Renewal: Creating new paths to God
Fredericks grew up in Skokie, Illinois, in a household that was associated
with Reform Judaism. Her parents, both Holocaust survivors, identified
strongly as Jews yet had little religious observance outside of attending High
Holiday services once a year.
my household," Fredericks says, "it always seemed that Sabbath (a
day traditionally set aside for attending services and reading religious
texts) was a day specially created by God to go shopping."
her late 20s, Fredericks married John Chatfield, who had been raised as a
Methodist but whose spiritual interests were more aligned with Eastern
mystical practices. Then in the late '80s, Fredericks became attracted to an
emerging form of Judaism called Jewish Renewal, and now enjoys the close-knit,
spiritual community she's found in Boulder.
she says her husband isn't Jewish, he does occasionally attend services and
feels comfortable there-especially since there are a number of non-Jewish
spouses who attend.
believe that Jewish Renewal has put the joy back into Judaism," Fredericks
says. "The services are lively and interactive and are never in the 'Turn
to page 57 and recite out loud' format. I also like that the services are
accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds. People who are raised
Orthodox, as well as people who have little formal instruction, can still find
common ground in the beauty and power of the prayers and in the sense of
devotion to a divine presence. Because of my involvement in Jewish Renewal,
I've come to understand that faith isn't a once-a-week or once-a-year
experience. It's an ongoing process that permeates who I am and how I interact
with and care for others."
Renewal, a unique aspect of Judaism, is a transdenominational movement that
strives to blend Judaism's mystical and prophetic traditions. Plus, it's
meant to be as uplifting and dynamic as it is spiritual. At Jewish Renewal
services, for example, there is an abundance of joyful, mystical and creative
expression through art, music, dance and bibliodrama. Hebrew is also
translated to English so everyone, no matter what their faith or cultural
background, is able to understand the words. And while Jewish Renewal is
sometimes referred to as a new-age interpretation of Judaism, Jewish Renewal
rabbis have pointed out that the meditation, dance, chant and mysticism
emphasized in their services have been present in Judaism throughout the ages.
Renewal has its roots within feministic Judaic beliefs as well as the Havurah
movement of the 1960s, in which small groups of Jewish families gathered in
homes to create personal expressions of their faith outside the traditional
primarily, Jewish Renewal draws heavily on the thoughts and works of Rabbi
Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, who were both trained in
Orthodox, mystical Jewish teachings. Both consider Jewish Renewal to be a
"loving critique of the limitations of traditional Rabbinic Judaism and a
call to continue the ongoing renewal of Jewish life in our time, as the
Talmudic rabbis did in theirs."
Zalman, as he is affectionately called, explains why the movement began in the
first place. "After the Holocaust, there was a great need for Jews in the
here and now to make changes and to renew their beliefs and traditions," he
says. To answer this need, Reb Zalman first founded B'Nai Or Religious
Fellowship (Sons of Light) in 1962, which later became P'Nai Or (Faces of
Light). Today, the organization, based in Philadelphia, is called Aleph:
Alliance for Jewish Renewal. Aleph works to "reclaim the Jewish people's
sacred purpose of partnership with the Divine in the inseparable tasks of
tikkun olam (Hebrew for healing the world), and tikkun halev (Hebrew for
healing our hearts)."
prevalent is Jewish Renewal? Reb Zalman says it's hard to determine just how
many people are involved within the movement because many followers of Judaism
are instinctively embodying the fundamental ideals of Jewish Renewal.
Moreover, the Tikkun Magazine website states: "It would be a mistake to think that any
one organization is "the" Jewish Renewal movement. Rather, you will find
elements of Jewish Renewal consciousness in a wide variety of institutions and
movements in Jewish life today."
city of Boulder has a strong, caring Jewish Renewal community. Not only is it
the home community of Reb Zalman, but there are two active congregations:
Nevei Kodesh (Hebrew for Oasis of Holiness) with Rabbi Tirzah Firestone as its
rabbinical leader; and the newly-formed Pardes Levavot (Hebrew for Heart
Garden) which has Rabbi Victor Gross and Rabbi Nadya Gross as its leaders.
Rabbi Jack Gabriel, also a Jewish Renewal rabbi, has served the Jewish
community of Fort Collins, and was called to serve as rabbi at large in the
greater Denver area.
wishing to attend Jewish Renewal services is gladly received, and there is no
requirement to convert to Judaism. People from all denominations are welcome
at weekly services or during the special holidays such as Rosh Hashanah, Yom
Kippur and Simchat Torah. As with most religions, an actual conversion to
Judaism, whether Orthodox or non-traditional, requires a commitment to
learning about the religion through a number of classes and a rabbinic
important aspect of Jewish Renewal is that women and men participate equally
in religious services and are included in the shaping and decision-making of
the future of Judaism. In addition, people who have been traditionally
marginalized in Jewish life (such as singles, gay men, lesbians, converts and
interfaith partners) are welcomed and honored.
example, Mary Fulton, who lives in Boulder with her husband and two children
and works with Reb Zalman, has an interfaith marriage. Mary grew up in an
actively devout Methodist household in Kansas and eventually married Steve
Beale, a practicing Jew from Los Angeles.
Steve and I were dating," Mary says, "we talked about religion. Judaism is
not only a religion, it is also a culture. For Steve, there wasn't a
question of not being Jewish-he is Jewish by genes and culture. I remember
being clear about two things: one is that there is only one God (a strongly
held tenet of Judaism) and that there are many paths to God. The other thing I
knew was that it was important to me to raise our children in some religious
Mary became interested in Jewish Renewal in the early 1990s and began
to learn about Judaism by taking classes in basic Hebrew, the Psalms and
prayer. Although Mary has chosen not to convert to Judaism, she, Steve and
their children attend services with the Jewish Renewal Community of Boulder
and participate in special holidays.
important and vibrant force in Jewish Renewal today is Rabbi Tirzah Firestone,
a teacher, author and Jungian therapist in private practice in Boulder. Rabbi
Firestone was raised in an Orthodox home in Missouri that seemed to run
counter to her natural religious curiosity. Determined to find her own
spiritual path, she forcefully rejected her Jewish upbringing and journeyed
around the world and into the very heart of counterculture spirituality.
Firestone practiced Kundalini yoga, lived with a Hindu community, and explored
radical philosophies such as Arica and Christian mysticism. After years on her
spiritual quest, Rabbi Firestone married a Christian minister. Her parents
rejected this interfaith marriage. Ultimately, her life choices helped
redefine her beliefs and eventually brought her back to her Jewish roots.
the mid-1980's, Rabbi Firestone began her studies with Reb Zalman and
received her rabbinic ordination in 1992. She is the founding rabbi of the
Jewish Renewal Community of Boulder and has written two books: With
Roots in Heaven (Plume, 1998), a personal memoir, and The Receiving: Reclaiming Jewish Women's Wisdom (Harper San
Francisco, 2003), which describes the holy women, female sages and miracle
workers of Jewish history.
I discovered that Judaism intrinsically supports the unfolding of one's
unique self," Firestone writes in With
Roots in Heaven. "The same God who inspired the Jewish prophets and
sages throughout the centuries was no different, I realized, than the guiding
power of the Self about which Jung taught. This divine force beckons each one
of us throughout our life to discover the fullness of our being, to arrive at
our own secret destiny.... Perhaps the internal voice that guided me back to
Judaism is the same voice that is guiding so many of us nowadays to excavate
and bring to life the ancient spirit of our traditions, too long buried."
Resources, local and beyond
more information on Jewish Renewal, check out the following:
for Jewish Renewal, www.aleph.org
Renewal Community of Boulder, www.jrcb.org
Network of Jewish Renewal Communities, www.jewishrenewal.org
Round 2: Ancient Wisdom, Future Paths, by Rabbi Arthur Waskow
(Jewish Lights Publishing, 1998)
Renewal: Path to Healing and Transformation, by Rabbi Michael
(A Grosset/Putnam Book, 1994)
Shift, by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (Jason Aronson, l993)
Receiving: Reclaiming Jewish
Women's Wisdom, by Rabbi Tirzah Firestone
(Harper San Francisco, 2003)
Roots in Heaven, by Rabbi Tirzah Firestone (Plume, 1998)