Jewish Renewal, a new movement that emerged in the last decades of the 20th century, has become one of the most significant developments in Judaism in the lives of thousands of American and Israeli Jews. Sometimes described as neo-Hasidism by its proponents, and New Age Judaism by its detractors, this movement has produced a fusion of spiritual intensity in its prayers, astounding creativity in its theology, and a joyous renewal of the love-oriented aspects of Judaism. It refuses to let Holocaust grief, patriarchal or homophobic practices, or Zionist loyalty define what 21st century Judaism will be about. Its most significant well-known expositors are Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Judith Plaskow, Marcia Prager, Michael Lerner, Arthur Waskow, Shefa Gold, Tirzah Firestone, Burt Jacobson, David A. Cooper, Yitz & Shonna Husband-Hankins, Shaya Isenberg Bahira Sugarman, Simcha Rafael, Jeff Roth, David Seidenberg, Or Rose, Arthur Green, Shawn Zevit, David Ingber, Phyllis Ocean Berman, Daniel Siegel, and Elliot Ginsburg.
Into this boiling over of creativity we can now add Sheila Peltz Weinberg and Rachel Werczberger. Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg is a co-leader of the Jewish Mindfulness Teacher Training Program and her book God Loves the Stranger is a collection of stories, poems and prayers building on the Torah’s injunction “Thou Shalt Love the Stranger” and reminding us that God loves every person on this planet. Her book teaches us how to handle suffering, creative skills for mindfulness, meditation, and how to bring the love and gratitude into our everyday lives.
Rachel Werzberger tells of the unexpected growth of Jewish spiritual renewal in Israel. Most Israelis are well known among Jews worldwide for being deeply skeptical about Judaism, given the strong anger that the Orthodox Jewish community in Israel has provoked by using their power in government coalitions to impose religious practices on secular Israelis. Many Israelis present themselves as tough-minded and hence resistant to anything that cannot be verified through science or empirical observation. Those who have sought spiritual nourishment in opposition to the materialism and self-centeredness that Israelis adopted from global capitalist culture (and to escape their memory of service in the IDF enforcing the Occupation) have often turned to visits to ashrams in India or attempts to bring Buddhism to Israel. In Jews in the Age of Authenticity, Werzberger focuses on the powerful impact of two Jewish Renewal efforts in Israel, Hamakom and Bayit Chadash, and the leadership of Rabbi Ohed Ezrahi. She presents some of the innovative approaches that have given Jewish Renewal in Israel a spiritual depth only seen when Shlomo Carlebach and Zalman Schachter-Shalomi spent time teaching in the Holy land. The New Age Judaism she describes has much in common with the rise of the ethos of authenticity which has been central to both Christian and Jewish renewal movements in the West, though Werzberger takes pains to show that the Israeli version “offers a new way of articulating the subjective affinity of Jewish individuals to their religious and cultural legacy.” Sadly, unlike the versions of Jewish Renewal championed by Tikkun and by Arthur Waskow’s Shalom Center, the Israeli version described in this book rarely reaches into Israel’s central contradiction: its oppression of the Palestinian people. With such ethical blindness, any form of Jewish renewal will have a limited shelf life. Yet to become a prophetic movement in an Israel resistant to even knowing about what is happening to Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza is to take a risk that even the well-financed Reform movement in Israel has not been willing to take.
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