Passing the Flame Forward: A Letter from Rachel and David
When we began, we saw four key goals. First, to help steward ALEPH through the complex aftermath of the death of Reb Zalman z”l, whose third yahrzeit soon approaches. Second, to offer hundreds of people around the world ways to express hopes, dreams and longings – and bring their hearts and ideas back to ALEPH for integration. Third, to support in tangible ways the continuing flow of Jewish Renewal for today and tomorrow. Fourth, to model a stewardship that saw our roles as temporary and sought our successors quickly.
We did much that we came to do. Along with Board colleagues and staff, we spent 15 months on the ALEPH / Jewish Renewal Listening Tour, taking stock of who and where ALEPH and Renewal are — how the renewal of Judaism has spread and matured, what is cherished, what should change and what must never change. It was a tremendous blessing to journey into those deep places together. We took hundreds of pages of notes, and brought what we learned back to ALEPH, the Ordination Program and OHALAH (the association of Jewish Renewal clergy). Some of those ideas are starting to take root now.
Behind the scenes, ALEPH evolved a new governance system aspiring to be more inclusive. We established an Advisory Council to harness the wisdom of elders, teachers and visionaries across the Jewish landscape to support Judaism’s ongoing renewal. ALEPH laid the foundation for a Communities Council so that ALEPH Network members — communities, organizations, and individuals — could help set a new bottom-up agenda for how to support ALEPH communities in the future. ALEPH began strategic planning with Reverend Bill Kondrath, a consultant specializing in midwifing faith-based organizations through major transitions, including and especially the death of a charismatic founder.
In the public realm, the magic of the 2016 Kallah happened at Colorado State University: 37% of attendees were first-timers, and brought the joy and “juice” of Jewish Renewal home with them. ALEPH began planning the 2018 Kallah. (Stay tuned for more information soon.) New spiritual communities joined ALEPH – both “new” ones (started from scratch), and existing ones rooted in Reform and Conservative denominational contexts. New programs and projects sought ALEPH affiliation. ALEPH was featured in a variety of publications and podcasts. ALEPH began developing new initiatives, including Clergy Camp and Tikshoret (an education platform to bring tastes of Jewish Renewal to a broad online audience), while also better supporting beloved ALEPH stalwart programs and initiatives. Finances improved, and funds were invested wisely and securely.
Perhaps most importantly, as co-chairs, we said from the start that we wanted to model stewardship that flows in ways we learned from our teachers. We created a Nominations Circle, on which we did not serve, and asked that it immediately seek successors for the Board and its leadership. We felt that, especially in this era after Reb Zalman’s life on this plane, it would be important for many reasons to fulfill this intention to serve with all our hearts while making way for the next turning. The time for that next turning has now come.
For the confidence, volunteerism, and support ALEPH received during our time of service, we are grateful beyond measure: these are tremendous gifts, and we thank you for them. We are especially grateful to ALEPH’s executive director Shoshanna Schechter-Shaffin, ALEPH’s deputy directors Tamy Jacobs and Steve Weinberg, their predecessor David Brown, Lynda Simons, and Ming Shem-Lu, who have nourished ALEPH and have done the very hard work of bringing ideas and relationships to life. They are ALEPH’s unsung heroes, and they deserve wild applause for their dedication and hard work. We are grateful to our teachers, and their teachers, and their students, and the students of their students – both within and beyond ALEPH – for so very much that has come through them over the years.
The work of renewing Judaism, by its nature, is never complete (Pirkei Avot has something to say about that). The next phase of this ongoing journey now is for our successors, to keep that flame burning bright in ways that perhaps today can scarcely be imagined. We wish them every success and blessing as they dream and lead forward.
With blessings on this Omer day of chesed sheba yesod (lovingkindness in foundation),
(Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi and to Kol ALEPH.)