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High Holiday Services Are Boring. Here’s How We Can Fix Them.

High Holiday services are a slog. All right, not at every synagogue, not all the time, not for everybody. But it’s true widely and often enough that most of you are nodding to yourselves. Granted, services aren’t meant to entertain us every minute. But which of the 613 commandments prescribe boredom?

As we approach Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which bring more Jews to services than any other time of year, let’s have a little candor about monotony in synagogue. Maybe if we acknowledge what we all know deep down to be true, we can figure out how to make services less listless for everybody. Wouldn’t that be a meaningful way to mark the New Year?

Breaking Down Barriers -- To Torah, To Mitzvot, and to Jewish Belonging

After spending a year at Hadar, Shira Kadari-Ovadia continues to ponder the question, "What is it about American Judaism that allows such an innovative institution to thrive without having to apologize for its existence?" Beit Avi Chai's publication features the reflections of a Hadar alumna as she reflects on the distinctive, fruitful combination of halakha and gender egalitarianism that together create the Hadar experience. For the full article (in Hebrew) read here:

Tisha B'Av at Mechon Hadar Tuesday, July 16th

Shaharit and Kinnot - 9am. Shiurim - 11:30am. Minhah - 1:30pm. All at 190 Amsterdam Ave (at 69th St). At 11:30, the shi'urim are Dena Weiss, "Comfort by Comparison," and R' Shai Held, "Piety and Protest" - both are fitting for the 9th of Av.

We need to engage Jews like Zuckerberg

American Jewish leader says US Jews have failed to educate youth in a way that can ensure communal continuity.

Rabbi Shai Held speaks at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem

Rabbi Shai Held speaks as part of the Avi Shaefer Fund's Symposium at the Van Leer Institute on the Jewish significance of the Jewish State, in a panel with AB Yehoshua, Rahel Elior, and others. 11-minute video.

A Day of Learning in DC on Jews and Power: Ambivalence or Embrace

By 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning a few weeks ago, some 100 Washingtonians, most dressed in Sunday jeans, with some leftover yawns of the night before, pulled up to the Washington DC Jewish Community Center to start their day. While the fitness center is the usual destination at that hour on that day, that weekend the crowd was there to work their minds and spirituality. The event was the first ever "yom iyun" (day of study), "Jews and Power: Ambivalence or Embrace," hosted by Mechon Hadar, an egalitarian educational institution based in New York City that focuses on Jewish practice, Torah study and prayer...

Mechon Hadar featured on Jim Joseph's website

Throughout the country, more than 300 graduates of Mechon Hadar are now building and leading communities of prayer and learning. They have been empowered to create and sustain vibrant, practicing, egalitarian communities of Torah learning, prayer, and service.

Many factors combined to create this cadre of dedicated and passionate peer educators. And while Mechon Hadar did not appear overnight, its growth and success demonstrate what can be accomplished in a relatively short amount of time.

Towards a Pluralism of Substance

Does pluralism help or hurt the goal of fostering feelings of peoplehood? It depends on what we mean by “pluralism.” Pluralism is a difficult concept to define. In the March 2006 edition of Sh’ma, Susan Shevitz helpfully distinguishes between “coexistence pluralism” and “generative pluralism.” In the former, “people and groups holding different positions can still work toward shared goals.” In the latter, “Jews need to encounter people and ideas that are different from their own…and generate new approaches that draw from a multiplicity of perspectives.”

From Founder’s Dilemma to Founders’ Advantage

When someone asks me for advice these days about launching a Jewish start-up, I always ask first: “Who is your partner?” In my mind, this is much more important than the brilliance of the new idea or even the potential sources of funding. Launching a start-up is daunting, but launching a start-up alone is extraordinarily difficult.

Shai Held, Ethan Tucker and I launched Mechon Hadar in 2006 as equal partners. We had already known each other for a decade, and had worked together at Kehilat Hadar (as volunteer leaders) since 2001. In 2009, Avital Campbell Hochstein joined us, and together we formed Mechon Hadar’s executive team. The partnership model of leadership certainly has its own challenges, but ultimately I am not sure how we could have expanded to the readiness for second stage any other way.

The Settler's Spiritual Fathers

Tablet Magazine’s Liel Leibovitz speaks to Rabbi Shai Held, co-founder and dean of Mechon Hadar, an egalitarian yeshiva in New York, about the Kooks, the history of the religious Zionist movement, and why it is such a force in Israeli politics and culture today.

If I Forget Thee?

“Between Israel and the Diaspora: Where Do Jews Belong?” This was the theme of a “special day of learning” last Wednesday at Mechon Hadar, an innovative and dynamic institution on the Upper West Side of Manhattan that describes itself as “the first full-time egalitarian yeshiva in North America.” Most of the hundred or so participants in the program were college students from all across the country, for whom the special day was something of an interlude in the two-week seminar on “the people, land, and state of Israel,” in which they are still immersed. What made the day special was, in part, the presence of a few dozen other people, including much older people, who responded to the invitation to the general public to attend.

Wonder and Indignation: Abraham's Uneasy Faith

Rabbi Shai Held recently published the following article in the Jewish Review of Books.

"The book of Genesis never tells us why God fell in love with Abram. Jewish tradition has often tried to fill in the blanks, to tell us something about the patriarch that would explain God's embrace of him and his descendants. Surely, at least some of the rabbinic sages seem to have thought, Abram must have done something to earn God's affection? The most famous answer is that Abram fearlessly destroyed his father's idols, exposing the theological bankruptcy of idolatry. So celebrated and widespread is this story that many Jews are shocked to learn that it is not found in the Bible itself...."

Hitting Refresh on Jewish Spiritual Communities

This year marks the publication of the eighth edition of Slingshot, a resource guide for Jewish innovation. While not a scientific study of the field, the guide offers one of the longest lenses on innovation in the contemporary Jewish community, providing insight into where innovation has occurred and also where it is most needed.

Israel Discourse that’s True to Reality and True to Tradition

An op-ed by Rabbi Jason Rubenstein
American Jewish conversations about Israel are all too often repetitive, divisive, shrill, and superficial. There’s a better, truer mode of conversation: one that engenders moral and emotional honesty and nuance, that connects us to one another and to our shared sources of guidance and meaning. This model is nowhere better embodied than in the Talmud’s sustained engagement with Israel, as it consistently – and to many, surprisingly – speaks to the present in refreshing, evocative, and enlightening imagery and ideas.

Cantors Changing Tune To Stay Relevant

In Conservative and Reform movements, more song-leading and a blurring line between chazzan and rabbi.

Jewish Education “in a Café, Under a Tree, or in a Dorm”

In some ways, newly hired educators Jordan Magidson, Jessica Shimberg, and Zac Johnson each fit the expected profile for a Jewish educator. Magidson, who started work as a Nadiv Educator at URJ Camp Kalsman and Temple de Hirsch Sinai, completed a Master’s in Jewish Education from Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles. Rabbi Shimberg, currently Associate Director for Jewish Life and Learning at University of Maryland Hillel, received rabbinic ordination at Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. Rabbi Johnson, currently a Director of Jewish Enrichment in BBYO’s Western regions, is an alumnus of the Shalom Hartman Institute and Yeshivat Hadar’s summer program.

New S.F. minyan embraces idea of ‘empowered Judaism’

Participants in the Kehillah San Francisco minyan during tashlich at Stern Grove in San Francisco photo/julie bannerman The minyan was founded by a group made up of some members of San Francisco’s Congregation Emanu-El who were unhappy when 20-year veteran Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan’s contract was not renewed by the congregation in late 2010. The minyan has seen interest in its model grow and its number of participants increase, including many who are older than is typical in an independent minyan, with children in high school, college and beyond. But expansion is not a primary goal of the budding venture.

Getting the Jews Up and Singing

It’s a most unlikely place for a musical revolution, a studio tucked into an apartment building in a quiet block in Carroll Gardens, at the intersection of a residential neighborhood and a string of mom-and-pop stores of the sort Brooklyn still has in its quieter corners. Joey Weisenberg, whose studio (along with the dozens and dozens of musical instruments it contains) this is, is an unlikely revolutionary; he’s a sweet-faced young man who is celebrating is 31st birthday by speaking to a journalist about his vision of a more user-friendly 21st-century synagogue, one built around singing and spontaneity, combining two millennia of Jewish and liturgy with the modern energies of an actively participating congregation.

The Female Talmudists

Rosh Yeshiva Avital Hochstein is quoted in an article from the Jerusalem Post. A small but growing number of women’s schools in Israel are providing talmudic education to their students.

High Praise for Summer Institute

From July 9th through the 18th nine teachers of Rabbinic literature and other Judaic Studies subjects participated in the Executive Seminar, followed by four additional days of intensive learning. They hailed from nine different Schechter schools across the United States. This pilot program, initiated by the Schechter Day School Network, was a highly successful collaboration with Mechon Hadar that was funded in part by a grant from the Avi Chai Foundation.

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