The Institute for Jewish Spirituality Collaborates with Movements in Historic Cross-Denominational Spiritual Partnership

In an historic cross-denominational partnership, the Institute for Jewish Spirituality today announced the Shofar Project, a program of spiritual preparation for the High Holidays in collaboration with the Central Conference of American Rabbis, International Rabbinic Fellowship, Rabbinical Assembly, Reconstructing Judaism, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, Union for Reform Judaism, and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

The free program runs during the month of Elul (August 20-September 18) and includes daily Jewish meditation sits led by clergy from the partner organizations, weekly Torah study, and a twice-weekly Jewish yoga studio. IJS faculty will prepare short teachings to frame each week in a theme related to listening to the shofar. Upon registration at IJS’s website, participants receive email reminders about the weekly and daily events. Local communities can create weekly practice groups to reflect on the themes and build other programs around them.

“What is most exciting to me about The Shofar Project is that it’s really an open-source platform,” said IJS Executive Director Rabbi Josh Feigelson. “Because it’s free, local communities can piggy-back on the programming and customize it. That’s a big paradigm shift and a wonderful form of collaboration and partnership.”

“IJS has pioneered the renewal of Jewish spiritual life in North America for over 20 years, and we are thrilled to partner with them,” said Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism. “Hundreds of Reform clergy have transformed their approach to Torah and Jewish life through experiences with IJS. I know—I was in the very first cohort of rabbis who studied with IJS two decades ago. So I’m thrilled that we can bring this Torah to so many more people through this partnership.”

Feigelson reflected that the cross-denominational collaboration potentially reflected a broader turning-point: “While I know the movements have collaborated in various ways over the years, I cannot think of a time when this wide a cross-section came together in the cause of spiritual practice. It’s profoundly heartening to witness, especially at a moment when so many people are awakening to the vital importance of spiritual life.”

For more information on The Shofar Project, including registration information, visit https://www.jewishspirituality.org/go-deeper/the-shofar-project/.

Rabbi Myriam Klotz Joins IJS Staff as Senior Program Director

The Institute for Jewish Spirituality (IJS) announced today that Rabbi Myriam Klotz will join the organization’s staff as Senior Program Director effective August 17.

Klotz, a major figure in Jewish yoga and embodied practice for decades, has been a faculty member at IJS since 2003. She has taught in the organization’s flagship clergy leadership training programs and recently helped to launch its online Jewish yoga studio. In her new position, she will lead the Institute’s development of embodied and somatic practices, with a particular focus on how attention to the body can aid healing, inclusion, and justice work on behalf of traditionally marginalized populations. Her position at IJS will be half-time while she continues her work as Coordinator of Spiritual Direction at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and Director of Bekhol Levavkha: A Training Program for Jewish Spiritual Directors, also at HUC-JIR.

“I am thrilled that Myriam is joining our program staff,” said IJS Executive Director Rabbi Josh Feigelson. “So many of us are awakening to the ways in which our bodies are intimately tied up with our minds, hearts, and spirits—and how paying more attention to our bodies can help us heal from trauma, relate to ourselves and others with greater compassion and bring about greater inclusion, equity, and justice. We have an opportunity to expand and deepen the ways our Torah at IJS responds to these forms of awakening and ensures we collectively sustain and build on them into the future and Myriam is exactly the right person to help lead that effort.”

Klotz received her B.A. from Brown University and was ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. She is a certified yoga instructor and yoga therapist. She lives in Philadelphia with her spouse Rabbi Margot Stein and their son, Raffi.

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.