December 7, 2006
The ‘Yearning’ for Torah learning goes to TV
That's the premise of "The Hidden Wisdom of Our Yearnings with Irwin Kula," a two-hour PBS show airing Dec. 10 on KCET. Based on Rabbi Kula's new book, "Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life" (Hyperion, 2006, with Linda Lowenthal), the program is one of the first that PBS has given to a rabbi or Jewish leader teaching to the masses.
Kula, who is the president of CLAL: The National Center for Jewish Leadership, also hosted public television's 13-part series, "Simple Wisdom With Irwin Kula." He is one of a number of Jewish leaders trying to bring Jewish teaching to the mainstream, including Rabbi Shmuely Boteach, Rabbi Harold Kushner and conservative talk show host Dennis Prager.
"Can we take Jewish wisdom public?" Kula said in a telephone interview with The Journal.
In the past, the Torah has been used to make Jews become better Jews, but "this is really seeing Torah as a technology to become more human."
In the program, Kula, wears a knitted kippah on his longish silver hair and an open blue sports jacket; he walks on a stage in front of a live studio audience and discusses the "messiness" in life: life's disappointments, conflicts, dissatisfactions -- what he calls yearning.
"If we don't have something to yearn for, some dents in our life to fix, some messiness, some crucial quality of our life is missing," Kula tells the audience. "Yearning can be a path to blessing."
Like other mass-market purveyors of "wisdom," Kula has a number of catchphrases, such as "The more we allow ourselves to unfold, the less we will unravel," and "We can want it all and always be finding enough," but his message is one that particularly fits these new uncertain times -- in which he believes much wisdom does not address.
"There's a lot of bad messages being given," he said, such as the conventional religious message that your behavior can improve your life, or the New Age wisdom that problems are illusions and life is actually perfect.
But Judaism knows life shouldn't be perfect, he says, using the story of Eve eating the apple in the Garden of Eden.
"I love Eve, because she understood that Paradise is not all it's cracked up to be!" Eve teaches us, he continued, "never to fear the messiness. The messy spaces in our lives are our greatest teachers."
Rabbi Irwin Kula will appear on KCET on Dec. 10 5-7 p.m. He will also appear on the "Today" show on Dec. 12 and Dec. 25.