Though spirituality is an essential aspect of Judaism, the kinds of mind-body-spirit practices that are growing in popularity today – things like meditation, vision-boarding, and chanting, to name a few – are seldom associated with the practice of main stream Judaism. Last summer, a few members of conservative synagogue, Temple Beth Ahm in Aberdeen, asked why not?
“Our community was still feeling the after-effects of super storm Sandy and the energy in the synagogue felt lagging,” said Bonnie Farin, past Sisterhood president at Temple Beth Ahm. “We had recently heard about Federation’s Jewish adVenture Fund, which provides seed money to help innovative Jewish programs get off the ground, and we decided to apply for an adVenture grant to help us create a ‘spiritual rebooting’ day for the entire Jewish community.”
Bonnie took the lead on creating the program, enlisting facilitators, Rabbi Lisa Malik of Temple Beth Ahm, Rabbi Laurence Malinger of Temple Shalom, Rabbi Michael Jay of the Jewish Community Center of Long Beach Island, and music from Ariel Wyner.
The program consisted of a service where all the participants joined in communal prayers for emotional and spiritual healing. The music provided an inspirational accompaniment. “Thanks to Ariel’s music, there was a lot of hand clapping, swaying, and hugging,” Bonnie said. “What feels better than a hug?”
Following the group service, participants selected one of two breakout sessions geared to more personal, inward reflection. The first breakout was a meditation workshop, led by psychologist, Dr. Barbara Fleischer of Aberdeen, who has been leading and teaching mindfulness practices for many years. Bonnie lead the other breakout session, called “A Date with an Angel.”
For her “Date with an Angel” session, Bonnie (who is an award-winning photographer) displayed a wide array of beautifully captured, thought-provoking, wallet-sized photographs she had taken in advance. Participants were instructed to select the shot(s) that struck a chord for them in some way and write something brief but meaningful relating to the photo on its back. The photos were then laminated to be kept as a source of inspiration or comfort at one’s fingertips whenever needed. Many people chose to share why they selected a particular photo and what their writing on the back meant to them.
“I selected two copies of the same shot and wrote the identical saying on back of each,” reports Vicki Cohen, who participated in the Date with an Angel session. “…one for myself and one for my sister. I felt like having identical touchstones would strengthen our feelings of connection to one another.
“The whole day was very uplifting. I felt very peaceful afterward.
“Without the Jewish Federation’s adVenture Fund, this idea would never have even been conceived, let alone executed,” Bonnie said. “Without the financial help to make it happen, we would not have even dreamt up the idea. Not only did Federation enable us to present the program, it enabled all the participants to recharge on a deep, personal level.
“I find it ironic that the adVenture Fund is about seeding innovative solutions for the Jewish community. A spiritual rebooting sounds very innovative and “new agey,” but it is actually rooted in the most ancient practices,” Bonnie noted. “Oh, well, I guess everything old is new again.”
The Jewish adVenture Fund is Jewish Federation’s incubator for innovative Jewish ideas in Monmouth County. It is designed to encourage creativity, collaboration, and new generations of Jewish program leaders, granting seed money not necessarily covering an entire budget but helping new ideas get off the ground. Schools, synagogues, and Jewish institutions are encouraged to apply, though applicants need not be affiliated with a synagogue or other Jewish institution.