The Process of Jewish Renewal

"I believe that the process of Jewish renewal — insisting on spiritual aliveness, reintegrating the political transformational elements into that spirituality, reconnecting with the Power in the universe that makes possible transcendence and compassion — has the capacity to recapture the moral imagination and spiritual yearnings of these alienated, sensitive, and gifted Jews.

Starting in the 1990s, the organized Jewish community woke up to the reality that huge numbers of younger Jews were not affiliating, and that at the present rate American Jewry would shrink dramatically in the next several decades. Millions of dollars suddenly became available for what the Jewish community federations call 'Jewish continuity.' Their operating assumption is that they need to do a better job of selling Jewish life to the young. But most of my research shows a very different conclusion: that the problem is not in the public relations, but in what is being sold. Unless the Jewish community is willing to rethink some of the fundamentals of the values it projects, it is likely to face severe decline in the next fifty years. Many of those who are now embarking on careers in Jewish life will find the rug pulled out from under them, because the resentments built up in childhood that are leading people away from the Jewish community are not easily reparable and will not be 'fixed' by smart P.R., more trips to Israel for teenagers, weekend seminars and encampments, or even more outreach programs to singles or divorcees (though these are good things to do). Jewish life at its center will have to feel more spiritual; moral; God-centered; politically committed to social justice, respect, and caring about the problems of the larger non-Jewish world; pluralistic; democratic; nonsexist; joyful; full of intellectual ferment; and open to dissent if American Jewry is not to shrink dramatically. And it is precisely these elements that a Jewish-renewal perspective seeks to nurture within Judaism."
Jewish Renewal

Bringing God Back into the World

"Judaism places transcendence on the agenda of the human race. Human beings need not be stuck in a world of pain and oppression. We can regain contact with a deeper level of being, a level more consonant with who we really are — namely, beings who are created in the image of God, who embody an inherent tendency toward goodness and holiness, toward being 'embodied spirituality.' Transcendence is not transcendingthis world, but rather our ability to bring more fully into being in this world, aspects of ourselves and aspects of reality that surround us but to which we have become tone deaf. Every inch of creation, every cell of being, not only contains atoms stored with physical energy, but also contains and reflects the spiritual and moral energy that we call God. Much of the pain and oppression we experience in this world is a reflection of the way we do not recognize God in the world, in one another, in ourselves."
Jewish Renewal

The Politics of Meaning

"The politics of meaning is, in part, a strategy . . . to renew an alliance between middle-income people and the poor. It is not necessarily aimedagainst the rich, but rather against the ethos of selfishness and materialism that has allowed many people to accept cuts in social service programs as the price for cutting their own taxes and those of the rich. This renewed alliance will be easier to build when people fully understand that the very same selfishness that allows them to shut their ears to the needs of the poor, or to the impact of American economic policies on the well-being of many people in the Third World, is what allows their wives or husbands, boyfriends or girlfriends, children or neighbors, to act in selfish or insensitive ways. Similarly, when people fully understand that the deepening ecological crisis cannot be separated from the ethos of selfishness, and that, as they narrow their circles of caring, they make it more likely that they personally will face a widening array of environmental catastrophes, it will be easier to build a transformative social change movement. The politics of meaning helps people understand why it is in their interest to reverse the flow of energy and expand rather than contract their circles of caring. In short, it is becoming harder and harder for most of us to have the kinds of personal lives we want — blessed with loving friendships, health, and strong family ties — in a world that is dominated by escalating levels of selfishness and cynicism."
The Politics of Meaning

Millions of Little Moments of Caring

"We need to build millions of little moments of caring on an individual level. Indeed, as talk of a politics of meaning becomes more widespread, many people will feel it easier to publicly acknowledge their own spiritual and ethical aspirations and will allow themselves to give more space to their highest vision in their personal interactions with others. A politics of meaning is as much about these millions of small acts as it is about any larger change. The two necessarily go hand in hand.

"Ultimately, one of the best ways to take care of our souls is to build a society that supports rather than undermines our highest moral and spiritual intuitions and inclinations. Yet, building that society can never be divided from the daily practices through which we live out our ethical and spiritual lives, both in the way we treat others around us, and in the way we nourish the God within us."
The Politics of Meaning

A Spiritual Exercise

"Next time you are at work, or at a social gathering, try the following exercise:

"Look at every single person, one by one. See each one as embodiments of God, one of God's many faces.

"Become aware of the many resistances you have to seeing others as embodiments of God. Are you focusing on all the 'faults' of these others? You know that you have 'faults' as well, but that doesn't make you any less an embodiment of Spirit.

"That's the point of the realm of Spirit — being an embodiment of God's presence is not based on how much your looks conform to the media's standard of beauty or how well you'd do on some allegedly objective test of performance, how much money you have, how clever you are, how charming, or how sweet.

"There is nothing you have to do to become an embodiment of Spirit — you already are. And so is everyone else. So, pay careful attention to all your resistances to seeing others as the embodiment of God's presence. What are the feelings that come up? What makes this so hard to do?"
Spirit Matters