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Quarterly Update:
Spring 2020 / 5780
Helping people apply particular Jewish wisdom to universal human questions in the here and now and cultivate Judaism’s evolving wisdom tradition as an enduring source of value for human civilization over the long term.

 

I. Letter From The President

II. Meet Our Grantee Partners
III. What Our Partners Are Up To
IV. What We're Up To

Letter From The President
Dear Friends and Colleagues, 
 
I hope you, your families, and your communities are staying as safe, healthy, and sane as possible in these difficult times. 
 
Forty-nine days ago, we began counting the Omer, the days between leaving Egypt and the revelation of the Torah at SinaiFor 20 years, I’ve taken pleasure in counting the Omer, in singing the preamble (sheva shabatot t'mimot teheiena) and designating each day with its unique number. But never before have I felt connected to the fear that laces the counting. Not until this year. 
 
The holiday of Shavuot, like all the festival holidays, holds two stories: the biblicalfrom slavery to freedom to wandering in the desert on our way to the Promised Landand the agriculturalfrom planting to harvesting (Shavuot's other name is chag hakatzir, the harvest holiday) to the celebration after the final in-gathering of the crops (Sukkot is chag ha-asif). The days between the planting and the initial harvest were fraught with trepidation: too much water, too little water, too dry a wind, and the crops—and the livelihoods of the farmers who planted themwould be ruined. (As my wife’s grandfather, Jacob Milgrom, wrote in his commentary on Leviticus, the dry, hot wind that sometimes comes whipping through Israel in the spring and can wither and kill the crops is called the hamsin, Arabic for 50, the number of days we count in the Omer.) Like our farmer-forebears, we’ve approached each day of this Omer season with fear and unknowing, and, each night, tucking our kids in safely in their beds, we've breathed a little easier at another day completed. Hayom shloshim yom, shehem arba shavuot u'shnei yamim la'Omer. Today is 30 days, that together make four weeks and two days that we are still safe. 
 
When we started counting, it was early April. We were in lockdown, but schools were only officially shuttered until the end of the month, and we imagined that things might be better before we finished counting. It wasn’t a sprint, we told each otherit was a marathon. And as we marked each day on the proverbial calendar, as each week slid by, one Blursday sunsetting into another, we were closing in on a possible finish line.  
 
But within a few weeks, we began to realize that, unlike a marathon, this race had no mile markers and no defined finish line. Like Rabbi Akiva's studentsstruck by a mysterious and lethal illness during an Omer counting centuries ago—we weren’t only counting days, we were counting deaths, the numbers in the U.S. now passing 100,000We could, perhaps, take strength from knowing that, after 33 days watching impotently as brothers, sisters, parents, and children succumbedthe survivors of that ancient plague burst into the world to celebrate.   
 
On this year's Lag Ba’Omer, 33 days after we began counting, and eight weeks into our shared pandemic calendar, it had become clear that this crisis would stretch out indefinitely, with no end in sight, nor any indicators of what an end might look like. (Assuming there is an “end” at all; as Gina Kolata wrote in The New York Times earlier this month, the end of a pandemic "can occur not because a disease has been vanquished but because people grow tired of panic mode and learn to live with a disease.") Perhaps we have entered the 40 years, wandering, lost in a wilderness whose featureless landscape desert defies the passage that would be possible—had we map and compass—in a matter of weeks.  
 
Living with deep uncertainty is something many of us have not experienced firsthand. But billions of people on our planet have rarely experienced a week without shattering uncertainty. And this isn’t just about some people in a land far, far away. For many people living just a few miles of wherever you're reading this, poverty, racism, homophobia, and other challenges fill everyday life with danger and unpredictability. Perhaps a world in which so many people live without reliable income, shelter, food, healthcare, and safety, in close proximity to others who cannot fathom a world in which they lack those same things and more, is unsustainable. Perhaps it is when we feel we can control all the vectors of our lives that we come to believe that kochi v’otzem yadi asa li et hachayil hazeh / “my strength and the work of my hand made me this wealth (Deuteronomy 8:17). It is that error of hubris that leads to the plagues that we read about in Deuteronomy. I don’t believe in a God who acts in human history through cause and effect, but maybe that admonition is best understood as metaphor: when the fundamental balance of our planet is off kilterwe must right it, or it will right itself. 
 
We have choices when we countwe have choices when we rebuild; and we have choices when we tell the stories of this time. We are, all of us, experiencing uncertainty in a new way. May it connect us to each other, may it help us to see how connected we always were, and may it embolden us to build a world founded on those connections. 
 
Chag Sameach, 
 
Aaron (with the sameconsiderablethought partnership and editorial support from my wifequarantine-office-mate, and frequent Zoom bomber, Talia Milgrom-Elcott, thats gone into everything important I’ve written since about 2006) 
Meet Our Grantee Partners
Grants for Applying Jewish Wisdom to the COVID-19 Pandemic 
The following, recently funded projects find innovative ways to apply Jewish wisdom to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Universal Human Question

How might we learn from the past to address essential questions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic?

Jewish Wisdom Applied  

The spread of the novel coronavirus has shown that contemporary questions – Is it ethical to order a delivery? How do we honor our dead? What is God’s role in this crisis? – are part of larger, essential, enduring questions. Jewish wisdom accumulated over generations can help us respond.

Project

Hadar’s Jewish Wisdom Fellowship will invite Jewish professionals from across the field (nominate your colleagues here) to study Jewish wisdom about the pressing questions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic (share your questions here), and together offer that wisdom back to the field.

Universal Human Question

How might we explore the liminal nature of the COVID-19 pandemic?  

Jewish Wisdom Applied

The In[HEIR]itance Project’s CYCLES initiative connects lived experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic to shared, inherited, Jewish stories like Noah’s emergence from the Ark, the Israelites exiting the parted sea, Solomon’s ring with the inscription “gam zeh ya’avor” (“this too shall pass”), Kohelet’s wisdom about turning seasons, and others. CYCLES uses these Jewish tales, along with texts and lore from other traditions and cultures, to explore the legacy of cycles and, particularly, transitions between one experience and the next. 

Project

CYCLES will devise virtual theater that responds to the present moment of pandemic and our coming emergence into the "new normal" by applying a unique, open-process approach that pairs shared inheritances with civic dialogue. In this COVID-19 moment, CYCLES leverages the uncertainty of liminality to imagine new worlds ahead. 
 

Universal Human Question

How might we transform the crisis posed by the COVID-19 pandemic into an opportunity for re-imagining the practices and institutions for the era that follows it?

Jewish Wisdom Applied

The Institute for the Next Jewish Future is anchored in Judaism's “wisdom of the wilderness.” The transition into new periods inevitably includes passage through a “wilderness”—chaotic, unstable, and scary, but also filled with opportunity—to open the gates to a new era of Jewish thought and practice. INJF embraces the wilderness as the most dynamic and creative “place” in Jewish history and myth, including the “digital wilderness,” and it seeks to apply Judaism’s deep wisdom about transforming itself to the current time of wandering.

Project

Throughout the COVID-19 physical-distancing period and following it, INJF’s jewishLIVE aims to be a central portal to, and hub for, a vast array of digital Jewish experiences available on the internet. It also serves as a producer, co-producer (with partners), and curator of high-quality Jewish experiences, especially those specifically designed to convey Judaism’s wisdom of the wilderness and apply it to this period.

Universal Human Question

How might we live with greater courage, resilience, and sacred purpose during the COVID-19 pandemic?  

Jewish Wisdom Applied

IJS offers a path for using Jewish practice to cultivate the inner life and sustain balance in order to respond to the current challenges with greater courage, resilience, and insight. IJS’s mindfulness-based approach to traditional and contemporary forms of Jewish practice helps provide the skills, experience, and community to apply Jewish wisdom and reconnect to ourselves and one another. 

Project

IJS’s Resources for Challenging Times is offering an array of innovative, new materials and programming in response to the pandemic, including daily guided meditations, contemplative Torah study, clergy processing groups, a meditation starter kit, and more. 

Universal Human Question

How might we find grounding, connection, and solace through the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic?  

Jewish Wisdom Applied

Reconstructing Judaism’s Ritualwell is a vital hub for creative revisioning of Jewish ritual to aid spiritual nurturance. By creating, using, and sharing Jewish prayers, poetry, and practices, Ritualwell provides wisdom for healing and resilience. 

Project

In response to the challenges of the pandemic, Ritualwell will build its offerings to more deeply engage individuals and communities both as contributors of ritual, and as participants in virtual interpersonal offerings such as workshops, learning sessions, and meetings with rabbis.  

 

Universal Human Question

How might we think about, and prepare for, the long-term psychological, religious, and philosophical implications of the COVID-19 pandemic?  

Jewish Wisdom Applied

Shalom Hartman Institute of North America is using its role as a premier convener and think tank on major questions facing Jewish life to investigate how the COVID-19 pandemic is raising questions and reshaping attitudes about community, citizenship, nationalism, democracy, interpersonal relationships, theology, spirituality, resource allocation, and more.

Project

Shalom Hartman Institute of North America will feature COVID-inspired learning at its month-long summer learning program, bringing thought leadership and wisdom about the pandemic to hundreds of Jewish leaders. Then, in time for the High Holy Days, the Institute will publish a special issue of its new long-form journal featuring essays that address the ways in which the pandemic shapes Jewish life.

Universal Human Question

How might we address the growing ethical questions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic?  

Jewish Wisdom Applied

T’ruah’s group of rabbis, academics, and scholars will draw on classical Jewish texts, as well as historical information about what Jewish communities have done in times of crisis.

Project

T'ruah will bring together a group of rabbis, academics, and others with strong text skills for a series of virtual "ethics hackathons," in which they identify key ethical questions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, research these questions off-line, and publish responses that members of the Jewish community can use to guide their actions. 

 

Grants for Applied Jewish Wisdom
The following, recently funded projects apply particular Jewish wisdom to universal human questions.
Ammud Icon

Universal Human Question

How might we create educational opportunities that allow people of color to flourish and ensure that communal leadership is fully representative of the community?  

Jewish Wisdom Applied

Ammud draws from the tradition of living Judaism, holding the concepts of chavruta / pair-based learning, and ahavat ha’ger / loving and welcoming the stranger, at the center of the educational process.  

Project

Ammud provides Jewish education for Jews of Color (JOCs) by JOCs. Ammud exists to empower JOCs who often find themselves alienated or sidelined by racism in majority-white Jewish institutions, and to create space that celebrates marginalized customs and traditions, uncovers lost histories, and (re)builds culture.         

Dinner Party Icon

Universal Human Question

How might we help people grieve and mourn lost loved ones and move forward toward healing?  

Jewish Wisdom Applied

The Dinner Party’s Finding What Feeds Us project draws from the deep well of Jewish wisdom surrounding grief, mourning, and community, including shiva, sheloshim, Kaddish, Yahrzeit, Tisha b’Av, Shabbat, and neshamah yeteira, an “extra soul" we welcome in through the breath. Participants delve into Jewish wisdom and explore longstanding practices, values, and beliefs, determining for themselves what speaks to them. 

Project

Together with a group of established spiritual leaders in the Jewish tradition and other faith and cultural traditions, The Dinner Party will create a guidebook elevating an array of rituals and practices that people throughout time have used to navigate loss and life after loss. They’ll commence a yearlong pilot program across the country with 10 Dinner Party tables whose members are explicitly interested in exploring the intersection between grief and spiritual practice. Hosts and participants from each table will pick practices to try out and reflect on during each of their bimonthly dinners, and their feedback will be incorporated into a revised guidebook to be shared with the wider Dinner Party community. 

Moving Traditions Icon


Universal Human Question

How might we support and guide families as they navigate the challenges and joys that arise as children enter their teenage years?  

Jewish Wisdom Applied

Moving Traditions’ framework is rooted in Jewish wisdom that gleans lessons from rabbinic literature, Musar, Hasidic sources, and contemporary Jewish feminist ritual and thought, while addressing questions of what it means to be a teen, how to create communities of radical inclusion, and how to build strong relationships between parents and teens.   

Project

Moving Traditions will hold a B’nai Mitzvah Family Education Convening to build on the learnings and success of Moving Traditions’ new model of family education, which integrates leading-edge approaches from the fields of adolescent and family development with Jewish wisdom and community and advances the field of Jewish family education in adolescence.  

A More Perfect Union Grants
The following, recently funded projects apply Jewish wisdom to strengthen American democratic norms and institutions.

Universal Human Question

How might we enhance a vital democratic culture by better understanding the role played by philanthropy?  

Jewish Wisdom Applied  

Informed by scholarly inquiries into both Jewish history and the Jewish present, the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies integrates Jewish wisdom with a broader academic study of philanthropy and democracy.  

Project

Seeking to move beyond the limitations of dominant narratives of philanthropy and democracy, the Herbert D. Katz Center will host a day-long symposium featuring presentations by American and international scholars. By examining how American-Jewish philanthropic efforts at home and abroad have extended and thwarted democracy-building efforts, discussions will aim to shed new scholarly light on the issue at hand. The symposium will culminate with a launch of the new book by Lila Corwin Berman entitled The American Jewish Philanthropic Complex: The History of a Multibillion Dollar Institution.  

 

Universal Human Question

How might we improve the gathering and presentation of important society-binding information in a way that promotes truth and tolerance, speaks with authority and sensitivity, and challenges society to improve while also earning its respect?

Jewish Wisdom Applied

Taking its motto from Leviticus 19:16: “You shall not go up and down as a talebearer among your people, neither shall you stand idly by the blood of your neighbor,” JSPA teaches young journalists to use both courage and restraint, to know when to use which, and to channel curiosity into purpose.  Through its annual conference, contest, website and adviser development program, JSPA helps high school students navigate the complexities and challenges of today's news media using a structure built on Jewish culture, text, and wisdom.

Project

JSPA is a national journalism education organization that offers resources for schools to teach students top-level skills while looking at journalism through a Jewish lens. Working with students, teachers and advisers, its goals are to support the growth of student media at Jewish high schools, enhance journalism education in those schools, teach students and advisers how they can add Jewish content and sensibility to their publications, and convey a Jewish outlook on journalism to students in any school.

Universal Human Question

How might we counter divisive, tribal, partisan, “us vs. them" narratives while affirming individual identities within a larger pluralistic whole?  

Jewish Wisdom Applied

The Rebuilding Democracy Project, started at the Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation, has adapted Jewish habits and practice to address American democracy’s current needs. Conceived in partnership with the One America Movement, The Faith, Polarization, and Democracy Project utilizes four key Jewish principles: parshanut, the Jewish method of text study, applied to the study of foundational texts of American democracy; the language of Covenant, to create safe spaces in which to examine fraught topics; the tradition of m’dor l’dor, intergenerational learning, to place hard conversations in the context of communal relationships; and the relationship between keva, the fixed words of prayer, and kavannah, the spiritual intention brought to prayer, to provide a flexible framework for individuals to see subjects as non-binary.  

Project

The Faith, Polarization, and Democracy Project weaves together strategies used by the One America Movement and the Rebuilding Democracy Project to develop a scalable model for lay, professional, and clergy leaders to shape norms inside their congregations in support of pro-democratic, anti-divisiveness practices. Individual congregations will connect to local churches to bridge divides, and to a network of synagogues participating in the same work. These partnerships will provide a scientific and practical knowledge foundation from which to elevate the importance of democracy and citizenship within the religious community and introduce tools for leaders to innovate within the unique cultures of their institutions.  

Universal Human Question

How might we tap into the unique strengths of faith communities to support civic engagement and inspire people to engage with each other across difference?  

Jewish Wisdom Applied

Steeped in the foundational Jewish principle of beginning with questions, PACE’s Faith In/And Democracy draws from multiple wisdom traditions seeking to explore the power and potential of faith communities to ease the divisions that plague America’s politics and civic life.  

Project

PACE’s Faith In/And Democracy pooled fund and learning initiative explores the ways faith and faith communities can support democracy and civic life. The initiative provides grants to community-based projects working at the intersection of faith and civic life. The funding is complemented with a cohort-based, year-long peer learning community.  

Social Justice Grants
The following, recently funded projects apply Jewish wisdom to strengthen the cause of Social Justice. 


Collaborative for Jewish Organizing

 

Universal Human Question

How might we work together to make the world a more just place?  

Jewish Wisdom Applied

The organizations in the Collaborative for Jewish Organizing strive to be guided by the values of Jewish tradition and history.  

Project

The Collaborative is nine organizations on the ground in 13 states and across the country joining together to collaborate, convene, share resources and thought partnership, seek support, and build programs that repair our broken world through advocacy, community organizing by ordinary Jews, and partnership with inter-faith and inter-ethnic communities who share core values. 

 

What Our Partners Are Up To
            

Adapting: The Future of Jewish Education Livecast
 

Check out Adapting: The Future of Jewish Education, a new weekly video livecast in which David Bryfman and other Jewish educators will explore the big questions, challenges, and successes that define Jewish education.
 
    

Congratulations!


Jewish Women's Foundation of New York has named 10 Women Social Entrepreneurs to its 2020 collective including Idit Klein, President and CEO of our grantee-partner Keshet and Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Executive Director of our grantee-partner T’ruah. Congratulations to them both! 
What We're Up To

Announcing Woocher Research Fellow
Dr. Jeffrey Kress


As Dr. Jonathan Woocher's third yortzeit (day of passing) approaches on the 13th of Tammuz (July 5th), his memory feels very close. So much of our work has been shaped by Dr. Woocher’s vision for the future of Jewish life, and we continue to be guided by his call to shift our focus from surviving to thriving.

Last year, we were thrilled to announce the launch of the Woocher Research Fellowship to explore the ways in which Jewish wisdom can be applied to universal human questions that people navigate in their day-to-day lives. We were honored that Rabbi Dr. Vanessa Ochs delved deeper into her work on Jewish Sensibilities as the inaugural Fellow. We are now excited to announce the second Woocher Research Fellow, Dr. Jeffrey Kress.

Dr. Kress is the Dr. Bernard Heller Chair in Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary, as well as a fellow of JTS’s Educating for Applied Jewish Wisdom Fellowship. This summer, he will conduct research with the aim of developing a pedagogical theory (possibly multiple theories) that describes the process of going from encountering sources of Jewish wisdom to internalizing and applying them regularly.

This research is not only of academic interest to Dr. Kress; it also represents a continuation of his earlier work with Dr. Woocher. As he put it, “I got to know Jon at a transitional point in my own career, as I was moving into an academic career in Jewish education. His influence is evident in Jewish education’s increasing embrace of holistic goals and approaches oriented toward meaning-making and inter- and intra-personal growth. I am delighted and humbled to be a part of that work.”

We are eager to learn from Dr. Kress’s research and look forward to sharing his findings with you.

Judaism and American Democracy
 

In February, in partnership with Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, we held a convening about the intersection of Judaism and America Democracy. To learn more about it, take a look at this four-part series of articles written by:

 

As part of our work applying Jewish wisdom to democracy, we partnered with The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and Benenson Strategy Group to produce a research report that explores the relationship between Jewishness and civic engagement, including the attitudes and values that shape civic engagement among American Jews, and the role that their Jewishness plays.

Welcoming our New Administrative and Communications Associate
Daniel Spiro
 

We're delighted to introduce the newest member of our team, Daniel Spiro. Daniel comes to us by way of New Orleans, Louisiana, where he spent time working remotely in Stanford University admissions and locally in a French Quarter secondhand bookshop. 

Previously, Daniel served as Student Life Coordinator and Communications Director for the School of Adaptive Agriculture in Northern California. There, in addition to helping build the school’s operations, he raised sheep, chickens, ducks, and a few geese. He enjoys cultivating creative, effective, efficient, and clear systems for communication and action.

Daniel holds a BA in English from Columbia University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Eastern Washington University. He can be reached at daniel@lippmankanfer.org

Recommended Reading/Listening

  • Our staff recently read Measuring Social Change by Alnoor Ebrahim. The book outlines several key insights about how to assess the impact of different types of social sector work. 
     
  • Listen to Shalom Hartman Institute’s Identity/Crisis Podcast, which has been covering issues related to the pandemic.
     
  • Rabbi Avi Killip wrote a beautiful piece in the Forward about Noah’s experience of “sheltering in place.”
     
  • This interesting Pew Center Survey finds that Americans are more likely to say that the pandemic has strengthened, rather than weakened, their faith, but the increase for Jews is less than for people of other faith traditions. 
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