The New York campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) has received a generous grant from the Joyce and Irving Goldman Family Foundation to create the Spirituality Initiative of the New York School. The program seeks to nourish the spiritual needs of our rabbinical, cantorial, and education students through a number of opportunities created via collaboration between HUC-JIR/New York faculty and the Institute for Jewish Spirituality (IJS).
“It is crucial that we enable our students to deepen their own spiritual practice during their training,” said Rabbi Shirley Idelson (HUC-JIR/NY ’91), Dean of the New York School. “This Initiative will engage our students in rigorous, intellectually engaging and deeply honest work that will help them become more effective Jewish professionals capable of making religious meaning and experience accessible to all Jews who seek it, regardless of background.”
“The impact promises to be profound, and I am grateful to the New York faculty and the IJS team who have worked hard to integrate the Spirituality Initiative into the life of our school,” Idelson said, “and especially to the Goldman Family Foundation for making this possible.”
A central component of the Spirituality Initiative is a new course: MINDFUL JEWISH SPIRITUAL PRACTICE: Integrating Body, Heart, Mind and Soul in Our Jewish Lives. Taught by IJS faculty including Rabbis Jonathan Slater, Sheila Weinberg, Rachel Cowan (HUC-JIR/NY ’89), Nancy Flam (HUC-JIR/NY ’89), and Myriam Klotz, and open to all rabbinical, cantorial, and education students, the course will be based in study and practice.
The course description reads, in part, “Spirituality is a quality of awareness that orients us toward that which is greater than our selves – God – so that we might live with the greatest authenticity and integrity for the sake of healing the world. Awareness cannot be acquired, attained once-and-for-all, but must be developed, nurtured and deepened through practice. Attending to our spiritual lives through the integration of study and practice nourishes our soul, awakens our hearts and sustains us, as that is what allows Torah to live as a vital force in our lives.” The practice of mindfulness meditation in a Jewish framework will weave through the other practices: Torah study, embodied awareness (yoga postures), and prayer.
Interest in this elective was so high that enrollment had to be capped at 31 students.
The grant also allows us to offer Spiritual Direction (SD) to those rabbinical, cantorial, and education students who desire this form of guidance. Aimed at cultivating attentiveness and deepening awareness to the presence of God in one’s everyday life, while connecting in an authentic way with Jewish vocabulary, pathways, and traditions, Spiritual Direction will be offered by trained professionals through a series of monthly one-on-one meetings. Our 2011-2012 Spiritual Direction team includes Rabbi David Adelson (HUC-JIR/NY ’99), Rabbi Myriam Klotz, and Dr. Linda Thal.
In addition, in June 2012, HUC-JIR/New York will provide students and alumni with a week-long yoga and Jewish spirituality training program geared specifically to Jewish clergy, for those interested in deepening and integrating into their professional lives their own practices of yoga and Judaism.
On August 25, 2011, the Spirituality Initiative was introduced on campus with a service led by Cantor Benjie Schiller (HUC-JIR/NY ’87), Professor of Cantorial Arts, followed by a Goldner-Panken Symposium featuring Rabbi Jackie Ellenson (HUC-JIR/NY ’83) speaking on Spiritual Direction, where students had the opportunity to meet the SD team and sign up, if interested—and nearly half the student body did.
Reflecting on the importance of the Spirituality Initiative of the New York School, Dr. Andrea Weiss, Assistant Professor of Bible at HUC-JIR/New York, said, "This is providing students on our campus unprecedented access to a rich array of resources for spiritual growth that have been transformative for clergy in the field.”
Rabbi Rachel Cowan, Senior Fellow and former Executive Director of IJS, said, “I was quite content as a student at HUC-JIR in the late 80s, not thinking much about the spiritual dimension of my life. Then my husband was diagnosed with leukemia at the beginning of my fourth year and died at the beginning of the last year. I received tremendous support from my teachers and classmates, but I realized then that my Judaism lived mostly in my head, and I needed to move into the depths of my soul to find strength and hope and courage. If this Spirituality Initiative had existed then it would have helped enormously to do that work--for we did not speak of soul, nor about a relationship with a God who comforted, nor about personal prayer. Spiritual practice was not a concept we ever heard about - and yet it is key to maintaining oneself and growing as a rabbi. I am completely delighted that the College-Institute, the Goldman Foundation and the Institute for Jewish Spirituality are partnering in this most significant work.”
Rabbi Nancy Flam added, “HUC-JIR's new Spirituality Initiative provides an invaluable opportunity for students to explore and deepen their own inner lives and create a sustaining and sustainable spiritual practice in the midst of their years at the seminary. The promise of personal integration, of bringing together ‘role and soul’ (in the words of Parker Palmer) as Jewish leaders and as spiritual beings, will bring blessing not only to the students themselves, but to every person with whom they will work.”