Clothing Inside and Out: Tetzaveh 5784

Clothing Inside and Out: Tetzaveh 5784

I was boarding an airplane recently when the man in front of me, who looked to be about 20 years my senior, turned and asked, “How long have you worn a kippah?” He was not wearing a kippah, so I was a little startled by this very direct question. But my mind picked up on other cues and quickly filled in a story that he was Jewish and was asking this question out of a sense of solidarity.

“Since I was 19,” I told him.

“I’ve been thinking about wearing a kippah in public recently because…” he trailed off. “Well, you know why.”

The line moved and we were on the plane, and that was the end of the conversation. But his last words lingered with me. I didn’t know exactly why, of course. My surmise is that he meant he wanted to show Jewish pride at a time when acts of hatred towards Jews have increased dramatically, when many Jews experience greater fear and trepidation about displaying their Jewishness in public. I think–again, my mind is filling in a story based on two lines of conversation here–he meant that he wanted to show it to the world, to be loudly and proudly Jewish, and that wearing a kippah was a way to do that. He hadn’t done it yet, but seeing me wearing a kippah in the boarding line gave him a little nudge.
Parashat Tetzaveh provides readers of the Torah our annual seminar in clothing, as it describes in detail the garments of the Kohen Gadol (high priest). “Make sacral vestments for your brother Aaron, for dignity and adornment,” the Holy One tells Moses. “And you shall instruct all who are skillful, whom I have endowed with the gift of skill, to make Aaron’s vestments, for consecrating him to serve Me as priest” (Ex. 28:2-3). Rashi notes here that the Torah is saying that it is through putting on these garments that Aaron becomes installed as Kohen Gadol–that the clothes literally make the man. Before he puts them on, he’s Aaron, Moses’s brother; once he puts them on, he becomes identified–to others, to the Divine, and to himself–as something else.
I don’t think of myself as someone who thinks a lot about clothes. My middle son pays a lot of attention to sneakers; I don’t get it (in the same way that he doesn’t get how I spend time comparing the recordings of the same Beethoven symphony by different orchestras–we all have our mishigas). But I’m a human being who lives in various communities, so of course I do think about clothes a great deal, even if I don’t do so consciously. I think about how I’m going to show up, what my clothing will communicate to others about me, how it will contribute to setting a tone, how it will or won’t display kavod, honor, to the others in the room, real or virtual.
You may or may not be a clothing person, but chances are you too, at least subconsciously, think about these questions too. When we scratch their surface, I think we find these questions can quickly become rather intense, as they are bound up with our sense of self, our social location, our relative sense of power and security–or lack thereof–in the world. I think that’s what underlay that short conversation with the man in the airplane line, and why, weeks later, it still echoes for me.
How might our Jewish mindfulness practices help us navigate these questions with greater ease and wisdom? In many ways: By helping us slow down and make our clothing choices with more awareness; by assisting us in cultivating the courage to dress in ways that we might be intimidated from doing; by nurturing the internal space for us to remember that, no matter how we dress, the Divine spirit resides within us and all beings. Just as it was for Aaron and his children, our clothing both informs and expresses who sense ourselves to be and how others understand us; it becomes a liminal space in which our sense of inner and outer takes shape. Such spaces are precisely where our practices can help us most.
Chayei Sarah: Into the Multiverse

Chayei Sarah: Into the Multiverse

My oldest son, Jonah, was the first to introduce me to the contemporary idea of the “multiverse.” While the concept, and even the term, have been around for centuries (Wikipedia tells me William James used it in 1895), the notion has gained particular traction in today’s media. The TV show “Rick and Morty,” which Jonah loves, is built on the idea of “infinite timelines, infinite possibilities” in infinite universes that the scientist Rick has figured out how to travel between. There are the recent Spiderman movies, which feature a multiverse containing infinite varieties of Spider-people (and even a SpiderPig). Even if you’re not familiar with these more recent vintages, much science fiction writing about time machines is built on the notion of multiple possible timelines/storylines and the ability to alter history (see Star Trek, for example).

I speculate that one reason the concept seems so prevalent today has to do with the internet, which has opened up so many possible storylines. Jonah is 20 years old, meaning he has never really known a world without Google or YouTube or even social media. Don’t like the story? Then just create a new one and post it. A second reason might also be the calamitous storylines we seem to be on–climate change in particular–and the implicit promise that either we might somehow change them through accessing the multiverse or that, even if our world is headed in the wrong direction, there are other versions of us out there who are ok.

This last observation points up a kind of fulcrum on which the multiverse hinges: It can offer us an optimistic vision (“We can change the story!”) or a rather nihilistic coping mechanism (“We’re done for, but it’s okay because humanity in a parallel universe is living harmoniously on solar energy and fusion and eating plant-based food.”). Sitting on that see-saw can be exhausting, as one moves from optimism one moment to pessimism the next. Perhaps that’s where mindfulness practice comes in: to allow us to sit calmly at the fulcrum, neither dreaming about a hopeful future nor dreading a hopeless one, but just being present in the present with what’s here and real right now in our experience.

One of the striking things about Parashat Chayei Sarah is that a large chunk of it is devoted to telling and then retelling the same story, that of Abraham’s servant to find a wife for Isaac. (I wrote about this in my essay on Chayei Sarah in Eternal Questions.) The differences in the accounts of the omniscient narrator and the servant himself are not major; they don’t take place, as it were, on separate timelines. The differences are so imperceptible that the medieval commentators don’t make much of the story, even though it takes up a good deal of real estate in the Torah portion. But I think one of the lessons the Torah is teaching in repeating the story is that we, ourselves, are capable of telling different versions of the same story. We are capable of imagination. While, yes, we aim to see clearly the truth of what is happening, we simultaneously acknowledge that the truth can be experienced and told in multiple ways. Perhaps, that is to say, we already live in the multiverse.

For me, as for many, this Shabbat is going to begin and end an hour earlier than it did last week because we turned back the clocks. I have always found the effect of this clock change on my Shabbat experience to be striking. Through an act of collective consciousness, we have agreed that the sun now sets at 4:35 this week instead of 5:43 last week where I live in Skokie, and that changes the storyline of my day and even my week. Though the sun still rises and sets in more or less the same parts of the sky as it did a week ago, my relationship with the colors and rhythms of the natural world, not to mention with work and family schedules, is changed considerably. It’s jarring and a bit mysterious, a little thrilling and a little scary (and a little crazy-making: I’ve been waking up before 5 am all week).

Shabbat itself is, of course, an act of imagination: While the Rabbis maintain that Shabbat exists every seven days whether we observe it or not, our experience is that we have to collectively choose to make it for ourselves–or, perhaps, we have to allow ourselves to be chosen by Shabbat. (Yes, this calls to mind Ahad Ha-Am’s famous line: “More than the Jewish people has kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jewish people.”) We might think of Shabbat as a gift from the multiverse (which might itself be another name for the Infinite), telling us that there is a different way to live, a different way to be, than the way we experience the world the other six days of the week–and it doesn’t involve escaping to somewhere else or hoping for a superhero to save us, but is, instead, available to us right here, right now. With all the suffering we and so many others are enduring today, that is a gift I want to give myself, you, and everyone.

IJS Welcomes Maidelle Goodman Benamy as Director of Development

The Institute for Jewish Spirituality announced today that Maidelle Goodman Benamy will become the organization’s Director of Development effective July 22.

Benamy joins IJS after an already distinguished 35-year career in philanthropy and Jewish communal work. She has previously served as Vice President of Development at the Educational Alliance, Executive Vice President at the Jewish National Fund, and most recently as director of the capital campaign at the Shefa School. Benamy’s career has also included service at UJA-Federation of New York, the Anti-Defamation League, and Hillels of New York.

“Maidelle is an incredible addition to our team at IJS,” says Executive Director Rabbi Josh Feigelson. “Her energy, intelligence, wisdom and experience will help us build on the amazing programmatic growth we’ve experienced in recent years and especially the last several months. She is exactly the person to help us secure the support and build the infrastructure we need to meet the spiritual needs of so many individuals and communities now and in the future. IJS is  extraordinarily fortunate that a professional of Maidelle’s caliber and accomplishments is joining us.”

Benamy holds a Masters degree in Community Social Work from Yeshiva University’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work and a BA from Barnard College. She is a lifelong resident of Brooklyn, NY, and is the proud mother of three children, friend to 2 daughters-in-law, and grandmother of three.

Awareness in Activism: Jewish Spiritual Practice for Personal Change and Social Justice

Awareness in Activism: Jewish Spiritual Practice for Personal Change and Social Justice

During the COVID-19 pandemic and the current uprising for racial justice, I have been teaching an online program for the Institute for Jewish Spirituality (IJS) in mindfulness and character development, “Awareness in Action: Cultivating Character through Mindfulness and Middot.” Through this program, participants have applied tikkun middot practice — mindfully cultivating innate spiritual/ethical qualities — to personal challenges in their daily lives. This has helped them weather the pandemic without succumbing to fear and despair, while striving to remain true to their highest intentions.

Tikkun middot practice is particularly compelling for social justice activists — indeed, for anyone seeking to address the larger, systemic social inequities exposed by COVID-19 and the virus of racial injustice. This practice directly connects personal transformation with social change. It infuses both with a sense of higher purpose and deeper meaning, and grounds social justice activism in our innately sacred qualities. Most importantly: it addresses the deepest roots of the issues of our day, applying spiritual wisdom to the work of personal and social change.

Tikkun middot practice involves using mindfulness (focused attention on what is true in the present moment) to strengthen both our ability and willingness to open our eyes to reality. It helps us witness, without flinching, unflattering aspects of ourselves and our society, revealing our implicit, unrecognized biases and assumptions. This practice is an indispensable tool for promoting pragmatic social change initiatives and for courageously identifying our blind spots and rooting out — with love — the toxic racial and other biases lurking deep within us all.

The first step of tikkun middot practice is hitlamdut, literally “self-learning,” with which we adopt a mental stance of curiosity rather than judgment. We can associate this with the Biblical term hineini (“I am here”), connoting a state of consciousness in which one is fully present and attentive in the moment, open and receptive to what is revealing itself, and ready to act and speak in accordance with what the moment demands. The classic Biblical example is Moses, who turns aside to look at the burning bush, listens deeply to the hard truth from which he has fled, and who, despite powerful inner resistance, nevertheless heeds the call and acts upon it.

Through hineini practice we see more clearly, in real time, our subconscious judgments and biases — our habits of mind, emotion and body — which trigger unwise, reactive behaviors, patterns which have been engrained over time, and become embedded in our daily lives and society at large.  We notice and release our understandable inclination to deny or avoid these “inconvenient truths.” We see ourselves and the world through a wider and clearer lens.

The second step of this practice is noticing a (“choice”) point, a moment in which we become aware of the choices for responding wisely, instead of reacting out of fear-based habit. “Between stimulus and response, there is a space,” the psychoanalyst and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl taught. “In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Heightened awareness of our base, reactive tendencies enables us to open additional spaciousness within us, and to respond with greater wisdom, guided by “the better angels of our nature.”

The third step of this practice is activating our “better angels” by accessing what Jewish tradition refers to as middot (literally “measures”), innate spiritual/ethical traits embedded within each of us: Chesed, recognizing the fundamental interconnectedness of all life; Gevurah, setting wise boundaries which honor differentiation and diversity; Anavah, balancing the needs of self and others; Zerizut, responding energetically, promptly, and resiliently to that which must be done; and Hodayah, accepting and appreciating life just as it is, with gratitude.

Through tikkun middot practice, we intentionally seek to channel these essential qualities into all of our actions and words, in service of promoting tzedek v’shalom, justice and wholeness, both in our daily lives and in our larger world. We “seal” this practice with the middah or quality of Emunah, Trustworthiness, which helps us be resolute and steadfast in creating a life and a society reflecting the infinite, equal worth of every human life.

Like many other schools of spirituality, IJS understands spiritual practice not as a prescription for retreating from the world, but as a springboard for actively engaging in it. Spiritual practice grounds both individual and social transformation in sacred qualities implanted within us as beings created in the Divine image, as well as in the wisdom of tradition and our own hearts. It enables us to address the deepest roots of the daunting social challenges we face, rather than the symptoms.

We each have an “inner tzadik,” an internal voice insistently calling us to do what is right, in a manner that is also right. This persistent inner signal reminds us of our connection to and responsibility for each other and, indeed, all of creation. It urges us to repair that which is broken within us and around us, promote healing for those who ail, protect the vulnerable, and pursue shalom, wholeness and reconciliation. Spiritual practice attunes us to this inner voice, helping us pursue that which is right and just from our highest instincts, guiding us to seek justice informed by a sense of loving connection with all beings — and with the earth.

This critical juncture in human history demands a response reflecting our most noble qualities, including courage, humility, empathy, generosity, and resilience. Jewish spiritual practice can help us rise to the occasion, individually and collectively. Cultivating our inner life (tikkun hanefesh) is inseparable from pursuing repair of the world (tikkun olam). By grounding personal and social transformation in sacred qualities implanted within us as beings created in the Divine image, as well as in the wisdom of tradition and our own hearts, spiritual practice can help us survive the current storm while also laying the foundation for a future in which our society might thrive for generations to come.

IJS Welcomes Michal Fox Smart as Chief Program Officer

The Institute for Jewish Spirituality announced today that Michal Fox Smart will become the organization’s first Chief Program Officer effective July 1. She will serve as the leader of the program team, overseeing the Institute’s faculty and program staff and coordinating the work of its rich roster of instructors, and will be responsible for developing and delivering all of IJS’s programmatic offerings.

Smart joins IJS after an already distinguished career in Jewish education. She has previously served as Executive Director of the Isabella Freedman retreat center, co- founded the Teva Outdoor Learning Center, and led the Jewish Studies faculty as Associate Principal at Bi-Cultural Day School in Stamford, CT. Most recently, Smart served as Director of Ayeka North America, overseeing the development of its celebrated programs to enhance spiritual development in Jewish day schools.

Smart is a graduate of Princeton University (BA) and Cornell University (MS in Natural Resources), a Wexner Graduate Fellow, a Fulbright Scholar, and a Fellow in the Melton Senior Educators Program. In 2015 she received the Grinspoon Award for Excellence in Jewish Education. Her 2013 book, Kaddish: Women’s Voices (Urim Publications) received a National Jewish Book Award. She also lists on her resume that she is a mother of five children, competes in triathlons, writes poetry, practices Jewish/kundalini yoga, and teaches wilderness exploration.

“I am thrilled that Michal is joining our team in this senior leadership role,” says Executive Director Rabbi Josh Feigelson. “Michal’s combination of experience, talent, intelligence, and creativity are exactly what we need now as we rise to meet the growing demand for IJS’s work. She will help our faculty to do their best work, aid us in our strategic thinking and planning, strengthen our integration of meaningful outcomes assessment, and serve as a highly-respected representative of IJS in the worlds of Jewish education and philanthropy.”

IJS Executive Director Josh Feigelson’s Conversation with Author Sarah Hurwitz

IJS Executive Director Josh Feigelson’s Conversation with Author Sarah Hurwitz

From 2009 to 2017, Sarah Hurwitz served as a White House speechwriter, first as a senior speechwriter for President Barack Obama and then as head speechwriter for First Lady Michelle Obama. Prior to serving in the Obama Administration, Sarah was chief speechwriter for Hillary Clinton on her 2008 presidential campaign.

Sarah is the author of Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life – in Judaism (After Finally Choosing to Look There)a book about her experience rediscovering Judaism as an adult, which discusses among other things her transformative experience with Jewish mindfulness meditation.

IJS Executive Director Josh Feigelson interviewed Sarah during a live public event on April 28, 2020. This is a full recording of their conversation.

Mindfulness Practice: An Ark in the Storm

Mindfulness Practice: An Ark in the Storm

In Genesis, God instructs Noah to build an ark to protect his family and two of each species on earth from the floodwaters that God will bring. “Make yourself an ark of gopher wood: make it an ark with compartments and cover it inside and out with pitch” (Genesis 6:14). The implication is clear: if the ark is to be a true refuge from the coming floods, Noah must pay close attention to how it’s built.

Like Noah’s Ark, our spiritual practices can provide us with a lifeboat, a place of safety and refuge in a world turned upside down. Like Noah, we are invited to pay attention and mindfully build for ourselves through practice a place of safety and wholeness. In the midst of the storm in which we find ourselves, our practice can provide a refuge, breath by breath and moment by moment. For those of us with established practices, now is the time to recommit and deepen them. For those new to mindfulness or who have long wanted to start such a practice, there’s never been a better time to begin. IJS offers numerous resources to launch you on this journey. 

We share here some general guidelines for how you might use your mindfulness practice during this time to build your inner ark and find solace and strength:

  • Cultivate Body Awareness: The uncertainty and disruption of this time leave all of us feeling anxious and even scared to some degree — for ourselves, our elders, our students and children, and our communities. Centering ourselves into a body awareness practice can help us cut through the ruminations that drive much of our anxiety and fear. Try out a practice like simply observing your breath coming in and going out or mindfully scanning each part of your body for the sensations you are experiencing. You could also listen to sounds arising and falling away or focus on each bite of food as you eat. Practices like these can help your nervous system relax so you get a much-needed break from being hyper-vigilant.
  • Count Your Blessings: When we experience feelings of scarcity around time, resources, attention, and energy, it’s easy to fall into tunnel vision and a zero-sum-game mentality. Focusing obsessively on our own sense of fear, we become blind to the blessings and connections that are already here. Counting our blessings can open the heart to gratitude, a powerful antidote to feelings of scarcity and disconnection. An easy way to start off your day with an attitude of gratitude is to recite the Modeh/Modah Ani prayer and make an inventory of five things for which you’re grateful before getting out of bed.
  • Develop Loving-Kindness: Social isolation helps us stay safe, protect others, and “flatten the curve.” Although we can connect online, it is still easy to feel lonely and disconnected, especially if we’re in our homes alone. A growing body of research shows that loving-kindness practices can help us feel more connected to others, even when we’re alone. You can engage in loving-kindness practice by gently closing your eyes, visualizing someone, and sending that person kind thoughts for safety, calm, and strength. Doing this when we’re online with others, too, can help us feel more openhearted during a time when our hearts may tend to close down and contract.
  • Track Your Attention: We’re all spending more time online, and it’s easy to become more distracted from the very people we are trying to connect with. Simple practices that help us track our attention and bring it back to things we mean to focus on — the person on the screen — can be a major support in helping us to remain present online. If you are a teacher, invite your students to keep track on a notecard of the number of times their attention wanders or they notice or feed the impulse to multitask. Invite them to report out at the end of class, and give credit for simply reporting no matter what students share. Challenge students to see if they can reduce the number of times they fall prey to distraction by one each day. Challenge yourself to do the same thing. Just noticing when we get distracted helps us be better at paying attention.
  • Cultivate a Sense of Sacred Purpose: During these times, it can be easy to feel hopeless and powerless. Doing practices that help us cultivate a sense of purpose can help us overcome these feelings and support us in doing thing within our control that help others. Practices like intention setting and asking for guidance in prayer about how to be of service during this time can help us kindle a sense of direction and sacred purpose. So can doing something to help a person in need. You might reach out to an elderly person who’s all alone, set up a charity to buy someone a tablet so they can video conference with their loved one, or donate to a charity. 

Let us know, by posting below, if you have ideas for others ways in which spiritual practice can serve as a place of refuge during these disorienting and scary times.          

May you be healthy, may you feel calm and safe, and may your practice support you with the wisdom and skill to weather this storm with kindness, wisdom, and compassion. 

From our hearts to yours, 

Rabbi Sam Feinsmith, Program Director and Firkins Reed, Foundation Relations

Living and Leading with Courage, Resilience, and Sacred Purpose

Living and Leading with Courage, Resilience, and Sacred Purpose

Dear friends and colleagues,

When I started in my position just a month and a half ago, the world was a different place. My big ambition for my first year was to lead us through a strategic planning and business modeling process that would result in a rearticulated vision, mission, and strategy with a multi-year business plan. My assumption was that we would secure new funding for that project this spring, start the process in the summer, and complete it by a year from now.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the cessation of most normal activity, and what will be a major economic recession, I feel like we can plan about as far as lunchtime. If we needed any reminder of the limits of our power as human beings and the fragility of life on the planet we share, I think we can unequivocally say: Message received and understood.

IJS has all of the building blocks we need to weather the storm. Most important, have something of great value to offer: Our Torah and the people who teach it. Our Torah includes not only concepts and ideas but, crucially, 1) practices that respond to the challenges of the moment and reach the most innermost parts of our lives, and 2) community that can be experienced even in isolation. These differentiate us from many other organizations. Beyond that, we have great admiration, loyalty, and love among those who know us. We have a board and funders who are committed to us. And we have a staff team that knows how to work together and is proving agile and nimble, which we must be right now.


Yet the moment demands that we articulate who we are and what we do at this crucial moment, in this world that has been turned upside down. So here is our response to that challenge.

IJS’s mission right now is this: To empower Jews to live and lead with courage, resilience, and a sense of sacred purpose.

This frankly isn’t so different from what our mission has always been. But it is a rearticulation for this moment of crisis, with a few key points:

  • We must continue to support leadership, including rabbis and cantors who are on the front lines of caring for their congregations—both those who are among our Hevraya and those who aren’t yet.
  • We must also serve other leaders: Lay leaders, Jewish professionals, and Jews who lead schools, organizations, businesses, communities, and families—again, including those who are already part of the IJS community and those who are just finding us.
  • We must serve Jews, whether or not they hold formal positions of leadership. As one of our great teachers Parker Palmer writes, “Leadership simply comes with the territory called being human… As long as I am here, doing whatever I am doing, I am leading, for better or for worse. And, if I may say so, so are you.” This is of a piece with our own IJS Torah: Simply by virtue of being humans who live in an interconnected relationship with others, we exercise leadership. Our work serves this large group, too.
  • In addition to courage and resilience, which are so necessary right now, IJS is distinguished by grounding our work in the reality of our relationship with the divine, what I refer to here as helping Jews live and lead with a sense of sacred purpose. We teach this practice because we believe human beings were created in God’s image, breathed into being by a divine breath, and put here to serve and protect creation (l’ovdah u’lshomrah). While a mindfulness practice can help manage stress and anxiety, we are not only another mindfulness app we are an Institute that teaches a Jewish approach to spiritual living.

Strategic Objectives

Beyond rearticulating our mission in what I hope is a succinct and powerful way, it is also important right now to state our strategic objectives. Given that we cannot know when we may be able to resume regular retreats, for the time being we have to assume that all of our work will take place through virtual means. The very encouraging news here is that we are in a better position than many others to do this. We have a functioning online platform, revenue-generating online courses, experience teaching via Zoom, and a rich archive of material we can share. We will leverage and build upon these resources in the coming days and weeks with the following key strategic aims in mind.

  1. We will offer valuable teachings and experiences in service of our mission. The key word here is offer. We must be generous and be perceived as such. This is not a time to be transactional. The Jewish people needs us right now and we must show up for them. If we demonstrate generosity in this moment, it will be reciprocated when we ask for the support we need to operate.
  2. We will be an ark in the sea. Over the last 20 years, IJS has been extraordinarily successful in seeding the ground of Jewish mindfulness. We are a tree that has sprouted an orchard. And yet in this moment of economic crisis, many of our saplings are struggling. To switch metaphors, our job in this moment is to be a Noah’s ark for the many Jewish meditation teachers and smaller Jewish mindfulness organizations who do not have the infrastructure we have. To that end, we should wisely and smartly engage the fellow-travelers in the Jewish mindfulness world, invite them to teach for us, and promote their events.
  3. We will grow our audience. Before this crisis, I frequently said that IJS is the most important organization that most people have never heard of. This moment is an opportunity for many more people to learn who we are and what we have to offer. People want and need what we have. We will energetically engage with partner organizations and market ourselves so that far more people know IJS’s name than before, have joined our email list, and are benefiting from our offerings.

Key Values

It is crucial during this period that we stay true to our values. I believe the following can serve as our north star during this intense moment:

  1. פיקוח נפש דוחה את השבתPikuach Nefesh: Saving life is the greatest of Jewish values. In the current situation that means that everyone’s first priority must be to take care of themselves, their loved ones, and other human beings. We have adapted our sick leave policy to this effect, but more broadly this value translates into recognizing that all of us are profoundly affected by the crisis and will only become more so in the days and weeks ahead. We will be understanding, supportive, and caring for ourselves and one another.
  2. אדם בצלם אלהים נברא – Adam b’tzelem Elohim nivra: All people are created in God’s image. This is always a value for us, and we cannot lose sight of it. All humans are endowed with the dignities of infinite value, equality, and uniqueness. Even and especially at this acute moment, we must maintain a broad field of vision that includes the most vulnerable, those who are apt to be marginalized or forgotten, and to ensure that our teaching and our work includes the full range of human beings.
  3. עת לעשות לה׳ הפרו תורתך – Et la’asot laShem heferu toratecha: This is an exigent moment and it calls for extraordinary responses.
    a. We will be flexible. In addition to the toll of illness and physical suffering, we must adjust to the profound changes to the rhythms of our lives. We will do our work as we are able, with creative schedules when we need them.
    b. We will do less, better. We will be judicious and wise about what we take on and what we leave behind, prioritizing those things that can best advance our mission and strategic goals.
    c. We will be responsive, not reactive. We will move quickly and skillfully to respond to the demands and invitations of reality as it shifts.
    d. We will be disciplined. As much as we need to be entrepreneurial, we have to do it smartly and with respect for our colleagues and teammates. We will ensure that we work as an efficient and aligned team, following processes and procedures for committing organizational resources.
    e. We will communicate. We will ensure transparency in communications for members of our team and keep our board and supporters regularly apprised of and engaged in our efforts.
    f. We will have faith in each other. We will support and encourage one another. We will show gratitude. We will maintain an environment in which we can be passionate about our work, both because the world needs us and because we want to keep our business going.
  4. פותח את ידיך ומשביע לכל חי רצון – Poteach et yadecha umasbia l’chol chai ratzon: We will operate with a spirit of abundance. As our own individual worlds become confined to the walls of our homes, it will be beyond tempting to fall into a narrowness and constriction of spirit. Yet I return to what I wrote at the outset: We have what we need. We have a Torah and outstanding teachers for this moment. We have people who love and support us as an organization. We have an online platform. In short, we have the essential things to make it and even, with cautious optimism, to grow. So we will remind each other of that and continue to hold open our minds and hearts.

None of us have ever faced anything like this before. It is utterly new and unprecedented. We cannot anticipate all of the challenges to come. At the same time, IJS’s own Torah teach us that, on a certain level, this moment is an intensified version of much of life in general. The challenge of remaining open, grounded, wise, compassionate, courageous and resilient in the face of the reality of suffering is always with us. Right now we feel it even more acutely. So we must encourage each other, remain focused and disciplined, be forgiving, caring, and loving.

This is the moment we’ve been practicing for. We will rise to the occasion.

With blessings for health and courage, with gratitude and faith,

Rabbi Josh Feigelson, PhD
Executive Director