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The Voice of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal
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Our Hearts Are Breaking

Sun, 10/28/2018 - 12:41

The ghastly shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA, during Shabbat services yesterday morning is shocking, saddening, and deeply disturbing. Our hearts are breaking as we pray for our fellow Jews who were affected this morning. Even as we share their grief, let us also reach out and reassure each other. When hate and violence rise up, let us commit to fight it and overcome it. We all seek to live lovingly and peaceably with each other. Let us work to bring that about.

– Rabbi Aura Ahuvia
Chair, ALEPH Board of Directors

Consider making a donation to HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society,
in support of light, love, and kindness.


Community Spotlight: HaMakor Centre for Jewish Spirituality

Thu, 10/25/2018 - 14:47

Pictured: Wilma Menko (left), Rabbi Hannah Nathans (middle), maggid/singer Shura Lipovsky (right)

This month, we’re excited to shine a spotlight on one of our affiliated Jewish Renewal communities, the HaMakor Centre for Jewish Spirituality located in Zeist, Netherlands!

Founded in 2007, the HaMakor Centre for Jewish Spirituality regularly hosts classes on Jewish meditation that attract others who seek their way back to their Jewish roots, and other classes related to Chassidism and kabbalah.

Following a successful traveling retreat to Ukraine in 2018, HaMakor is excited to continue their Hasidic Journey in Poland from May 7 – 14, 2019. They will visit the places where important Hasidic rebbes lived and worked, and in those places study their texts, sing their songs, meditate, walk in the woods where they travelled, and experience the energy. They are also looking forward to having encounters with their living inheritors regarding contemporary Jewish life in Poland. This trip will be led by Rabbi Hannah Nathans, singer and maggid Shura Lipowsky, and tour guide Wilma Menko.

To learn more about the HaMakor Centre for Jewish Spirituality and their upcoming trip to Poland, visit

In This Political Situation by Rabbi Shefa Gold

Wed, 10/24/2018 - 15:21

The political situation that we find ourselves in, has been filled with spiritual peril, for me and for many of my colleagues and friends. My deepest intention is to love everyone, to know the whole world as my extended family. And yet, I find myself seething in outrage, and sometime despairing. My reactivity reveals some pretty shadowy places, places in me that are yearning to be healed.

Since what I do well is lead fellow seekers in the process of transformative retreat, I decided to create the next SOULIFT especially for activists and seekers who struggle with these issues and aspire to heal the world through a journey that is also self-healing, awakening compassion and power through spiritual practices that are grounded in Jewish Wisdom.

The retreat is called “Healing into Action.” I have called on a great teacher of activists to collaborate with me on this. Cherie Brown is someone who I’ve long admired. She is the Founder and Executive Director of NCBI: The National Coalition Building Institute, and is expert at healing the grief, fear, and shame that get in the way of powerful, courageous leadership.

In order to come to clarity about what needs to be done and what our role is in response to the dysfunctions of government, the poisons of public discourse, the calamities of climate change, the lack of compassion for those in need, and the policies based on fear and hatred… we each need to engage in a process of moving from reactivity to wise and loving response.

I see this process as a spiral dance that keeps sending us towards connection, collaboration and energizing hopefulness. These are the steps that I take on this journey from Healing into Action:

  1. Receiving Blessing and Coming into Gratefulness
  2. Facing the Challenges and Honoring our Pain
  3. Transforming our Perception and Embracing Paradox
  4. Overflow

We begin by opening to blessing, relaxing the tension and constriction that impedes the flow of breath and simple goodness. We enter into a state of gratefulness for the process itself, for the opportunity to rise to the challenge before us.

From that place of strength and fullness, we can turn and face what is difficult, grieve what has been lost, come out of numbness and begin feeling the pain that we share. We can honor that pain by knowing that it is tied to our love and to the truth of our connection that has been shattered and shadowed over by layers of illusion. When we stop resisting that pain, we can move through it, with support.

In the process we find our love again, and step into a wider view. As our perception shifts, we see the bigger picture and begin to know ourselves as integral to the cosmos. We expand. We embrace the paradox that this is a difficult and dangerous journey and yet, in this moment we have already arrived.

And then the spark happens. Imagine your every expression, action or gesture of Generosity as Overflow.

In that place of connection and fullness, we leave the struggle behind and open as channels of the Divine flow, trusting that flow more and more, dedicating ourselves to refining and purifying the channels that we are. We release our attachments to the outcome of our actions and begin to trust that when we are connected to Source, all that we give is the overflow. We are nurtured by the flow that moves through us. We don’t have to worry about burning out. In that realization, the spiral dance leads us back to gratefulness.

We can walk through that door of gratitude and be empowered. We can receive the blessing of Life as an amazing adventure, and we can become a blessing as we each shine with our unique refraction of Divine light.

-Rabbi Shefa Gold

Learn more about SOULIFT: Healing Into Action here.

SOULIFT: Healing Into Action | Words from Cherie Brown

Wed, 10/10/2018 - 15:29

By Cherie Brown

Led by Rabbi Shefa Gold and Cherie Brown, SOULIFT: Healing Into Action is designed for activists and seekers who want to integrate nurturing their inner lives with taking principled actions in the world, so that every action we take can be grounded in intelligent compassion, with awareness and with a both deeply human and a soul perspective. SOULIFT: Healing Into Action will take place February 4 – 10, 2019, in Tampa, Florida. Learn more here.

I am a lifetime Jewish activist and a member of a Renewal Congregation in the metro D.C. Area: Am Kolel. For the past 42 years, I have had the honor of being the International Jewish Liberation Reference Person in Re-Evaluation Counseling (Co-Counseling). As part of this work, I have led hundreds of workshops with Jews around the world on healing from the effects of anti-Semitism, internalized anti-Semitism, the intersection of anti-Semitism and racism, and Israel/Palestine issues.

From 1979-1984, I was a consultant to the National Affairs Staff at the American Jewish Committee, writing manuals and developing models on how to lead workshops on Black Jewish issues and Inter-group/Inter-Ethnic Coalition Building.

Inspired by the work with AJC, in the summer of 1984, I launched an organization, the National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI) to train activists from all over the world in Coalition Building and anti-oppression work. Thirty-four years later, NCBI ( is still going strong. We have built diversity, equity, and inclusion resource teams on dozens of college campuses, in schools across the U.S. and overseas, and we lead trust building/bridge building work between law enforcement and community activists. Through this work, I have come to understand the powerful role of healing work for activists and people interested in ending racism and all forms of oppression.

For the past many years, I have also been an adjunct faculty at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, teaching courses on Diversity Leadership and Conflict Resolution for Rabbis on the Israel/Palestine Conflict.

I made a firm commitment several years ago to begin working intensely with young adults and to build intergenerational partnerships to be able to pass on wisdom from decades of activism. Towards this goal, I have been leading weekend trainings with Dove Kent and Helen Bennet for young adult activists in their 20’s and 30’s on anti-Semitism, internalized anti-Semitism, the intersection of anti-Semitism and racism and how all this impacts activism on Israel and Palestine work. In addition, I’ve led several weekend training programs for the leadership of If Not Now, helping them to build a strong, vibrant organization of young adult activists who are both proud as Jews and working to end the occupation while at the same time, developing internal practices that include treating their leaders well.

I’m very excited about partnering with Rabbi Shefa Gold to lead this SOULIFT. For years, Shefa and I have been eager to put together a program that combines our unique skills. I have been a fond supporter of Shefa’s work for many years. And I believe deeply that the world needs spiritual leaders who also have access to their own inherit ability to heal from past hurts (grief, fear, or shame) and can lead others with compassion, generosity, and wisdom. In this retreat, I will be working alongside Shefa—and teaching healing practices from re-evaluation counseling that include listening pairs and work on internalized oppression to empower all of us to find our unique voices and unique journey into activism.

To learn more about SOULIFT: Healing Into Action, click here.

May Your Breathing Be Easy

Tue, 09/18/2018 - 10:56

Find a quiet, safe and comfortable place to sit or walk, if movement suits you better.

Round 1 | Forgive Yourself
Forgiveness is like an expansive exhalation—out breath. It empties out all of the pain, anger, sadness, shame, self-righteous indignation that we know too well how to hold inside. Holding on to anger is like holding your breath. It is constricting, narrow, tight, painful. Always feeling out of breath. Gasping for air. We want to breathe. We must breathe. Breathing is not always easy. We want to be in control. Think to yourself: May I be loved. May I be safe. May I be strong. May I be healed.

Round 2 | Forgive Someone Who Has Hurt You Deeply
Forgiving someone else doesn’t mean waiting for an apology first from someone else. That apology may never come. That person may have no idea how much you are hurting. We can only breathe for ourselves. We must forgive. Holding a grudge is a false sense of security. Imagine that the person can feel your forgiveness. Think to yourself: May you be loved. May you be safe. May you be strong. May you be healed.

Round 3 | Forgive Someone Who Has Slighted You
Forgiving releases us. We cannot control what others do or say. We can choose whether or not to hold onto that hurt. That choice is in the space between the in breath and the out breath. We must re-learn to breathe. Re-spiration. Think to yourself: May you be loved. May you be safe. May you be strong. May you be healed.

Round 4 | Forgive All Living Things and Beings
Forgiveness is teshuva. It is turning the corner. It is a return to openness and possibility. We know we are alive because we have breath. All living things and beings breathe. Think to yourself: May all living things and beings be loved. May all living things and beings be safe. May all living things and beings be strong. May all living things and beings be healed.

We all share the same air. We want to live fully. We want to experience and do as much as we can. We all need as much air as possible. By forgiving we release ourselves. Only then can we really breathe.

With forgiveness,

Meditation Practice for Kol Nidre by Rabbi Marcia Prager and Hazzan Jack Kessler

Thu, 09/13/2018 - 14:35

Listen to the recording of Hazzan Jack Kessler singing Kol Nidre HERE.

Mediation Practice for Kol Nidre
by Rabbi Marcia Prager
Based on Reb Zalman’s z”l teachings on Kol Nidre

We chant Kol Nidre three times. Each chanting addresses one dimension.
Center yourself. Find a place where the body is in equilibrium.

We hear Kol Nidre three times. The first time we hear Kol Nidre for the body.

Here I ask, “Are there muscles in my body that are committed to a particular way of being that does not serve me, that is an anchor for a destructive pattern of behavior that has begun to feel normal?”

Are there vows or commitments to destructive habits that are lodged in my muscles because of old habits that I have held in my musculature? Can I stretch in new ways? Can I actually teach my muscles new ways of being? We have muscles that we use consciously and unconsciously. Stretch some of them if you can. Try stretching facial muscles. Is their “at rest” position reflecting gratitude or disappointment… or what?

Good, throughout the day return to this practice. Stretch into a new way of holding your body, a better way to use your face and your smile.


Center yourself again. You’ll hear Kol Nidre again, with a message for the heart.

Give your heart muscle a massage. If is the most powerful muscle in your body. It is also the seat of compassion. Here too, you might have stored habits of heart that need change. We each have old emotional memories that have been stored up that derive from real experiences, but they are edited and stored in a way that now perhaps hurts us and holds us back. Old habits of feeling, old stale resentments that have become like vows that you need to let go of in order to release new creativity in your relationships. Massage your heart and allow it to release the vows that hold you back from loving.


OK, Center yourself again. Find a place where the body is in equilibrium to hear Kol Nidre again. 

Examine any vows you made to different habits of mind… different reality maps. You’ve said, “You are really the truth…you are the way of understanding things that are happening that will always guide me.”

But some of those assumptions, some of those ways you mapped your reality may not be working any more. You may have to say, “Hey, I am letting go of this reality map because it is no longer working for me. Because if I hold on to that map it is anchoring me in a perspective that is not true enough picture. I promised that this would always guide me, but I find that it is not working for me and I would like to let go of that. But I want to hold onto the benefit of my experience, so where do I draw the line? What do I let go of? The old reality map is there is ballast. I need to let it go.

PLAY THE KOL NIDRE RECORDING AND LET IT SINK IN.  Sit quietly reflecting on the lessons you have learned. How can you use these lessons to bring your life into ever better alignment with your highest goals?

Inaugural Reb Zalman z”l Distinguished Service Awardee Judith Dack

Wed, 09/05/2018 - 12:09

The inaugural Reb Zalman z”l Distinguished Service Award was presented to Judith Dack at the 2018 ALEPH Kallah. In presenting the award on behalf of the ALEPH Board of Directors, Rabbi Dan Goldblatt referred to Judith as a bitzuistit, “Hebrew for someone who makes things happen, a door opener, a catalyst.” Goldblatt related the tale of Judith’s circuitous spiritual awakening, and her calling to avodah, sacred service.

Describing the early days of Jewish Renewal, Goldblatt recounted “the times when we were up in the mountains with Reb Zalman engaged in spiritual experiences, and Judith was on the ground asking the question, who is going to support this endeavor? None of us were thinking about that. She began supporting ALEPH by giving herself, and created a legacy of donors. She modeled her leadership in a way no one had done before. Not many of us were skilled in this.”

That was twenty-one years ago, when Judith took a bold step forward and began to lead the charge for ensuring the future of Jewish Renewal and ALEPH.

Judith’s commitment to ALEPH began at Elat Chayyim, the Jewish Renewal Retreat Center in Accord, NY. By the end of her first weeklong retreat, Judith knew she had stumbled upon something extraordinary and priceless. She started asking around, “Does anyone do any fundraising around here?” She saw that the facility sure looked as if it was in great need, but no one was very interested.

Judith had never been interested in fundraising before either, only giving out of a sense of obligation. “You know, the neighbor puts an American Heart Association envelope in my mailbox and I had to give so I wouldn’t look bad, or my daughters would come home from school with that Sally Foster gift wrap fundraiser and I had to buy all this stuff just so my kids would look good,” said Judith. “There was no kavanah, no giving from my heart.”

Everything changed that fateful Saturday night at Elat Chayyim. Judith stood up in front of the entire kahal—as she would continue to do for many years to come—and made the following pronouncement. She said, “Thanks to this transformational retreat, I know I have saved a small fortune in psychotherapy bills, and therefore I am making a $2000 gift tonight and I hope others will join me.” And they did. The community resonated with Judith’s story and gave generously, more than ever before.

Judith continued to deepen and expand her involvement with, and connection to, Jewish Renewal and ALEPH. For many summers she was the yoga teacher, mispacha group leader and fun-raiser at Elat Chayyim. She was in the first cohort of the Davvenen’ Leadership Training Institute (DLTI), and Kol Zimra where, for the past 10 years, she has continued to assist in Reb Shefa’s retreats. She joined the ALEPH Board of Directors in 2003 where she served for 14 years. “I was blessed by all these experiences and I knew I had received a truly great gift in my life through Jewish Renewal. I knew I had a huge debt that I could never repay but I was going to try. I was overcome with gratitude for my life and I tried to offer whatever service I could to further the programs.”

“Probably my greatest contribution was to transform the way fundraising was approached in this community,” recalled Judith. “I called it Stand-Up-FUN-Raising and I developed a technique which invited every person, no matter what the available funds were, to be inspired to participate and literally stand up at whatever amount had meaning for them.”

When Judith was honored by ALEPH as an Eshet Hazon, a Woman of Vision, she was named Ezrat Olamay Aleph, She who holds up all the worlds of ALEPH. ALEPH has been forever changed—inside and out—by Judith Dack. ALEPH is enormously grateful for her generosity, service and legacy.

In her remarks at the Kallah ceremony, Judith closed with this blessing: “as this movement continues to grow and evolve, may there always be space for every soul to heal and transform, and to be seen and valued for the unique gift each of us brings.”

Baruch Dayan HaEmet:  Rabbi Rachel

Sun, 09/02/2018 - 10:14

Baruch Dayan HaEmet:  Rabbi Rachel Cowan 

With sadness ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal mourns the passing of a luminary of our time: Rabbi Rachel Cowan, who succumbed to cancer just before Shabbat on August 31, 2018. A passionate activist, teacher and leader, her life-work supported visionary initiatives and vibrant new opportunities for engagement with Jewish spirituality and social justice. Her light in the world of justice, peace, and healing will not go out.

We join with her family and friends in mourning her passing, and extend our hearts to our colleagues at IJS, the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, which Rabbi Rachel Cowan supported first though her work with the Nathan Cummings Foundation and then as its second Executive Director.  ALEPH, too, was a beneficiary of her vision when The P’nai Or Religious Fellowship and The Shalom Center merged to create ALEPH in 1993.  Rabbi Cowan helped provide significant funding for the merger through her central role as the Program Director of Jewish Life at the Nathan Cummings Foundation.

ALEPH extends our deepest condolences to her family as we continue to honor her vision in our work. May her memory be for a blessing, zikhronah liv’rakhah.

Services will be held on Tuesday, September 4 at 9:30 am at B’nai Jeshurun, 257 West 88th Street in NYC.

The Institute for Jewish Spirituality which Rabbi Cowan, along with Rabbi Nancy Flam, co-founded, will be offering three virtual minyans: Tuesday, September 4 at 8 pm eastern; Wednesday, September 5 at 9 am eastern; and Thursday, September 6 at noon eastern.

To participate in the IJS virtual minyan for Rabbi Cowan, use this Zoom link:

Join a Tradition of Holy Olive Pickers | Oil Pressers These High Holy Days

Thu, 08/30/2018 - 15:25

Dear ALEPH-niks,

We are called to serve the greater good. I stand before you, as the new ALEPH Board Chair, to ask you to be part of securing the future for Jewish Renewal. Our task is like that of our ancient forebear’s olive pickers: Press olives, refine oil that fueled the Eternal Lamp, signaling God’s eternal presence. Today’s fuel comes in the form of Dollars, the energy of which goes directly into funding today’s Jewish light: our Current Teachers, our Future Leaders, our Artists and Musicians, our Spiritual Directors and Rabbinic Pastors, our Meditation and Dance Instructors—in short, our Holy Experimenters.

Rabbi Marcia Prager, Dean of the ALEPH Ordination Program and student of our beloved Reb Zalman, alav ha shalom, once taught that it is from the fringes that plants absorb the nutrients; roots seek the outermost places from which to reach nourishment. Reaching for the fringes enables the tree to spread its roots most broadly, so that it can stand strong and tall. Jewish Renewal is kind of fringe-ee.

This is appealing: in the past 3 years, enrollment in the ALEPH Ordination Program has surpassed that of other seminaries, making it among, if not the largest Jewish seminary in the world. In the coming years, these sparks of Jewish Renewal will grow into a real force for change in the world!

Being a Donor to ALEPH means having the sacred opportunity to fuel the engine of Jewish Renewal, and to help those sparks spread and grow. The amazing new influx of energetic and creative innovators and teachers into ALEPH is infusing Jewish Renewal with new life, and granting you the chance to help author its next chapters. Your role, in fact, is crucial to the process. ALEPH needs your gifts, to fund the resources our students need to learn, to support our musmachim/ordainees’ impulse to experiment, and to help build vital, practical and administrative support for our many ALEPH Communities throughout North America and the world.

Will you please join me, and the ALEPH Board, in donating now, and in considering ALEPH in your estate planning, so that we, together, can provide the fuel needed to keep the lights of Jewish Renewal alive for many years to come? Please make a donation HERE.

May you and your family and friends be blessed to have a sweet and fruitful new year.

L’Shanah Tova,
Rabbi Aura Ahuvia
Chair of the ALEPH Board