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The Voice of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal
Updated: 4 hours 41 min ago

Giving Tuesday Kicks-off Chanukah Campaign

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 12:51
The candle of one person can bring light to many.
-Talmud,  BT Shabbat

Dear ALEPH Friend and Supporter,

As we approach Chanukah, we are reminded that light, candles and flame are recurrent themes in our Jewish history, liturgy, and practice – from the unconsumed burning bush that Moshe encountered, to the candles we light and bless each Shabbat.  So, it is fitting that we choose this season of Chanukah, when festival candles bring light to the darkest time of year, to ask you to ensure ALEPH’s continued ability to bring the light of Torah and joyous Jewish practice to the world.

This has been a time of darkness in more ways than one. We have seen an emboldened neo-Nazi movement in the United States and the rise of xenophobic leaders who express disdain for the poor, the LGBTQ, the stranger, people of color, and the disabled, and a lack of concern for the future and well-being of our planet.

Renewal Judaism is an antidote to this darkness. ALEPH brings the light of Torah, the joy and strength of community, and the foundation of our renewal Jewish values to the world at a time when these are much needed. When the need for hope is greatest, ALEPH is there.

ALEPH is Lighting the Way

ALEPH Kallah
2018 – Our renowned transformative gathering brings together the worldwide Renewal movement’s most inspiring teachers and leaders, artists, musicians, innovators and hundreds of seekers of all ages. We are also especially excited about our expanding youth and teen programs.

Soulift – Rabbi Shefa Gold’s new uplifting week-long immersive spiritual retreats will help us remain anchored in our awareness of the Divine flow of blessing and our life’s purpose. To date, over 200 spiritual leaders have been trained by R’Shefa are bringing the spiritual practice of chant to their communities.

ALEPH Ordination Program – North America’s largest rigorous progressive Jewish seminary is dynamic and spiritually rich. We are embracing new faculty, expanding our programs, and increasing resources to enrich the educational experience of over 90 students in four schools – Rabbinic, Cantorial, Rabbinic Pastor and Hashpa’ah (Spiritual Direction).

Beloved Land: Israel and Palestine – ALEPH Ordination Program’s ground breaking, soul-searching immersion in the Israel and Palestine experience.  Through semester-length courses with summer study and travel in our Beloved Land, ALEPH is training our current and future clergy leaders to help heal tragic divisions and facilitate deep conversations. The first cohort of 18 participants is underway!

Spiritual Entrepreneur Initiative – providing fiscal sponsorship and mentoring to ALEPH Ordination Program Students, newly-ordained clergy and others to help them launch exciting new projects.   Because having great ideas is not enough.

The ALEPH Board and Staff, energized by our incoming Executive Director, SooJi Min-Maranda’s leadership, are bringing these and other exciting initiatives to life with your help and support.

Light YOUR candle
Eight Nights of Chanukah Campaign

Light the ALEPH Menorah with a chai or multiple of chai (chai, the number 18 means “alive!”) contribution for each night of Chanukah.

All donors receive a special unpublished Reb Zalman Chanukah teaching, with a beautiful digital image of Reb Zalman lighting a Chanukah candle.

One Candle: $18/night total: $144 • Helps us fund part of a work-study ALEPH Kallah scholarship. Help everyone come to Kallah!

Two Candles: $36/night   total: $288 • Helps reduce Kallah costs for our Youth and Families.

Three Candles:  $54/night total: $438 • The cost of four months of hashpa’ah (spiritual direction) for an ALEPH community leader.

Four Candles:  $108/night  total: $864 • Enables ALEPH to bring one young innovator to our Emerging Spiritual Leader Fellowship Circle at Kallah, lifting up our ALEPH commitment to support emerging leaders doing cutting edge work. We need five donors to make this program run.

Five Candles: $180/night  total: $1,440 The cost of adding an additional teaching resource for the Beloved Land program.

Six Candles: $360/night – total: $2,880 • The cost of adding two additional teaching resources for the Beloved Land Program.

Seven Candles: $540/night – total: $4,320 The cost of sponsoring two new ALEPH publications, including R’ Daniel Siegel’s groundbreaking work on Ger Toshav (an ancient Biblical concept offering a novel approach to intermarriage) and an edited compilation of new transcriptions of R’ Zalman’s teachings.

Eight Candles: $1,080/night – total: $8,620 • Funds the Kallah track of your choice:  art, music, text study, embodied practice, food & environment, social justice…

Shamash Candle: $1,800/night – total: $14,400 Be the Shamash lighting all of ALEPH’s efforts for the renewal of Judaism.  You are the light that makes the rest possible in so many ways!

Please give as generously as you are able, so that together we can carry on the work of our beloved Reb Zalman z”l, and continue to be a beacon of light for all.


With Gratitude and Blessings,




Rabbinic Pastor David Daniel Klipper
Chair – The ALEPH Board of Directors

Rabbi Shohama Wiener Hashpa’ah Scholarship Campaign

Fri, 11/24/2017 - 09:34

With gratitude and profound appreciation, the AOP (ALEPH Ordination Program) VAAD announces that our beloved Rosh Hashpa’ah, Rabbi Shohama Wiener, is retiring in this role.

In honor of her loving service to the VAAD and the AOP as ALEPH’s first Rosh Hashpa’ah, we are creating a Hashpa’ah Scholarship Fund.

Said Rabbi Shohama:

“This work has been the great gift of my life. Hashpa’ah is vital because within every person there is a soul that yearns for expression. Hashpa’ah offers Jewish and other paths to enhance our experience of God—the Sacred, as individuals and as community. These are pursuits that should be vital to the cultivation of spiritual leadership.”

Together we honor R’ Shohama with our commitment to sustaining this holy work. Our contributions will provide needed financial aid for current and future students in ALEPH’s 3-year Hashpa’ah Training Program for Jewish Spiritual Directors.

Your gift will ensure the continuation of this program that she founded, nurtured, and cared about so deeply.

Donate Today!

Kallah 2018 Early-Bird registration is officially open

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 18:14

Each of us is a spark.
ALEPH Kallah brings together hundreds of individual sparks to shine more brightly, and spread that light into the world around us!

Kallah 2018 is officially open for Early-Bird registration
July 2 – 8, 2018, Amherst, Massachusetts 

Join us for a week-long festive gathering where we will delight in contemporary Jewish spiritual wisdom for heart, mind, body and soul.
  • Immerse in vibrant learning, spiritual wisdom, and joyful prayer.
  • Enrich yourself through Renewal teachings, music, movement and meditation.
  • Engage around social justice and Tikun Olam.
  • Restore and reconnect amongst a warm community of fellow seekers and world-class teachers.

With sessions suitable for all ages and interests, the ALEPH Kallah welcomes your whole family.

An outstanding team of educators will engage toddlers and children, Wilderness Torah will excite and inspire teens, and a top-notch line-up of presenters will shine as they bring us to new depths of our learning and understanding.

Be among the first to reserve your space and enjoy the benefits of early-bird rates and the exclusive opportunity to choose from over 50 classes and workshops before they are open to the public.

Learn More About Kallah 2018 Light Your Spark By Booking Your Spot Today for ALEPH Kallah 2018

Full registration opens in February 2018.

We look forward to seeing you at Kallah 2018, July 2 – 8 at the beautiful UMass Amherst campus.

ALEPH Names New Executive Director

Wed, 11/08/2017 - 07:41

ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal is pleased to announce that SooJi Min-Maranda will become Executive Director as of January 1, 2018.

“SooJi Min-Maranda brings nearly 14 years of strong executive nonprofit management to ALEPH,” says RP David Daniel Klipper, ALEPH’s Board Chair. “She brings strong administrative management skills, strong fund raising skills and strong organizational development skills – all of which will be helpful for ALEPH – while also being a Jewish spiritual seeker and guide.  Finally, she is a delightful human being.  I am very pleased about her joining ALEPH.”

Min-Maranda has served as the executive director of Temple Beth Emeth in Ann Arbor, MI for nearly seven years, where she also teaches Jewish mindfulness meditation and embodied Jewish yoga. Min-Maranda also works as a nonprofit consultant, providing strategic thinking, direction, and support to clients in the areas of development, policy, research, advocacy and direct service. Min-Maranda most recently served as the executive director of the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health (ICAH), a nonprofit policy and advocacy organization that focuses on adolescent sexual health and parenting. At ICAH, Min-Maranda focused the agency’s programming to develop leadership among youth from communities of color; advocate for community, institutional, societal, and policy changes impacting low-income and marginalized communities; and build a grassroots network of allied social justice organizations.

Min-Maranda is a steadfast social justice advocate who believes in the transformative power of stories. “My Hebrew name is Seeprah, which means she who tells her own story,” says Min. “We all have our inner stories and outer stories, which are always changing and renewing. They are not always fully aligned. My hope is that ALEPH can help our selves, our communities and our faith become whole.”

Min-Maranda joins a strong leadership team that includes Steve Weinberg, Deputy Director of Finance and Operations, Tamy Jacobs, Deputy Director of Institutional Investment and Lynda Simons, Manager of Finance. Steve Weinberg stated, “I believe she will be an excellent addition – competent, articulate, flush with ideas, a mensch and practical. She can also be humble and vulnerable while still showing a confidence befitting ALEPH.”

Min-Maranda also serves as the board Chair for the Michigan Organization on Adolescent Sexual Health and as Secretary of the national governing board for the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. She was a member of the Selah Leadership Program’s National Executive Cohort 9, a 2010 Chicago Community Trust Fellow and was awarded a 2010 Impact Award by the Chicago Foundation for Women. She served on Governor Quinn’s Illinois Human Services Commission from 2010-2011. She is a 2007 Illinois Women’s Institute for Leadership delegate and a 2006 Leadership Greater Chicago fellow. She is a graduate of Barnard College and holds master’s degrees from Northwestern University and The University of Chicago.

Aleph Tikshoret Classes Launches Unique Initiative: The ALEPH Ethics Incubator – by Rabbi Debra Smith

Thu, 11/02/2017 - 14:08
(AOP class of 2016)

Encouraging ethical practice is a critical way for the Jewish Renewal movement to prevent and discourage clergy misconduct. The newly created and launched Clergy Ethics Incubator will over time make available educational programs, full length professional courses, webinars, chat rooms, a resource library and research tools to help clergy and clergy related professionals carry out their work with the highest level of ethical standards.

The Clergy Ethics Incubator has been created by Rabbi Debra Smith (Reb Deb), ethics specialist, as a model to enable clergy and students at all levels of experience and training to acquire or augment the range of knowledge and skills necessary to maintain a safe level of practice.

The Ethics Incubator is grounded in ALEPH’s ongoing commitment to high quality professional education that encourages all students and practicing professionals to examine the ethical values and practices of their profession. Ongoing ethics education enables us to serve G-d and the public with the highest standards possible.

Rabbi Debra Smith is a member of the OHALAH Ethics Committee. As an ALEPH rabbinical student, she served as co-chair of the Student Ethics Committee and created and taught a monthly forum for AOP students called “Eye on Ethics.” Students attending the forum learned about issues related to power and boundaries in clergy practice, were given resources to further their learning, and developed a circle of colleagues with whom to discuss ethical issues and dilemmas in a confidential environment.

A social worker by profession, Reb Deb founded and served as Chair of the NJ Ethics Committee for the National Association of Social Workers for seven years. During that time she authored numerous articles on ethical practice in her monthly column, Eye on Ethics, published in the NASW- NJ Newsletter. She developed and taught numerous courses on professional ethics at Rutgers University School of Social Work Continuing Education and Professional Development Program. She headed the NJ committee to revise the National Code of Ethics for Social Workers and chaired committees to write several professional codes of ethics for mental health organizations in NJ. She has been an honored recipient of the NASW-NJ Trailblazer Award for her outstanding contributions in the field of ethics.

The Ethics Incubator will offer a variety of programs, including

  • short modules
  • professional continuing-education short-courses on topics related to ethical practice (from 1-4 sessions);
  • a full semester graduate/professional level course on Ethical Issues in Spiritual Practice;
  • an annual Ethics Forum to include a full day of ethics workshops by a variety of presenters, with keynote speaker;
  • the awarding of a Certificate in Clergy Ethics upon completion of a certain number of hours of continuing education work.

The first short-course to be offered by the Ethics Incubator is:

Ethical Issues and Dilemmas for Spiritual Leaders, Mental Health and Pastoral Counselors: Defining boundaries, Recognizing a Boundary Violation, and defining the Process of Personal Disconnection that Occurs in a Boundary Relationship.

Rabbi Marcia Prager says “It is easy. You have good boundaries, you are thoughtful, honest, upright, careful, and you trust your gut. If something not so kosher was happening, surely you’d know and back way off. But it is NOT easy. Sometimes the warnings are truly subtle, easy to explain in other ways. Sometimes we’re not so alert, and a situation begins to unfold that snares us before we realize. Careers are ruined, and sometimes lives. If you don’t believe it, ask any Ethics Board how many cases they’ve heard this year… and not just the ones that hit the papers.

Think of this seminar as a “sechel-supplement,” like a vitamin infusion for your ethics antennae. You invest in other health programs. This one is worth it. Join a small group of your colleagues as we explore the four traps, and then move with increasing depth and sophistication further into the complex landscape of ethics.”

NOV 29, DEC 6, DEC 13, DEC 20

Session by Session Topics:

1- Introduction to the course; Defining boundaries ; Recognizing a boundary violation; Defining the Process of Personal disconnection that occurs in a boundary relationship.

2- The four interconnected defining traits of a boundary violation: the secret; the role reversal; the double bind; indulgence of personal privilege.

3- Examples of each of the four defining traits of a boundary violation

4- Consequence to the relationship when a boundary violation occurs; Healing a boundary violations and barriers to healing.

Rabbi Shefa Gold’s C-DEEP Is launching a new project called SOULIFT

Thu, 10/26/2017 - 09:37

Rabbi Shefa Gold’s C-DEEP: The Center for Devotional, Energy and Ecstatic Practice will be launching a new project called SOULIFT, beginning in the summer of 2018.

These times of tumult and change hold great potential for inner growth and connection to our Soul Perspective. SOULIFT will offer week-long retreats, immersions in spiritual practice that will help us to remain anchored to an awareness of the Divine flow of blessing, no matter what is happening in the world.

Rabbi Shefa shares the promise of this deep and timely work:

If I find the soul perspective and remember that my soul’s purpose is to learn how to love and be loved… then I will know that no matter what is happening I can look for the opportunity to learn these lessons and to grow in my capacity to love and to grow in my receptivity.

If I find the soul perspective and remember that my soul’s purpose is to awaken… then I will use EVERYTHING that happens as an opportunity for awakening.

The question is, “How do we attain and then maintain that soul perspective, without losing our commitment to this moment, this unique circumstance?”

For the past 30 years I have been developing an expansive body of work that is based on the power and magic of Hebrew sacred text. These practices are the vehicles that lift us up into the Soul perspective.

The process of retreat lets us dive deep into our own vast potential, and emerge with an expanded awareness and an inspired vision of both this precious moment and the miraculous scope of our lives.

Each stand-alone intensive will be an opportunity to immerse ourselves in practices that incorporate the magic of sound, silence, movement, stillness, sacred text, shamanic journey, mutual support, creative arts, and nature mysticism. Each retreat will culminate in the joyous celebration of Shabbat.

Rabbi Shefa continues:

Can you imagine laying on your death bed, looking back at your life and asking, “Did I focus my attention on what was really important? How did I get distracted? Did I see the possibilities for love? Did I make the best of my situation? Did I remember my soul’s purpose?”

There’s a great comic character in the Talmud whose nickname was “Ish Gamzu”. No matter what happened to him, he responded to it with the words, “Gam zeh l’tovah– This is also for the good.” It didn’t matter if he won the lottery or his house burned down, if life was awful or wonderful… he had the same response. I will use this, too, for the good.

Ish Gamzu knew his soul’s purpose, and so everything that happened to him was dedicated in service to that purpose.

Can you imagine now that you are about to be born. You are standing in that timeless moment before you, as a soul, entered this incarnation. You are ready to dive in. You have a plan. You have a purpose. Let’s imagine that you chose the perfect family, the precise time and place, the ideal circumstance that could support the unfolding of your soul’s purpose. And you set an intention: I’m going to enter this life and use EVERYTHING to fulfil that purpose.

We can either see the world from the standpoint of personality/ego or we can shift our consciousness and look out from the soul perspective. On the surface, the world looks the same, yet my relationship to Reality is now completely different. In this process, I don’t lose my personality, but I become so much less reactive.

Through this process, I attain access to the Divine resources that were in me all along. From this wider perspective of soul, I can see my life and my death as a great adventure. I can begin to understand the purpose for being here. I can begin to discern the potential for growth, learning, heart-expansion, exploration or deepening in even the most difficult moments. And I can cultivate gratefulness for absolutely everything that comes my way.

Join Rabbi Shefa at one of her upcoming SOULIFT retreats:
Summer 2018: (Santa Fe, August 13-19)

Winter 2019: (Tampa, FL., February 4-10)

Baruch Dayan Emet Rabbi Shoni Labowitz, z”l

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 16:45
Baruch Dayan Emet
Rabbi Shoni Labowitz, z”l

It is with great sorrow that we in the extended ALEPH family
write to inform you of the passing of our beloved colleague and friend
Rabbi Shoni Labowitz, z”l

Rabbi Shoni was ordained by Reb Zalman in 1987. Along with her husband and rabbinic partner Rabbi Phil Labowitz, she pioneered in bringing Jewish Renewal to South Florida, hosting Reb Zalman for countless teaching engagements and together founding Temple Adath Or, The South Florida Center for Jewish Renewal. TAO remains infused with her light, love and energy under the inspired leadership of their son, Rabbi Marc Labowitz.

Our hearts are with Rabbi Phillip Labowitz, Rabbi Marc and Paulina Labowitz, Galia, Ocean & Kole Kerev, Reb Arik and Aliza Labowitz, Judah  & Noah, and Pierre & Christina Labowitz, Marina & Matthew and the entire family on the loss of their beloved wife, mother, grandmother. and spiritual guide.

May her memory, her legacy, her artistic vision and her inspiring creativity be an ongoing blessing for us all

Funeral and Shiva information can befound here, on the TAO website:

Charitable donations can be made to 
TAO – Temple Adath Or
10200 W. State Road 84, 
Suite #218
Davie, FL 33324

We offer our love, support and prayers to the entire Labowitz family.,

Kavannah for Reading the End and the Beginning of Torah

Wed, 10/11/2017 - 15:12

Introduction: As we approach the final days of this High Holy Day cycle, I wanted to share with you the drash I offered several years ago on Simkhat Torah at Kehilla Community Synagogue in Piedmont California. This is the kavannah for the Torah reading that includes the final verses of the book of Deuteronomy and the first verse of the book of Genesis—the end and the beginning of Torah.

In our community, Cantor Linda Hirschhorn has for many years given a tour de force leyning of the final verses of the book of Deuteronomy, segueing in a single breath into the first verse of Genesis. She includes in her leyning all the different tropes (melodies) that are used to chant Torah and haftarah throughout the year, virtuosically shifting from one to another, verse by verse, musically teaching us how the ending contains the beginning and everything in between.

This is a telling moment in our ritual year, signaling the cyclical nature of spiritual consciousness. My drash also speaks of endings contained in beginnings, beginnings in endings, and perhaps offers some hope for this moment in time, when so much seems to be lost.

Kavannah for Reading the End and the Beginning of Torah
Rabbi Diane Elliot
Simkhat Torah, 5775

V’zot ha-brakhah, and this is the blessing…” We are about to lose Moses, Moshe, the quintessential figure who has guided us through so much of our Torah-year. Reluctant leader, radiant communer with the Divine, narrator and central figure of so much of our Torah story, Moses ascends to the heights, is held deep in the heart of G~d, touched by the Divine voice, the Divine hand, then shuttles back to earth to care for and contain and cajole an errant, fearful, often confused people, sprung unripe into freedom, struggling to understand their place in the world and to shoulder the responsibilities and unfurl the joys of serving the Holy.

That people is us; we surely are that people, as much as the Israelites ever were, needing guidance, needing wisdom, needing at times to have our hands held or some sense shaken into us. We’ve moved through the Days of Awe, stood before the seat of judgment, hoping to exchange it for the seat of mercy. We’ve prayed to peel back the husks, to reveal a clearer, more congruent version of our lives. We’ve sought to unknot the fisted places in our hearts, and we’ve sat in our rickety, impermanent sukkah shelters, leafy boughs above our heads, pinpoints of stars above the boughs, the sweet smell of autumn harvest—pri etz hadar, beautiful, fragrant fruits—in our nostrils, feeling a bit more at peace with our humanness, our frailty, our less than perfect world.

And now here we are, dancing with the Torah, Moshe’s chef-d’oeuvre, whirling in joy, suffused with a love we can hardly contain or name—knowing, all the while, that we’re about to lose Moshe himself.

Doesn’t it seem strange, sad, oddly unsatisfying that at the end of his Torah, Moshe just disappears, like a magician in a puff of smoke? Vanishes between Shabbats, when no one is looking, when we’re all caught up in joyful dancing and release, with no special Shabbat dedicated to the mourning his passing? Maybe it’s just too much in this z’man simkhateynu, the harvest season of our joy, to face the loss of the greatest wisdom figure within our sacred mythology, this humble companion and fierce guide who walks us through so many parshiot. Or maybe it’s hard, so soon after Yom Kippur, to be reminded of the end we humans all must face, cut off at what must always seem midstream, just short of our promised lands.

But perhaps there’s a deeper wisdom here, a profound wisdom about the cyclic nature of life on earth and our humanity, the circlings, the hakafot that connect beginnings to endings and ends to beginnings. Moshe has lived 120, twice 60 years, double samekhSamekh, the Hebrew letter that has a value of 60, is a symbol of wholeness, of completion—a simple round circle, closed, complete, empty, the end present in the beginning, the beginning implicate in the end. One circle of Moshe’s life is lived in unconscious privilege, in palatial insulation in Mitzrayim, Egypt.  A second circle—his mid-life career transition, you might say—is spurred by a sudden awakening to the plight of his enslaved people, and thrusts him into harsh truths of wilderness and human nature, as he struggles through wars, disbelief, cynicism, hunger, and fear to guide an unknowing multitude into the Unknown—protected, guided only by the Invisible Nameless…. two distinct yet interdependent samekh’s, two cycles of fullness, emptiness, completion.

Maybe this is what all our dancing is about—not to deny loss and death, but to joyfully embrace the whole cycle of living and dying, the beginnings in the endings, the endings in beginnings. Rabbi David Ingber has taught that the Torah’s beginning with a Bet, the second letter of the Hebrew aleph-bet, points to a missing, mysterious Aleph, of which we can know nothing. This silent Aleph precedes the Bet of B’reishit and is the ground of Creation, and it is into this Aleph that Moses, kissed by G~d, sinks, disappears—not into nothingness, but into the deep, high, wide, mysterious, unknowable Aleph from which the whole story, the whole cosmos springs. There in the Garden, the snake, the first human beings, the Tree, the Flood, the lives of the patriarchs and matriarchs, this whole world of Ever-Arising Beingness, is Moshe Rabbeynu, Moses our Teacher, whispering, shouting, laughing, crying, teaching—anticipating his own re-birth.

In the beginning, writes the poet and spiritual teacher Mark Nepo,

where I was touched by G~d,

before my tongue had word,

before my mind had thought,

there, in the fire I still carry,

the mind and heart are one.                                                                                                                   


A Jewish Wedding In Uganda and How Shadrach Mugoya Levi found ALEPH

Tue, 10/10/2017 - 10:58

And how Shadrach Mugoya Levi found ALEPH

How does a young man’s dream in a village in Eastern Uganda lead to rabbinical studies, a village wedding celebration with 1,500 guests, securing food for 400 Abayudaya Jews during drought and famine, and forging a deep and loving connection between that young man, his village and the ALEPH world of Jewish Renewal?

The story begins about three years ago, when ALEPH’s world was widened as Rabbi Leila Gal Berner, Dean of Students of the ALEPH Ordination Program, noticed an email from Uganda.  Curious of course, she responded as she always does when a letter of inquiry comes in from a potential student. The letter was from Shadrach Mugoya Levi, who was already serving as the spiritual leader of his 400-member Abayudaya Jewish community in Namutumba, a rural village of Uganda. He was eager to learn what a rabbi must know to lead with knowledge and effectiveness. Much correspondence followed, and many interviews. Impressed with Shadrach’s passion the AOP invited him to begin taking courses in the Rabbinical Program.

Welcoming Shadrach into the ALEPH world has planted seeds that continue to grow. A few months after he began his studies, Shadrach joined AOP faculty and students for the Ordination Program summer residential Intensive Study Retreat. After a year of videoconference classes, he met his classmates and teachers panim el panim for the first time. How exciting that was! Walking in to our magical, musical Erev Shabbat service after an eighteen-hour journey from Uganda must have seemed for Shadrach like entering a new universe. And then dinner!  Food flowed, and nothing like the humble fare in Namutumba. But it wasn’t only new for Shadrach. As new relationships grew, his community has now enriched our ALEPH world immensely.

It had, of course, become entirely apparent that neither Shadrach nor his village had any funds for his studies or travel, and in fact were in dire need of even basic staples. Fundraising was essential. Initially Rabbi Leila raised scholarship funds for Shadrach’s rabbinic courses only. It soon became clear, however, that he and his community were inseparable, and that we urgently needed to find support for this very poor, but Jewishly faithful kahal. With this intention, a separate non-profit (501c3) organization, Ezra Uganda Assistance, was born  OR

Shadrach Mugoya Levi with Rabbi Lelia Gal Berner

Ezra Uganda Assistance has supported the Namutumba community through a dire drought and famine that sadly took thee lives of some members. The fund has also provided curative and preventive medication for sick children, particularly prone to repeated bouts of malaria. Solar energy has been installed in the Tikkun Olam school. Wells have been cleaned, repaired and fenced against animal intrusion. The Namutumba community is rebuilding its synagogue and solar energy will be installed.

Ezra Uganda Assistance is currently raising funds for a new project, “Operation Joseph” — purchasing plows and oxen to enable larger-scale farming so that food can be stored for times of future famine.

All in all, things are moving in Namutumba.  All this grew from the seeds of a passionate and bold young man’s desire to be a rabbi, and ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal’s faith in him!

With this NY Times article, linked here, we have some wonderful breaking news to report. A wedding!

Shadrach and his common-law wife Naomi expressed a desire for a formal religious Jewish wedding under a chuppah, and five other couples in Namutumba joined the request.  Many people, who had come to know the story of our fellow Jews there, came forward to support tis special simcha.  On August 8, 2017, ALEPH musmechet Rabbi Yafa Chase, along with the Chief Rabbi of the Abayudaya in Uganda, Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, who is also a member of the Ugandan Parliament, co-officiated for the six couples with 1,500 guests celebrating! Over two days – drums of jubilation pounded out the heart-beat joy of the couples, with kosher and halal food nourishing the people, as the wedding party included Christian and Muslim neighbors as well as fellow Jews from other villages.

Accompanying Rabbi Yafa Chase and her daughter Ariel to Uganda was Melissa Gerson who wrote the beautiful article that was published in the New York Times.   

Here is the link for you. May it lift your heart and fill your soul with joy!

An Offering For Reflection On Yom Kippur & Sukkot

Thu, 09/28/2017 - 19:29
An Offering For Reflection On The Book of  Jonah

Mincha. It is late afternoon on Yom Kippur. Together we read the book of Jonah, and perhaps struggle to find ways to wrest meaning for our lives from this enigmatic text.

I offer these eight questions to spark introspection, inner probing, and holy conversations. In my P’nai Congregation we engage with these rather challenging questions in small groups after distributing them in a basket. Each person choses only one, sits in contemplation, and then small groups cluster to converse and reflect.

May your journey through these days of teshuvah be rich. I hope this offering is rewarding for you!

R’ Marcia

Eight Questions to Spark Introspection

1) Jonah runs in the opposite direction from his “mission.”  His is just one kind of “running away.”

• What does running away mean in your life?

• Is there something important that is uncomfortable enough that you find yourself running away, whatever that means to you.

2) Jonah rejects his “mission.” He is riding a slew of assumptions, resentments, angers, denials… He is not listening.

• Are you listening to what you should really be doing?

3) Ninveh was one of the greatest capital cities of Assyria – a violent imperialist empire. Jonah hates everything that Ninveh stands for and wishes it to be destroyed and punished, not forgiven.

• What issues around revenge versus forgiveness in your life might this raise for you?

4) In Jonah’s psalm, he says: People who care for false things that have no value abandon their own good. This is the only poem in the whole book, like a song or psalm that Jonah sings to himself and God.

• Does this have any resonance for you in your life?

• What spiritual principles can you learn from this

5) Sometime it takes a terrible experience to open our hearts. Yes, a terrible experience can also shut us down and close our hearts, but does not have to. Then we can notice that running through everything there is a source of profound meaning, and also healing, that we can access. Sometimes this is what we call “God.”

• Has anything like this ever happened to you that has expanded your awareness and opened your heart?

6) The people of Ninveh repent. They do immediate t’shuvah and change their behaviors when they understand the wrong of which they are guilty.

• Can you apply this principle to yourself in any way?

7) The prophet Ezekiel proclaims that “God takes no pleasure from the death of the wicked (33:11).”  But humans do. We do. Jonah would have preferred due punishment for the evil city. He is irate that God would have so much compassion that even a place like Ninveh could be forgiven.

• How are you challenged on the ‘grudge–forgiveness’ continuum?

•Are you willing to forgive, and even take the initiative to make that happen? How?

• Are you willing to believe that YOU can do t’shuvah and be forgiven, even for something you are really ashamed of? What assumptions would this challenge?

8) The book of Jonah is like a handbook on how NOT to be a prophet.

Jonah does everything he can to run away and hold onto a hard-hearted drive for vengeance. He cannot rejoice in the forgiving nature of God, but holds onto his resentments and his pride. But the end of the book is ambiguous. It ends with a question, leaving us to never know whether seeing the change of heart of the Ninevites, and hearing God’s closing challenge to his self-serving priorities, causes any change of heart in him.

• What challenge to your priorities could induce a needed change of heart in your life now?

• What shift would it take for you to really get this and make the shift?

Rabbi Marcia Prager is dean of the ALEPH Ordination Program.

Additional LinksMeditation Practice for Kol Nidre
by Rabbi Marcia Prager – Kol ALEPH
A New Haftara for Sukkot from
Hazzan Jack Kessler (text by poet David Rosenberg)



Shanah Tovah U’metukah

Wed, 09/20/2017 - 08:01

We are delighted to offer you this gift for the High Holidays. Shanah Tovah U’metukah from ALEPH.

This amazing video was created by musician and composer Noah Aronson. Our ALEPH Ordination Program cantorial student Laurie Akers is singing backup on this video.

Noah Aronson writes: I’ve always loved this Rumi poem

“Come, Come, Whoever You Are

Wonderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.
It doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow a thousand times
Come, yet again, come, come.”

1250 AD

For this video, I worked with the wonderful, New York based sand artist Lopatnik Zhenya to create a prayer for the Jewish New Year.

May this Jewish New Year afford you moments of reflection, renewal and self care. #newyearprayer

To download the song (free through the High Holidays!), sheet music or chords, check out my website:

Musicians include:
Tali RubinsteinNoam IsraeliTamir ShmerlingEitan Kenner, and Asher Kurtz

Background Vocalist:
ALEPH Ordination Program  cantorial student 
Laurie Akers and Cantor Shanna Zell

Engineered and mixed by Rozhan Razman at Riro Muzik in Brooklyn, NY
Film edited by: 
Joe Duva with Strange Dream Films

ALEPH High Holiday Appeal

Thu, 09/14/2017 - 07:29

Two weeks ago the silver crescent new moon of the month of Elul rose in the night sky. Now it is waxing full, and will soon give way as the new moon of Tishre readies itself to be born. Along with the moon, we too are traversing the month of Elul, leading to the High Holy Days which call us to personal and communal introspection and action.

I am the new Chair of the Board of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, and in undertaking this work I have come to appreciate ALEPH more than ever before, and to understand that it needs my support and the support of all of YOU, ALEPH’s co-creators, to sustain our work, to continue to live the legacy of our beloved Reb Zalman z”l, and to plant the seeds for the future. Our ALEPH programs and projects inspire responsible social action, spiritual transformation, deep connection with humanity and the earth, and a powerfully engaged Jewish spirituality and religious practice that enlivens and inspires.  ALEPH is, literally, Renewal.

Personally, I owe ALEPH so much.  It has given me a Jewish path of personal growth, self-awareness, compassion, celebration and renewal.  ALEPH has opened new pathways of Jewish expression to me, enabling a renewal of my capacity to live my life more richly and fully.  ALEPH created gatherings for prayer and celebration that brought the presence of holiness alive in the room and in my heart.  ALEPH has given me guidance as a spiritual seeker through the practice of Jewish Spiritual Direction. Because of ALEPH I have developed a meditation practice that brings me inspiration and serenity. And, I have found a holy community with you that I treasure.

There are many suffering in our world right now, and many organizations that are in need of our charitable dollars.  As I write these words, Houston is only starting to recover from Hurricane Harvey, Florida and other states are trying to assess the damage from Hurricane Irma and thousands in Bangladesh and India are struggling to recover from devastating floods.  I know that, as compassionate Jews, we will  respond to these needs during this critical time.  But, it is also my hope that you, who know that the spiritual needs of people are as real as their material ones,  will join me in helping plant the seeds of Jewish Renewal as a part of your giving.

We are looking to raise at least $180,000 in the year 5778.  Your support of ALEPH is integral to our ability to continue our holy work of spreading Jewish renewal around the world and furthering the legacy of Reb Zalman z”l.  Please contribute as fully as your financial circumstances allow.

Thank you.  Shanah tovah!  May each of you have a good and sweet New Year.

With Gratitude,



David Daniel Klipper
Chair of the ALEPH Board

Hurricane Prayer

Mon, 09/11/2017 - 18:54

A friend wondered on my Facebook page whether there was a specific blessing to be said after a hurricane has passed.

In Judaism, there are blessings that are recited as part of a Jewish ritual, and those said before an activity (such as eating). And there are many Jewish blessings that are said in response to an event or experience.

While our tradition offers many liturgical blessings that we can use, sometimes we have to go it alone, and create a blessing that fits the need.

Here is the one that I wrote this morning after my friend’s query, with some additions:

Holy One of Blessing,

Thank you for the gift of family and friends.

Thank you for the people who put their own needs aside and worked at the shelters so that others could be safe.

Thank you for the people at the news stations who stayed on-air for hours on end to keep us informed.

Thank you for the police, fire, rescue, and military personnel who protected us during the storm and continue to do so.

Dear God, my family and I are safe, and we are grateful.  And we know that there are others whose lives were changed forever.  Please watch over those who bore the brunt of this storm. Give them strength and courage, and help us help them through this difficult time.

And God, let your light shine on all who are in pain today as they commemorate the anniversary of 9/11.

Rabbi Jennifer Singer

Rabbi Jennifer Singer is a Rabbi of a small and absolutely wonderful synagogue, Congregation Kol HaNeshama (KH for short) in Sarasota, Florida.

She was ordained as both a Rabbi and Spiritual Director by ALEPH: The Alliance for Jewish Renewal in January 2017, and earned a MA in Jewish Education from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2006. Quite a while before then, Rabbi Jennifer Singer earned a BA in communications/journalism.

Caution: Spoiler Alert! by Rabbi Rebecca Kushner

Fri, 09/01/2017 - 15:30

I don’t often go to the cinema, and if I do, my first choice certainly isn’t a war movie.  However last week, urged on by friends who had seen the film Dunkirk, I took the plunge (ouch, that was a lousy pun, given the film subject!).  I can’t say that I “enjoyed” the film, but it was extremely well done and deeply impressive.  Hans Zimmer’s music was awesome.

One of several story threads involves the drama that unfolds upon one of the small private vessels recruited by the British government to rescue as many soldiers as possible from the beach at Dunkirk. The boat is piloted by a Mr. Dawson.  On board are Mr. Dawson’s son Peter, and his young friend, George. During a scuffle, a rescued, shell-shocked soldier accidentally knocks George backwards down the stairs.   He sustains a fatal head wound.   When Peter comes to his aid, George says that he can’t see any more, and then with great difficulty confesses to Peter that he feels that he had never amounted to much.  He hadn’t been good in school.  He had always hoped to be able to do something really great, been a hero of some kind.

Peter realizes only later in the film that George has died.  Soon after that, the shell-shocked soldier asks “Your young friend…will he be all right?”  There is a moment of intense silence.   Peter, swallowing hard, reassures the traumatized soldier that yes, his friend would be all right. The soldier seems immensely relieved.  After they return safely to Britain, Peter goes directly to the local newspaper and initiates an article that describes George as a “hero” in the Dunkirk evacuation.

Two questions arise for me from Peter’s response.  Why didn’t Peter tell the traumatized soldier the truth?  And why did Peter “stretch the truth” when he insisted that the local newspaper portray George as a hero, rather than the victim of an accident?

In his split-second decision, Peter displays both pity and compassion.  He senses instinctively that adding guilt to trauma would smudge out that small flame of self-esteem, that ember of the will to live and to heal, that still existed within this tormented man.  In his moment of hesitancy, Peter realizes that although the accident had happened, and the horrible harm could not be undone, he himself was still able to prevent further anguish from happening.

In our preparation for the Days of Awe, going into the shadowed places of our lives and ferreting out what we want to transform does not mean wallowing in self-condemnation.  There is an indestructible part of our essence that is pure and linked to its Holy Source.

When Peter “stretches the truth” by proclaiming George’s accidental death as an heroic act during warfare, he is honoring not only George’s memory, but (as I see it) also the holy connection that was within George no less than within the man who unintentionally knocked him down the stairs.

Our task in the weeks ahead is to be as merciful as possible with each other and as gently nudging as we think we can be towards ourselves.  The misunderstandings and the hurts between each other are left for each one of us to approach, clarify, and– if possible — to forgive, even if it means compassionately stretching the truth.

With blessings for merciful encounters in this month,

Rabbi Rebecca


Rabbi Rebecca Kushner
“The Prairie Rebbe” received ordination from Aleph and MSJE
from Spertus Institute. She is Rabbi (part-time) in Galesburg, IL and Waterloo IA.

The ALEPH Ordination Program Welcomes two new members to the AOP VAAD and Core Faculty

Tue, 08/29/2017 - 15:22

August 2017

With great delight, the ALEPH Ordination Program welcomes two new members who join our Core Faculty and will sit on the Ordination Program VAAD.

The AOP, with nearly 90 students in 4 schools is now the largest rigorous liberal seminary in the United States. Its Rabbinic, Cantorial, Rabbinic Pastor and Spiritual Direction Programs serve students on several continents, combining state-of the art videoconferencing and residential retreat-based learning. The AOP VAAD is the core administrative and organizational council that directs the seminary, advises students, and designs and coordinates the educational offerings that constitute the curriculum of the programs.

The new members of the AOP VAAD join a group of seasoned educators and spiritual leaders who have devoted their careers to serving the Jewish world by creating an inspirational and spiritually vibrant educational environment that enables gifted future leaders to train as rabbis, cantors, rabbinic pastors/chaplains, and spiritual directors, while continuing to live in and serve their home communities.

The AOP VAAD welcomes:

Rabbi Shulamit Thiede, Ph.D
Rabbi Shulamit Thiede, Ph.D. teaches Hebrew Bible, Judaism and Jewish history, the Holocaust and the history of European anti-Semitism in the Department of Religious Studies at UNC-Charlotte. She was ordained in 2011 as a rabbi and in 2012 as a mashpi’ah ruchanit by ALEPH.  Rabbi Thiede founded Temple Or Olam, the first Jewish Renewal congregation in North Carolina.  Rabbi Thiede has written and published in a wide variety of settings; her current research project focuses on ritual items created by the women of Ashkenaz. Rabbi Thiede has founded two peace organizations, two interfaith organizations, and a chess school. She was the first Jewish member of the Kannapolis-Concord Ministerial Association, the first Jewish religious leader in Cabarrus County, and has served as the faculty advisor for UNCC’s Hillel group and the Interfaith Alliance.   As a member of the AOP VAAD, she will serve as a Director of Studies and Core Faculty in the History Dept. She blogs at


Rabbi Natan Margalit. Ph.D
Rabbi Natan Margalit was raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. He received rabbinic ordination at The Jerusalem Seminary in 1990 and earned a Ph.D. in Talmud from U.C. Berkeley in 2001.  He has taught at Bard College, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College. Natan is Rabbi of The Greater Washington Coalition for Jewish Life, in Connecticut.  He is Founder and President of Organic Torah Institute, a non-profit organization that fosters holistic thinking about Judaism, environment and society. (  As a member of the AOP VAAD, he will serve as a Director of Studies and as Chair and Core Faculty of the Rabbinic Text Dept. He lives in Newton, MA with his wife Ilana and their two sons.