Three Los Angeles rabbis are participating in Rabbis Without Borders, a national program aimed at helping rabbis find innovative ways to make Jewish wisdom relevant to people who may never enter a synagogue.
Rabbi Tsafreer Lev, director of the Jewish studies department at New Community Jewish High School; Rabbi Anne Brener, a psychotherapist and grief and spiritual counselor; and Rabbi Sherre Hirsch, author of “We Plan, God Laughs,” all attended the first of four seminars in New York in October. More than 80 rabbis applied for 22 spots in Rabbis Without Borders, a two-year-old program sponsored by the New York-based Clal, The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
“Clearly, rabbis recognize the need to apply their skills in new ways to reach a wider audience, and make the teachings and tools from Jewish wisdom more accessible,” said Rabbi Rebecca W. Sirbu, director of Rabbis Without Borders. “This unique program offers that kind of support, helping rabbis to better communicate in both familiar and new venues, and to make Jewish thought and practice a real resource for the American public.”
Lev said the program gave him tools he can immediately apply within his setting — a nondenominational high school that values pluralistic thinking and novel approaches to Jewish engagement.
“For Judaism to be effective, it needs to speak to everyone. There is great wisdom to share, and if you share it outside of your usual spaces, it can do wonderful things by adding to the body of wisdom in the world,” said Lev, who previously served at the Conservative Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills.
Brener, who is a faculty member at the transdenominational Academy for Jewish Religion, California, and author of the book “Mourning and Mitzvah,” said she is grateful for the opportunity to brainstorm with others who, like her, do not operate within a conventional rabbinic framework.
“Given the economic times and given the changing demographics, we need to be looking at what the Jewish community might look like in the future, and how do we service it,” Brener said. “There is a subtext of how do we keep people in the Jewish fold, but I also think it’s a question of how do we serve these people who are outside the boundaries of the community for whatever reason.”