PresenTenseLA 2013 Fellow Rabbi Sara Brandes pitching the Neshama Center and Mikvah at PTLA's Launch Night in May 2013
Eight months ago, the Neshama Center and Mikvah was little more than a dream, a ten year old dream, in fact. I was a rabbi who had far more passion than business acumen, and although I had been working to actualize the Neshama Center vision for more than a year, I was mired in Los Angeles politics and complacency about the status quo. The Jewish Federation’s PresenTenseLA Fellowship changed all of that.
From refining my vision to drafting our Phase I budget, PresenTenseLA guided us from inspiration to implementation. They matched me with world-class mentors and challenged me to complete milestones essential to our success. PresenTenseLA coordinator Julia Moss became my greatest cheerleader and the other fellows my sounding-board. When PresenTenseLA encouraged me to reach out to the community at large to gain input for our vision, our survey received more than 400 responses. We now understand that our greatest challenge will be to create the market for the Neshama Center's unique approach to Judaism - one that we know will be deeply resonant with LA Jewry, once they understand what who we are.
The Neshama Center and Mikvah offers the body as a point-of-entry into Judaism. In a few weeks, the majority of LA Jews will enter our synagogues and encounter a Judaism that is rich, substantial, and also highly intellectual. You have to know a great deal about Jewish history and theology before the Judaism of our synagogues can begin to come to life for you.
At the Neshama Center, mikvah immersion is the touchstone Jewish experience. It is visceral, and it is immediately, deeply impactful. It is something you do, and doing it feels great. What is more, mikvah is a vehicle for personal transformation, and at the Neshama Center, we offer this ancient Jewish ritual as a tool for creating space in our lives for those things we care about most. One can use the mikvah to celebrate their completion of a course of chemo or to mourn a miscarriage. In moments of great joy and great sadness, the mikvah's waters can lift you or they can absorb your tears.
Applications for the next cohort of PresenTenseLA are open now.