March 27, 2008
A spiritual boost in Simi
Wednesday, the rabbi sat still
(Page 2 - Previous Page)"The stiff upper lip is the old rabbinic attitude," he says.
Retreats focused solely on spiritual renewal for rabbis, like those run by the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, are much rarer. And the rabbis and cantors who have been involved say it changed their lives and their congregations.
Rabbi Laura Geller (photo) of Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills joined the institute's first cohort eight years ago after six years at her large Reform congregation.
"When you're a rabbi, especially in a large congregation, it's very easy to dry up without noticing," she says. "This has given me the ability to take care of my own soul. It allowed me to see my relationship with God and prayer as a central part of who I am, as a Jew, a rabbi and a teacher."
At the retreats Geller learned how to be silent -- something not always easy for rabbis. Geller began to slow down and listen instead of relying on her facility with words to master a situation. She took risks, such as spending a week at a silent retreat in northern California and then talking to her congregation about it.
As she changed, Geller brought change to the synagogue. Worship services now incorporate more silence, and she has introduced new music and meditation.
That personal transformation is central to the institute's philosophy, says Jonathan Slater, the co-director of programs for the institute.
"It is about waking up the heart and connecting with the divine," he says.
That's why virtually all the texts studied come from the Jewish mystical tradition, which focuses on that connection.
According to an institute survey, 75 percent of the rabbis in the first two cohorts say they now have a closer relationship to God.
Rabbi Stephan Parnes, a Conservative rabbi at Temple Beth El in Lancaster, Pa., who joined the second cohort, says the approach to text study he encountered at the retreats forced him to go beyond the strictly intellectual course he had learned at rabbinical school.
s"I found myself speaking differently to my congregation," Parnes says. "Instead of telling them Rashi says this or that, I began talking about their lives and how the patterns present in the text can become a living reality for them. People come up to me and say something you said really made a difference for me."
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