Weblog Entries for May 2011

Sound and Fury from the JOI Conference

A huge thanks to our friend Jay Michaelson—someone who has long been pushing the Jewish community to recognize, rethink, and expand its boundaries on issues of inclusion, sexuality and spirituality—for coming to our Judaism2030 Conference this past week with microphone in hand to extract some of the thoughts and ideas of our presenters and participants. Check out his recap on Zeek: A Jewish Journal of Thought and Culture, which includes quotes from JOI’s own Senior Director of Training Eva Stern; Adam Segulah Sher, Program Manager at Isabella Freedman Retreat Center in Falls Village, CT; Rabbi Olivier Ben Haim of Bet Alef Meditative Synagogue in Seattle, WA; and Daniel Sieradski, Director of Digital Strategy at Repair The World.

Speaking of Daniel Sieradski, he was kind enough to upload his fantastic presentation “Jeuromancer: Transhumanism, Bioethics & the Dystopian Jewish Future,” which, perhaps more than any other at our conference, directly utilized futurism projections and related it to Jewish concerns. Be sure to click the tab under the slide that says “Speaker Notes on Slide 1” to follow along with his notes, it’s really quite a mind-expanding experience.

And today completed their week-long series of thought pieces written by presenters at our conference, which you can see collected onto one page of their site. We hope these resources begin to give a taste of the topics and issues we at JOI encourage the entire community to grapple with in order to proactively address a positive Jewish future.

Why I am Optimistic about the Jewish Future!

We have just completed our fifth North American JOI Conference called Judaism2030: A Working Conference for a Vibrant Jewish Future. I walked away even more optimistic about the Jewish future than I did when the conference started, albeit realistic about the challenges that face us that we have to meet and transcend. Now that the conference is over, the hard work begins. But I wanted to thank the over 200 participants and nearly 50 presenters who joined with us to imagine the future and chart a path to getting there. Click here to visit and read what some of the conference presenters addressed during their sessions.

I also wanted to share some of the visions of the future that emerged from the final session (see below.) (more…)

Judaism2030 Conference: Coming to a Screen Near You

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Judaism2030 is around the corner (Monday, May 23rd and Tuesday, May 24th), and we at JOI are happy to report that there has been an overwhelming response to the conference! Over 250 participants will be attending from all over North America, and the two-day event will be an incredible opportunity for Jewish professionals, rabbis, and lay leaders from a wide array of Jewish communities to interact, exchange ideas, and build bridges to lead us to a more vibrant Jewish future.

Because Judaism2030 is currently filled to capacity, JOI will be offering everyone at home (or work) the chance to virtually attend several sessions of our conference through a live stream (which you can access here). We will be streaming the keynote address and the four “vision” sessions corresponding to each conference theme: spirituality, belonging, globalism, and peoplehood.


Welcoming a New Generation of Rabbis

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While I don’t usually take advantage of the JOI blog for personal reflections, the marking of my younger son Jesse’s ordination as rabbi at the Jewish Theological Seminary yesterday affords me the opportunity to do so. I often joke that with his brother Avi and I also rabbis, we can now form our own bet din (although I recognize that Jewish law actually prohibits such a family rabbinical court from functioning—and for good reason).

As one who is often critical of the machinations of the organized Jewish community, such celebrations provoke in me a wellspring of optimism. The boundless energy and font of creativity that emerges from this group of new rabbis augurs well for the Jewish future. They recognize the challenges that they and the community face and are up to the task, unafraid to take bold steps to secure the Jewish future. And we need their energy and perspective.


Opening the Tent to Non-Traditional Families

In our work advocating for those on the periphery of Jewish life, we at JOI often come across stories of non-traditional families and their relationships with the Jewish community. In some cases, such as this article on Kveller, we can see the great strides that the Jewish community is making towards becoming an accepting and welcoming place for all.

Using New Technology to Help Sit Shiva

This is a guest post by Sharon Rosen, founder of

Shiva is the Jewish period of mourning observed the first week after the funeral of a parent, spouse, sibling, or child. It is a time of reflection, meditation, contemplation and spiritual connection. Mourners experience intense sadness as friends and loved ones give love and attention to their needs. Judaism teaches us that when a member of our community feels the heart-wrenching pain of grief, we should be there to comfort and console, performing a mitzvah (act of kindness.)

The internet enables unaffiliated Jews and non-Jews to learn about the customs and traditions for sitting shiva and find resources needed to respectfully honor the deceased. Articles about preparing your home for shiva, making a shiva call, kaddish, yahrzeit and more can be found on sites such as, and Todays’ younger generation and those who have never been exposed to traditional Jewish customs, may appreciate their ability to interact with others and access information in a more comfortable, familiar manner… by connecting to Judaism online.


The Term “Welcoming” — A Clarification

We at the Jewish Outreach Institute have argued for the past decade that there is a divide in the Jewish community. While some may argue that the divide is between those who are intermarried and those who are in-married, and would expect us to agree with that bifurcation given our sensitivities and many of our programs, we actually don’t agree. Actually, we argue that the big divide is between those on the inside and those on the outside of the organized Jewish community and its institutions. (And, by the way, we fear that as the divide grows larger, it becomes less relevant to both groups.) Moreover, we argue that one of the things that keeps outsiders from entering the inside is what we call “welcoming.” In other words, our institutions have not been sufficiently welcoming. And if they were, more people might enter them—and want to return after their first visit.

Now some will mistakenly conclude that “welcoming” is all about a pretty smile and an embrace, encouraging people to enter an institution or be affirmed for doing so. At JOI, welcoming begins way before a person even sets foot in a Jewish communal institution and concludes after a path has been charted for that person to fully engage with it. Welcoming includes an inviting attitude but is not limited to it. It is perhaps best described as a process of positive engagement: meeting people where they are; accepting them for who they are; and assisting them in determining who they might become, by providing the deep and meaningful Jewish content that can only be received when a newcomer is not just accepted but embraced. That’s why we at JOI spend a lot of time helping institutions to understand the broad scope of what it means to be welcoming and what changes may need to be made in order to be so. That was one of the motivations behind the establishment of a Big Tent Judaism coalition, which now numbers over 450 member institutions, and the 10 principles to which its members ascribe to implement in their institutions.

So for those who think that welcoming is limited to the intermarried, or for those who think that the term itself is limiting, I would welcome you to broaden your perspective as we have and introduce such an approach to the Jewish community you most care about. After all, even if we are successful in motivating those on the outside to enter into the institutions in our community, if they don’t find a welcoming presence, they—and the institution—won’t be there much longer.

Happy Mothers Day from JOI!

Mothers Day is this Sunday, May 8. In honor of this holiday, we at JOI would like to take this opportunity to thank women of other backgrounds who are raising Jewish children. Your commitment to fostering strong Jewish identities in your children is truly inspiring.

We have created this Mothers Day card to honor you for everything that you do to help your children grow and thrive. We hope you enjoy it! Please click “more” to see the full-sized version of the card.

If you are a woman of another background raising Jewish children, JOI is here for you! Our Mothers Circle course, designed to provide education in Jewish rituals, ethics, and the how-tos of creating a Jewish home, has served hundreds of women across the United States and in Canada. Visit our Mothers Circle website to sign up for our national listserve or to find a class in your area, and please spread the word to anyone who might find it helpful.

For more information about The Mothers Circle, please contact National Mothers Circle Coordinator Marley Weiner at or 212-760-1440.


“Excuse Me, Are You Jewish?”

Has someone ever stopped you on the street to ask you if you are Jewish? Have you found yourself spontaneously joining grown men, clad in black hats and tefillin, as they danced in the streets? If so, you probably have come across the well-organized, enthusiastic members of the Chabad Lubavitch movement, a Jewish movement that has grown not just because of the ardor of its believers but because of its work in what the Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI) calls “the public space.”

This feature video by The New York Times illustrates how Chabad moved into the “public space” – literally by taking to the streets and bringing their pride in Judaism alongside. Rather than working solely within the confines of a synagogue, Chabad utilizes “mitzvah tanks,” big trucks that serve as mobile synagogues and allow Jews to take a momentary respite from the secular world. As Rabbi Mordy Hirsch explained, “People are depressed today. Everyone has their worries, their headaches. The mitzvah tanks idea is a warm, comfortable home environment in the hustle and bustle of Fifth Avenue.” Once in the “tank,” Jewish pedestrians have the opportunity to pray, put on teffilin, and find Jewish literature to take home. The “tanks” typically come out in full-force during the holidays, handing out matzah on Passover and transforming into a mobile sukkah (ritual hut) for Sukkot. Along with the blaring klezmer music, the “tanks” stand out.


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