director of ALEPH’s Cantorial Program: English Leyning: Bringing New Meaning to the Torah Service (Kerem, 2014). It’s on our minds again as Martin Luther King weekend approaches.

Hazzan Jack writes:

Twenty years ago I first heard Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, z”l, leyn/publicly read Torah in a flowing combination of Hebrew and English. His leyning in the traditional trop — the Torah melody — moved seamlessly from Hebrew into English translation and back into Hebrew without breaking the melody. Moreover, he used the English — which he was translating on the spot from the open scroll — to interpretively and dramatically teach the text. It was stunning. A tour-de-force! The text practically jumped off the page. I had never heard Torah so passionately alive, so powerful. I’d been leyning Torah my whole adult life, and I know the Hebrew reasonably well, but others around me, for whom the Hebrew would typically be a blur without meaning, were riveted too. They heard the ancient Hebrew, its inflections and rhythms, but interspersed with English in a way that brought them inside the experience. The public reading of Torah had come alive! The words leapt from the scroll into their hearts. We could hear the song of Torah become the carrier wave for the emotional power of the text. People who were hearing Torah read from the scroll, and understood it for the first time, wept.

As the article continues, he describes how he began experimenting with setting contemporary prophetic texts in haftarah trope.

As Martin Luther King weekend approaches, here is Hazzan Jack’s setting of quotes from Martin Luther King’s speeches set to haftarah trope:  mlk-haftara_trop [pdf]


Jewish Renewal and deep ecumenism featured on Greylock Glass

Wed, 01/04/2017 - 07:39

ALEPH, Jewish Renewal, and Reb Zalman z”l’s teachings of deep ecumenism are featured in episode #54 of Will Call, a podcast that’s part of Greylock Glass.

In this episode of the podcast, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat tells the story of Reb Zalman davening zhikr with the Sufis of Hebron, talks about deep ecumenism, and reminisces about an early morning zhikr with emerging Jewish and Muslim religious leaders. And Rabbi David Evan Markus speaks about ALEPH’s recent resolution that if President-Elect Trump should obligate Muslims to register as such with the government we urge all Jews (and all Americans) to register as Muslims,  talks about how “never again” can’t mean just for Jews, and shares about having clergy of other faiths among his congregants at his shul by the sea.

In other segments of the podcast, journalist Kate Abbott explores the art of Nick Cave, talks with Professor Moustafa Bayoumi about his work, and engages with four young poets who shared their work as part of a show called Othering. All of the segments of the podcast are connected by the theme of connecting across difference and standing together against prejudice.

Listen online: Will Call #54: Standing Up Against Othering. (The segment on Jewish Renewal, deep ecumenism, and ALEPH’s resolution urging thwarting of the proposed Muslim religious registry starts around 47 minutes in, and lasts for about half an hour, but we recommend listening to the whole thing.)

Social Action Education as Spiritual Practice – Lessons from Standing Rock, by Rabbi Rain Zohav

Tue, 01/03/2017 - 09:04

Every time we take action, we are also educating. If we are lobbying, we are educating our legislators. If we are protesting, we are educating the public and the “powers that be”. And we are educating ourselves in how to be effective and live our values.

In this moment, the Water Protectors at Standing Rock are a strong example of the intertwining of education, action, and spiritual practice. I was privileged to be able to answer the call of Chief Looking Horse for clergy to come to Standing Rock to pray and be in solidarity with the water protectors on Sunday, Dec. 4. This is perhaps the first lesson for allies to any cause: Listen and wait to be invited if you are supporting groups whose oppression you do not share. In the Jewish tradition, our central prayer, the Sh’ma, is all about listening. Listening to the Divine who is One: transcendent, immanent and reflected in the face of every human being.

Before leaving, I read the Seven Lakota Values of the Oceti Sakown camp: Prayer. Respect. Compassion. Honesty. Generosity. Humility. Wisdom. See full explanations of these here.

While at the camp, I tried to keep the principle of being “in a constant state of Prayer and Ceremony” in mind at all times. This is one way to actualize social action as spiritual practice: by bringing a prayerful spirit to your action, creating and participating in ceremony as you go. I experienced this at Oceti Sakowin Camp almost continuously. The sacred fire was kept burning, which reminded me of the ner tamid – the eternal light – that was kept burning in our Temple and is lit above the ark that holds the Torah scrolls in our synagogues.

Living up to communal values is another way to practice social action as a spiritual practice, and the water protectors are embodying their values constantly. Respect, especially for elders, was like nothing I have ever experienced. From the moment I got out of my car, white hair quite visible, people ran to help. They helped us carry the food and water we had brought, they helped me navigate the flowing mud that had melted the ice on the dirt road, they helped me on the snow that was full of sinkholes where we walked, and they helped us back out when it was time to leave. By my second day at the camp, I had learned that I could simply put out my hand and someone would take it on the mud or ice.

This kind of respect, that embodies generosity and compassion, was also evident throughout the camp. There were eight communal kitchens operating; full of food donated by people near and far and kept open for warm(er) communal sleeping places at night. Folks wandered through the camps offering food: apples, protein bars, Latin American sweets all the way from Cleveland. No one took if they didn’t need and those of us who were only there for a short time were asked to give more than we took.

I believe that all of our spiritual traditions, including the secular traditions that motivate so many in social justice movements, emphasize sharing of resources. At Standing Rock, this value was lived.

Humility was also thankfully evident in the interfaith service I took part in while there. All of the allies spoke briefly, giving the Native Americans the vast majority of “air time”. It became apparent that part of our work there was once again to listen, to witness, and to hold the sacred space. This is spiritual social action in practice.

The wisdom of the Native American elders was also evident when they asked us not to march to the bridge, but rather to continue praying and to encircle the camp with our bodies in prayer. And the clergy attempted to do this, although the camp was huge. For several hours we held the space. And then we heard a great shout go up from the area of the sacred fire and went to see what had happened. And we heard the good news that the Army Corp of Engineers had denied the easement.

And we let ourselves rejoice. Another important part of spiritual social action education: celebrating victories, even if only of a momentary win, not the entire agenda. I can’t ever remember in my long history of social action, being at a protest and hearing right then of a win. This is a moment that will stay with me forever in deepest gratitude. The closest feeling might be hearing of a candidate that I supported winning and being at the celebration.  Even though we knew that the oil company would not simply give up and go away, we allowed ourselves a moment of joy, tears and prayer.

Rabbi Rain Zohav serves, with Rabbi Lori Shaller, as co-director of Educating for Spirituality.  This post is cross-posted from Tikkun.

Faces of Renewal: rabbinical student Laurie Franklin

Thu, 12/22/2016 - 12:51

Laurie Franklin of Har Shalom: Standing Against Hate

Laurie Franklin is a senior rabbinical student in the ALEPH Ordination Program and will receive smicha (ordination) in January. She serves as spiritual leader of Har Shalom, a community in Missoula, Montana with 54 member families.

Franklin organized Har Shalom’s Standing Against Hate conference, organized after pro-Nazi propaganda and white supremacist speech began circulating around Missoula and Western Montana. She is also responsible for the campaign Missoula Menorah: A Light in Every Window, which came into being after white supremacist and American Nazi Party literature was distributed in a variety of Missoula neighborhoods.

“Since the week of Nov 7, Missoula and County residents have been the unwilling recipients of pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic leaflets,” Franklin explains. “Every week has brought new reports of these hate-filled fliers. Our message today is that Missoula is a place of openness and acceptance. We do not welcome hate literature, graffiti or any other demonstration of discrimination on the basis of religion or any other identity.”

Franklin asked everyone in Missoula to keep a lighted menorah in their window during Chanukah, as a visible public stand against the rhetoric of anti-Semitism and white supremacy. For those who don’t have a menorah, Franklin pointed to the free one printed in the Missoulian newspaper (which can also be downloaded from the Missoulian’s website.) This follows in the footsteps of a similar project undertaken in Billings, Montana in 1993.

More than 200 people packed the synagogue for the Standing Against Hate conference.

Aleinu, it is upon us,” Franklin says. “Our community must take on responsibility to counter the upwelling of anti-Semitic activity, both to protect our families and to demonstrate publicly that anti-Semitic activities are unwelcome in our region.” She continues:

Hanukkah means “dedication”. When we, the Jewish people, rededicated our Holy Temple after defeating Antiochus IV and his invading forces, we lit the Temple lamp with a single, remaining pot of holy oil. The oil burned miraculously for eight days, shining intensely with the light of religious freedom.

This year, I rededicate myself to freedom. I will proudly light my Hanukkah lamp and display it at my front door. Once again, I declare to the world, “I am a Jew, and I love my religious and cultural heritage, my ancestors, my family and my Jewish community”. Once again, I dedicate myself to living a Jewish life: celebrating the Sabbath and festivals, loving my neighbor as myself, caring for the earth, supporting the needy, and striving for justice and freedom for all.

When I look at the glowing candles, I remember that in the darkest time of the year, hope illumines the world.

This post is part of Faces of Renewal, an ongoing series of profiles of people who are renewing Judaism in our day. 

Thank You For Supporting ALEPH Through The Years

Thu, 12/22/2016 - 12:04

Dear Hevre,

It is no coincidence that Chanukah, the Jewish festival of lights, takes place almost simultaneously with the Winter Solstice, the celebration of the transition from the darkness of Winter into longer days of more light. After the Winter Solstice, small bits of daylight begin increasing, a little more each day, bringing with it more light and energy into our lives, a little bit at a time. This is not disimilar to the slowly increasing light of the Chanukah menorah, as we add a candle, and therefore more light, each night. Shoshanna R. Schechter-Shaffin . . As we approach the end of the secular year, we’re awed and humbled by the exciting things happening here at ALEPH. We are so very grateful to all of you who have supported ALEPH through the years. As you approach your end-of-year giving, we hope you’ll keep ALEPH in mind and help us build on what this year has contained. Yes! I want to climb the ladder

IN THE LAST YEAR (2016/ 5776), WE HAVE:

  • Sent our board co-chairs, board members, and Executive Director from coast to coast, from New York to Vancouver and a dozen places in between, on our international ALEPH / Jewish Renewal Listening Tour, during which we heard from hundreds of people about what Jewish Renewal has meant for them and about their dreams for ALEPH’s and Jewish Renewal’s future;
  • Held a smashingly successful ALEPH Kallah, during which some 500 participants joined us in Fort Collins, Colorado, for a week-long “Hilulah!” — a celebration of the joys of Jewishing — for participants who came from across the United States and Canada, Europe, Brazil, Israel, and Australia;
  • Welcomed an extraordinary class of new talmidim (students) into the ALEPH Ordination Program;
  • Continued to grow the ALEPH Network, a network of communities and congregations, nonprofit organizations, and individual artists, teachers, and scholars who are renewing Judaism with their innovative, heart-centered work;
  • Been recognized by the Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah as three of ALEPH’s programs — Clergy Camp, the Davvenen’ Leadership Training Institute, and Embodying Spirit, Enspiriting Body —were selected as semi-finalists for the inaugural Lippman Kanfer Prize for Applied Jewish Wisdom;
  • Received a matching grant from NewCAJE which will enable us to pay a translator to begin translating Reb Zalman’s work into Spanish as we bring Jewish Renewal to Spanish speaking communities and the Global South;
  • Welcomed a record international enrollment of 64 rabbis, cantors, rabbinic pastors, ALEPH Ordination students and lay leaders into the Davvenen’ Leadership Training Institute, touching the entire denominational spectrum of Jewish life;
  • Shared a variety of liturgical resources, poems, prayers, and more on Kol ALEPH;
  • Continued to offer our heart-opening and soul-expanding programs, among them (in addition to the programs we’ve already mentioned above) C-DEEPEducating for Spirituality, and Sage-ing Mentorship;
  • And expanded our partnerships with other organizations doing the holy work of renewing Judaism.
Yes! I want to Help Continue Reb Zalman’s Legacy


  • Release Renewing Renewal, our report from the ALEPH / Jewish Renewal Listening Tour, sharing wisdom gleaned from hundreds of in-person conversations, focus groups, zoom videoconferencing meetings and more, and articulating visions for the future;
  • Engage in a process of strategic planning, to ensure that ALEPH’s future is bright, vibrant, and meaningful;
  • Expand Tikshoret, our program of affordable, easy-access online courses featuring a variety of incredible leaders and teachers, soon to re-launch with an exciting new digital learning platform and a fantastic roster of teachers;
  • Launch the ALEPH Network Communities Council, connecting ALEPH Network members around the globe and empowering them to help shape the ALEPH they most want and need;
  • Hold a successful and meaningful Ruach ha’Aretz retreat at Stony Point retreat center in upstate New York, featuring great classes, uplifting davenen, and meaningful community connection;
  • Launch Faces of Renewal, a new web series sharing glimpses of the exciting work being done to renew Judaism in our day;
  • And continue to offer our existing successful programs even as we midwife new programs into being.

Donate to the Past. Make a donation to honor Reb Zalman’s memory. When you look back in time, what has ALEPH brought to your life?Donate to The Present. What do ALEPH and Jewish Renewal mean for you now, in your life today?
Donate to The Future. Support the next generation, and join us in celebrating the knowledge that ALEPH and Jewish Renewal will continue into the future.

If you have already made a 5777 gift  to ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, thank you for your ongoing support. Help us go from strength to strength.

I want to donate to the Past,
Present & Future of Renewal Judaism


Wishing you every blessing,

Shoshanna Schechter-Shaffin


Executive Director
ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat


ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal

Truly (Hatzi Kaddish)

Thu, 12/22/2016 - 09:32

   a beacon
will be the great name
The slow in-breath      will
   for you
  in strangers’ eyes
 in the thick of struggle
in white-knuckled promises
hear the blessing      silence
 the bended knee
   numbered heartbeats

what we bless      is
praise      beauty
up from the well
crown all       in air
still      higher, higher
(What is           in a name?
Words are small
by comparison
Comforts thin
Will they be enough?

Say, truly

Michael Getty has completed DLTI, the Davvenen’ Leadership Training Institute.

Update on the Listening Tour and its Report

Sun, 12/18/2016 - 23:09

Dear Friends of ALEPH and Jewish Renewal:

We’re writing with an update on the Listening Tour and its Report about the future of ALEPH and Jewish Renewal.

In 2015 and 2016, we dedicated our first 15 months as ALEPH co-chairs (nearly half of our term) to the holy work of receptive listening.  We wanted to hear as widely as possible about hopes, dreams and kvetches for ALEPH and Jewish Renewal.  We traveled the continent (and, by video, the globe!).  We sat with people of all kinds – clergy, teachers, congregants, students, administrators, innovators, imagineers, artists and more.  We amassed hundreds of pages of notes.  We listened and we listened some more.

When we began, we planned to issue a Report before Kallah 2016.  Unsurprisingly, people wanted to keep sharing their hearts and minds.  We extended a few months.  We hoped to issue a Report before Rosh Hashanah 2016.

As the saying goes, “We plan and God laughs.”  Distilling hundreds of pages and 15 months of listening took longer than we expected.  Today, however, we’re pleased to announce that we submitted a draft Report to our review team, and we hope to have their blessing to finalize and release it shortly.  As soon as we do, you will have this Report about the Listening Tour.

In the meantime, we presented initial findings and recommendations to the ALEPH Board, Va’ad of the ALEPH Ordination Program and ALEPH Project Directors, together representing key constituencies of teachers, students, innovators and communities.  We received their feedback and integrated it.  We plan to offer snapshots during a plenary session of the OHALAH Conference in January 2017.  If you’re coming to OHALAH, we look forward to seeing you in Colorado soon.

Additionally, partly in response to the Listening Tour, the ALEPH Board retained a strategic planning consultant who’s especially adept at helping faith-based communities vision wise and prosperous multi-generational futures.  With his help, ALEPH is evolving a consultative process in which representatives of the ALEPH Board, teachers, students, project leaders and communities will collaborate to vision the next turning of ALEPH – with the resources, programs, structure and flexibility necessary to bring that vision to life.

We are grateful to generous donors for making this opportunity possible, our community hosts throughout the Listening Tour, and the hundreds of people who took the time to share their hearts with us.  We eagerly look forward to continuing this journey together.


As we approach Chanukkah, the Festival of Lights, we recall that among tradition’s many sources that Reb Zalman z”l often quoted was one that speaks poignantly to this moment: “Not by might, and not by power, but by My spirit, says God” (Zechariah 4:6).  It is to the ongoing flow of holiness among and through all of us together that we dedicate this holy work and the next turning of ALEPH and Jewish Renewal that you will help make possible.  From our hearts to yours, thank you.


David Markus & Rachel Barenblat


ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal