The Spirituality Initiative of the HUC-JIR New York Campus

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Spirituality Initiative of the New York School is now in its fifth year. If there is one common denominator to the variety of practices that we call ‘spiritual,’ perhaps it is the practice of paying kind and deep attention to what actually happens inside and around us from moment to moment.  When we begin to practice, it does not take long to notice the many thoughts inside our heads that form a running list of judgments, commentary, and habitual emotional postures that can hinder our ability to just show up right where we are, just as we are.  It seems so simple, but it is often so difficult to ‘get it’ and then to sustain that focused attention.  Yet with each other’s help, we keep at it.  In time, we can become more adept at responding to what is needed in a given moment with a wise and compassionate heart.   Ultimately, this intention is what informs the Spirituality Initiative’s programming in both curricular and extra-curricular aspects of campus life. 

This year the Spirituality Initiative offers a number of programs that invite us to consider the relationships between our inner work and our engagement in society.  What does it mean to extend mindfulness practice to the social arena?  What is the relationship between social justice and spiritual practice?  We contemplate these questions as we begin to wrestle with the institutions of racism and the intersection of spirituality and social justice.  

Here are some of this year’s offerings:

Spring Course: Wise Activism

Rabbi Jonathan Slater, Co-Director of Programs at the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, will teach a Spring quadmester course in which he explores the connective tissue between the cultivation of a wise heart and wise action in the world.  How do we tend to our inner lives while paying attention to the world outside of us with awareness and compassion simultaneously?  What is the connection between the inner life and action in the world, and how does spiritual practice help us make wise choices when we engage in social justice work?  Such questions will be explored, drawing upon mindfulness practice, Jewish texts, various media, and more.

Goldner-Panken Symposium on Racial Justice: The Well-Being of Body and Soul with Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, Founder and Director of the Social Justice Organizing Program at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.

On October 12, 2015 Rabbi Liebling taught us about the historical context of racial bias in our society, and brought to light many of the subtle ways in which racism is perpetuated institutionally and unintentionally by many white people.  He invited us to consider in what ways countering racism is not only an issue of social or moral justice, but an issue for spiritual health as well. 

Spring Yom Iyyun: Racial Justice: A Matter of Body and Soul

The Spirituality Initiative will sponsor a day-long immersion further exploring the topic of racism on March 1, 2016.  A committee of students and faculty are planning a day of learning that will incorporate reflective as well as action-oriented components, building on what Rabbi Liebling offered in October.

Spirituality Initiative Retreat: Inner/Outer: Inner Contemplation and Racial Justice Work

Rabbis Jonathan Slater and Myriam Klotz and Cantor Benjie Schiller will facilitate our third Spirituality Initiative retreat for students and faculty on May 24-26, 2016. We will spend three days together, nourished by the contemplative practices of mindfulness, yoga, prayer, text study, and silence, along with personal connections, good food, and a beautiful setting.   

Spiritual Direction

In spiritual direction, directees contemplate their unfolding relationship to God through the particulars of their life experiences over time.  This year, the spiritual direction program continues to offer eight monthly individual sessions to students and faculty.  Well over half of our student body currently participates in spiritual direction, and we are working to increase our staff of trained spiritual directors so that even more can participate in the coming year.

Bekhol Levavkah Jewish Spiritual Director Training Program

In June 2015 we launched Bekhol Levavkah, the first Jewish spiritual director training program at a Jewish seminary.  Currently, 18 participants are in their first year of this two-year program, which involves monthly day-long sessions on campus and two longer June retreats.   Participants include HUC-JIR cantorial and rabbinic alumni as well as therapists, coaches and Jewish educators.

Spiritual Practice Focus Groups

Having learned that it is easier to succeed in a regular spiritual practice in a “minyan,” this year we encouraged students to form student-initiated focus groups for those with a shared interest in a particular spiritual practice.  For any group of six students who agree to meet six times over the year, Rabbi Klotz or another of our trained facilitators will supervise practice in meditation, yoga, group spiritual direction, or a related area of interest.  Currently, a Spiritual Direction group has begun meeting.

Guest Shlichei Tzibur

To support our growth as prayer leaders and our understanding of prayer leading as a distinct spiritual practice, we have invited Central Synagogue’s Rabbi/Cantor Angela Buchdahl and her team of prayer leaders to lead services on campus November 30-December 3.  On December 3, Rabbi Buchdahl will follow t’fillot with an unpacking session focused on analyzing her approach to leading prayer and worshipers' experiences of the prayer services.  On February 22-25, Rabbi David Ingber from Romemu will join us for another week of prayer and dialogue.

Faculty Seminars on the Spiritual Formation of Clergy 

How might engagement with spiritual practices such as mindfulness meditation, yoga and spiritual direction impact and potentially transform the one who teaches and the learning environment?  For a fourth year, members of the faculty will meet periodically to explore the spiritual formation of clergy, spiritual practice, and its application in the classroom.

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding.