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The Spirituality Initiative

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Open FieldThe Spirituality Initiative aims to bring mindfulness and contemplative practices to the educational experience of those training to become rabbis, cantors, and educators at our New York campus.

The Spirituality Initiative is now in its sixth 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 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 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 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.



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 participate 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 Levavkha Jewish Spiritual Director Training Program: In June 2015 we launched Bekhol Levavkha, the first Jewish spiritual director training program at a Jewish seminary. Currently, 18 participants are in their second 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 rabbinical alumni as well as therapists, coaches and Jewish educators.

Spiritual Practice Focus Groups: Having learned that it can be easier to succeed in regular spiritual practice by participating in a “minyan,” this year we encouraged 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, 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 Tzibbur: To support our growth as prayer leaders and our understanding of prayer leading as a distinct spiritual practice, we invited Central Synagogue’s Rabbi/Cantor Angela Buchdahl and her team of prayer leaders to lead services on campus November 30-December 3, 2015. On December 3, Rabbi Buchdahl and Cantor Julia Cadrain followed t’fillot with an unpacking session focused on analyzing their approaches to leading prayer as well as worshipers' experiences of the services. On February 22-25, 2016, Rabbi David Ingber from Romemu joined us for another week of prayer and dialogue.

Faculty Seminar 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 teacher and the learning environment? For a fourth year, members of the faculty are exploring the spiritual formation of clergy, spiritual practice, and its application in the classroom.


Spiritual Practices and Perspectives: Confronting Racism

In addition to our regular programming, last year the Spirituality Initiative offered a number of special programs that invited us to consider the relationship 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 in a focused way this year by wrestling with the impact of institutional racism on ourselves and our society. We will continue to offer programming in the 2016-2017 academic year. 

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 Elective: Wise Activism: Rabbi Jonathan Slater, Co-Director of Programs at the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, taught a Spring quadmester course exploring 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? The class drew upon mindfulness practice, Jewish texts, various media, and more.

Spring Yom Iyyun: Drawing on Spiritual Practices and Perspectives to Confront Racism: The Spirituality Initiative sponsored a day-long immersion further exploring the topic of racism on March 1, 2016. A committee of students and faculty planned a day of learning that incorporated reflective as well as action-oriented components, building on Rabbi Liebling’s teaching in October.

Spirituality Initiative Retreat: Inner/Outer: Inner Contemplation and Racial Justice Work: Rabbis Jonathan Slater and Myriam Klotz and Cantor Benjie Schiller facilitated our third Spirituality Initiative retreat for students and faculty on May 24-26, 2016 at Menla Mountain Retreat in Phoenicia, NY. We spent 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. 


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For Further Information

Please contact Rabbi David Adelson, D.Min., at