Jewish Renewal (Hebrew: התחדשות יהודית, romanized: hitḥadeshut yehudit) is a recent movement in Judaism which endeavors to reinvigorate modern Judaism with Kabbalistic, Hasidic, and musical practices. Specifically, it seeks to reintroduce the "ancient Judaic traditions of mysticism and meditation, gender equality and ecstatic prayer" to synagogue services. It is distinct from the baal teshuva movement of return to Orthodox Judaism.
The term Jewish Renewal describes "a set of practices within Judaism that attempt to reinvigorate what it views as a moribund and uninspiring Judaism with mystical, Hasidic, musical and meditative practices drawn from a variety of traditional and untraditional, Jewish and other, sources. In this sense, Jewish renewal is an approach to Judaism that can be found within segments of any of the Jewish denominations".
The term also refers to an emerging Jewish movement, the Jewish Renewal movement, which describes itself as "a worldwide, transdenominational movement grounded in Judaism's prophetic and mystical traditions". The Jewish Renewal movement incorporates social views such as egalitarianism, environmentalism and pacifism.
Jewish Renewal rabbi Barbara Thiede writes:
Jewish Renewal will joyfully embrace music, meditation, chant, yoga, and storytelling in the practice of Judaism. Jewish Renewal reads Torah as our deepest challenge and our most precious gift ... Jewish Renewal is about learning the why and not just the how. It's about plumbing the very depths of why so that we can hear our private and godly voices of truth ... Ideas, texts, tradition – Jewish understanding laced together in a sweet web of life so clearly that I could unpack the teaching as easily as I could unzip a boot.
The movement's most prominent leader was Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. Other leaders, teachers and authors associated with Jewish Renewal include Arthur Waskow, Michael Lerner, Tirzah Firestone, Phyllis Berman, Shefa Gold, David Ingber, and Marcia Prager.
Jewish Renewal brings kabbalistic and Hasidic theory and practice into a non-Orthodox, egalitarian framework, a phenomenon sometimes referred to as neo-Hasidism. Like Hasidic Jews, Renewal Jews often add to traditional worship ecstatic practices such as meditation, chant and dance. In augmenting Jewish ritual, some Renewal Jews borrow freely and openly from Buddhism, Sufism and other faiths.
Jewish Renewal, in its most general sense, has its origins in the North American Jewish countercultural trends of the late 1960s and early 1970s. During this period, groups of young rabbis, academics and political activists founded experimental chavurot (singular: chavurah) or "fellowships" for prayer and study, in reaction to what they perceived as an over-institutionalized and unspiritual North American Jewish establishment.
Initially the main inspiration was the pietistic fellowships of the Pharisees and other ancient Jewish sects.
Also initially, some of these groups, like the Boston-area Havurat Shalom attempted to function as full-fledged communes after the model of their secular counterparts. Others formed as communities within the urban or suburban Jewish establishment. Founders of the havurot included the liberal political activist Arthur Waskow, Michael Strassfeld (who later became rabbi for a Conservative congregation and then moved on to serve a major Reconstructionist congregation), and Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. Although the leadership and ritual privileges were initially men-only, as in Orthodox Jewish practice, the second wave of American feminism soon led to the full integration of women in these communities.
Apart from some tentative articles in Response and other Jewish student magazines, the early havurot attracted little attention in the wider North American Jewish community. Then, in 1973, Richard Siegel, and Michael and Sharon Strassfeld released The Jewish Catalog: A Do-It-Yourself Kit. Patterned after the Whole Earth Catalog, the book served both as a basic reference on Judaism and American Jewish life, as well as a playful compendium of Jewish crafts, recipes, meditational practices, and political action ideas, all aimed at disaffected young Jewish adults. The Jewish Catalog became one of the bestselling books in American Jewish history to that date and spawned two sequels. A much more widespread havurah movement soon emerged, including self-governing havurot within Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist synagogues.
By 1980 an increasing number of havurot had moved away from strictly traditional Jewish worship practices, as members added English readings and chants, poetry from other spiritual traditions, percussion instruments, and overall a less formal approach to worship.
In an interview (published in Zeek in 2012), scholar and folklorist Chava Weissler—who has been a "participant-observer" in both the Havurah movement and in Jewish Renewal—articulated her sense of the differences between Jewish Renewal and the Havurah movement as it evolved:
CW: I often use the following metaphor: the Havurah movement represents the Misnagdim and the Renewal movement the Hasidim of the Jewish counter-culture. The style of the Havurah movement is more cognitive, and the style of Renewal is more expressive and devotional. Also, the Havurah movement has a deep aversion to the "rebbe" model, while the Renewal movement has seen it as a way into a heightened spirituality.
ZEEK: The Hasidim/Misnagdim analogy is a fascinating one, though I can see how some folks in the Havurah movement might have bones to pick there.
CW: Especially because we saw ourselves as reinstating Hasidism, or parts of it. Some years ago, a well-known Renewal teacher taught at the Havurah Institute. I asked him how he felt it compared to the Kallah and Renewal. And he said, 'the havurah movement is so unspiritual, it really bothered me ... when they have a study class, they go in, open the text, study, close the text and you're done. When I teach a class, we sit in silence, we open our hearts to the text, we sing a niggun, we study the text, we process what's happened to us, then we sing another niggun and sit in silence again to receive what we've received.'
My havurah friends were outraged that he would say the Havurah movement isn't spiritual! But it's a different model of spirituality and also of study ...
Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, a Hasidic-trained rabbi ordained in the Lubavitch movement, broke with Orthodox Judaism beginning in the 1960s, and founded his own organization, The B'nai Or Religious Fellowship, which he described in an article entitled "Toward an Order of B'nai Or". "B'nai Or" means "sons" or "children" of light, and was taken from the Dead Sea Scrolls material, where the "sons of light" battle the "sons of darkness". Schachter-Shalomi envisioned B'nai Or as a semi-monastic ashram-type community, based upon the various communal models prevalent in the 1960s and 1970s. This community never materialized as he envisioned it, but B'nai Or did produce a number of important leaders in the Renewal movement. It also produced the B'nai Or Newsletter, a quarterly magazine that presented articles on Jewish mysticism, Hasidic stories and Schachter-Shalomi's philosophy. The masthead of this publication read: "B'nai Or is a Jewish Fellowship established for the service of G-d [sic] through prayer, Torah, celebration, meditation, tradition, and mysticism. We serve as a center to facilitate people in the pursuit of Judaism as a spiritual way of life."
Schachter-Shalomi was strongly influenced by Sufism of Islam and Buddhism, even translating some of the prayers into Hebrew. He also focused more on urban sustainable living than rural culture, and suggested for instance interconnected basements of houses in urban neighborhoods that would create collective space (especially for holidays), while providing the level of privacy secular life had encouraged. Some of these ideas have influenced urban economics.
In 1985, after the first national Kallah (conference) gathering in Radnor, Pennsylvania, the name was changed from B'nai Or to P'nai Or ("Faces of Light") to reflect the more egalitarian perspective of the rising feminist movement. Together with such colleagues as Arthur Waskow, Schachter-Shalomi broadened the focus of his organization. In 1993 it merged with The Shalom Center, founded by Waskow, to become ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal.
In 1979, Waskow had founded a magazine called Menorah, which explored and encouraged many creative ritual and social issues from a Jewish perspective. It was in this publication that Waskow coined the term "Jewish Renewal". In 1986, Menorah merged with The B'nai Or Newsletter to become New Menorah, now available online through ALEPH. The new version of the publication addressed Jewish feminism, the nuclear arms race, new forms of prayer, social justice, etc. Several of the early New Menorah issues explored gay rights, and became an important catalyst for opening this discussion in more mainstream synagogues.
The greater cohesion and focus created by B'nai Or/ALEPH and its magazine led gradually to the spread of Jewish Renewal throughout the United States and, by the close of the century, to the establishment of communities in Canada, Latin America, Europe and Israel.
By this time, the beginnings of institutionalization were in place, in the form of the nonprofit organization ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, the rabbinical association OHaLaH, and an increasingly formalized rabbinic ordination program that today is accepted by the National Council of Seminaries which includes the heads of all major non-Orthodox North American Rabbinical and Cantorial Training programs.
Statistics on the number of Jews who identify themselves as "Renewal" are not readily available. However, the evidence of Renewal influence can be found throughout the spectrum of Jewish denominational affiliation and in many diverse other arenas of Jewish life. it is not uncommon for congregations that are not associated with the Renewal movement to feature many Renewal influences. These include workshops on Jewish meditation and various Judaized forms of yoga which may even be incorporated into religious services. "Chanting" and "healing" services have become increasingly common. Many melodies and liturgical innovations have found their way into the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist movements. Rabbis and Cantors trained by the ALEPH Ordination Program, the Jewish Renewal seminary, have begun to serve congregations with other affiliations and bring Renewal-informed influences to these environments.
Jewish Renewal is "part of the burgeoning world of transdenominational Judaism—the growing number of synagogues, rabbis and prayer groups that eschew affiliation with a Jewish stream".
Rabbi Marcia Prager writes:
Jewish Renewal is a "movement" in the sense of a wave in motion, a grassroots effort to discover the modern meaning of Judaism as a spiritual practice. Jewish-renewalists see "renewal" as a process reaching beyond denominational boundaries and institutional structures, more similar to the multi-centered civil rights or women's movements than to contemporary denominations.
The ALEPH Ordination Program emerged out of ALEPH founder Reb Zalman's earlier project of training and ordaining an inner circle of students, many with extensive yeshiva backgrounds, to be inspiring progressive post-denominational community organizers and spiritual leaders.
The ALEPH Ordination Program has grown to become the largest rigorous liberal Jewish seminary in North America, comprising 4 schools: • Rabbinic Program • Rabbinic Pastor Program (training Jewish clergy specializing in pastoral care) • Cantorial Program • Hashpa'ah Program (training Jewish Spiritual Directors)
Enrollment in these four programs embraces over 90 students from all denominational backgrounds, from the US, Canada, Europe and Israel, who study both locally and through ALEPH courses and retreats. The rabbinic students undertake a rigorous academic program comprising a minimum of 60 graduate-level courses and practica covering a comprehensive curriculum of rabbinic education. Cantorial students are masters of liturgy and nusach, traditional and contemporary Jewish music, western and non-western traditions, and also fulfill course requirements in Jewish history, philosophy, text, thought and practice. Rabbinic Pastors are specialists, trained to provide Jewish wisdom, spiritual direction, support, and counseling in chaplaincy and in congregational settings. The Hashpa'ah Program offers a three-year concentration in Jewish Studies and Jewish Spiritual Counseling and Guidance, leading to Certification as Mashpia/Spiritual Director.
Since 1973, more than 200 Jewish Renewal spiritual leaders have been ordained through the ALEPH Ordination Program and/or its predecessor the B'nai Or/P'nai Or Ordination Program.
The ALEPH Ordination Program is unique in its blend of low-residency and residential components. Semester-length seminars and courses are offered using state-of-the-art live videoconference technology, while winter and summer residential retreats bring students and faculty together as a living-learning community for in-depth intensives and practica.
AOP offers both a fully accredited Master of Divinity degree and Doctor of Ministry Degree in cooperation with New York Theological Seminary (NYTS)
Details about the curriculum and philosophy of the AOP can be found on the AOP website.
Critics of Jewish Renewal claim that the movement emphasizes individual spiritual experience and subjective opinion over communal norms and Jewish textual literacy; Jewish Renewal is sometimes criticized as New Age, touchy-feely and stuck in the 1960s.
The ALEPH website offers the following response:
Jewish Renewal is sometimes referred to as "New Age" by people who do not know that meditation, dance, chant, and mysticism have been present in Judaism throughout the ages and not, as some mistakenly believe, patched on to Judaism from other cultures or made up out of whole cloth. Sadly, some of our authentic, time-honored beliefs and practices have been lost to assimilation, leaving many contemporary Jews largely unaware of them. This is a major reason why so many spiritually sensitive Jews have sought spiritual expression in other faith traditions. It is an important part of ALEPH's mission to make the "hidden" treasures of Judaism known and accessible to these seekers.
Many Jewish Renewal techniques, ideas, and practices have become mainstream and are now familiar to Jews across the denominations:
Three decades after Reb Zalman began reaching out to disenfranchised Jews with a hands-on, mystically inflected, radically egalitarian, liturgically inventive, neo-chasidic approach, many of the techniques he pioneered—from meditation to describing God in new terms--are widely employed in mainstream settings.
Despite the prevalence of Renewal practices, ideas, and teachings across the denominational spectrum, Jewish Renewal is not always known or credited with having originated these teachings and ideas. "Our influence is penetrating much deeper into the mainstream, but without acknowledgement," said Rabbi Daniel Siegel. "There is still a lot of ignorance and prejudice toward us in other movements."
Like all religious movements, the movement faces challenges today. Some within the Renewal community maintain that the movement has been more successful in providing occasional ecstatic "peak experiences" at worship services and spiritual retreats than in inculcating a daily discipline of religious practice. Others have observed a tension within the community between those who prefer to focus on liberal social activism on American, Middle East and global issues; and those who favor an emphasis on meditation, text study and worship. And as a summer 2017 article in The Forward notes, there are tensions within ALEPH that have led many of its recent and in particular younger leaders not directly associated with the movement's early years to walk away, preferring to pursue the renewal of Judaism outside that organization.
These, together with the challenge of training and recruiting future generations of leaders, are among the issues facing Jewish Renewal today.
The Jewish Renewal movement emphasizes meditation, dance, chant, and mysticism, borrowing from Buddhism, Sufism, Native American religion, and other faiths.
They incorporate elements from other traditions such as reggae and gospel, and even a Jewish version of yoga.
Abbe Lyons was one of the first three American women to be ordained as cantors in the Jewish Renewal, along with Susan Wehle and Michal Rubin. They were ordained on January 10, 2010. She now works for the Congregation Tikkun v’Or in Ithaca, New York, where in addition to being a cantor she leads the bar and bat mitzvahs.Prior to becoming a cantor, Lyons earned a degree in voice performance from Ithaca College, then moved to California to study the Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education. It was there that she became involved in Jewish Renewal.Arthur Waskow
Arthur Ocean Waskow (born Arthur I. Waskow; 1933) is an American author, political activist, and rabbi associated with the Jewish Renewal movement.Baal teshuva movement
The baal teshuva movement is a description of the return of secular Jews to religious Judaism. The term baal teshuva is from the Talmud, literally meaning "master of repentance". The term is used to refer to a worldwide phenomenon among the Jewish people. It is distinct from the Jewish Renewal movement, which is not Orthodox.It began during the mid-twentieth century, when large numbers of previously highly assimilated Jews chose to move in the direction of practicing Judaism. The spiritual and religious journey of those involved has brought them to become involved with all the Jewish denominations, the most far-reaching stage being when they choose to follow Orthodox Judaism and its branches such as Haredi Judaism and Hasidic Judaism. This movement has continued unabated until the present time and has been noted by scholars who have written articles and books about its significance to modern Jewish history.
This movement among the Jewish people has produced a corresponding response from the various Jewish denominations and rabbis, particularly from Orthodox Judaism, which calls its response kiruv or kiruv rechokim ("bringing close/er [the] distant [ones]") or keruv. The terms "baal teshuva" (Hebrew: בעל תשובה) and kiruv are often linked together when discussing both the return of Jews to traditional Judaism and the outreach efforts and other responses to it. Increased Reform Judaism outreach and Conservative Judaism outreach has propelled the movement, in addition to the growing "movement" of Post-Denominationalist Judaism.
In 1986, New York magazine reported:
The people making this sweeping change in their life grew up in a secular world. They went to good colleges and got excellent jobs. They didn't become Orthodox because they were afraid, or because they needed a militaristic set of commands for living their lives. They chose Orthodoxy because it satisfied their need for intellectual stimulation and emotional security.Chabad offshoot groups
Chabad offshoot groups are those spawned from the Chabad Hasidic Jewish movement. Many of these groups were founded to succeed previous Chabad leaders, acting as rivals to some of the dynastic rebbes of Chabad. Others were founded by former students of the movement, who, in forming their own groups, drew upon their experiences at Chabad.
Since the founding of Chabad in 1775, the movement has had seven leaders, or rebbes. There were at least eleven leaders of the offshoot groups, who were either relatives or students of the Chabad rebbes.Chaya Gusfield
Chaya Gusfield is an American, Northern California attorney, known for being one of the two first openly lesbian rabbis ordained by the Jewish Renewal movement. Gusfield and Rabbi Lori Klein were ordained at the same time in January 2006.Gusfield was a legal services lawyer, and director of a community mediation program prior to joining the rabbinate. She is the Assistant Rabbi and B'nei Mitzvah Coordinator for Beth Chaim Congregation in Danville, California. Prior to this, she served as one of the Spiritual Leaders for the Renewal Synagogue in Alameda County, California, and as the Program Director for Kol Shofar, a Conservative Synagogue in Tiburon, California. Gusfield graduated from the New College of California with an LL.B.She and her partner live in Oakland, California with their daughter Yeshi.David Markus
David Evan Markus (born 1973) is an American attorney, public officer, rabbi and spiritual director. He currently serves as Deputy Chief Counsel in the New York State Judiciary, Judicial Referee in New York Supreme Court, co-chair of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, and co-rabbi of Temple Beth-El of City Island (New York City, New York). Markus formerly served as Special Counsel to the New York State Senate Majority. A leader of Jewish Renewal, Markus resides in Westchester County, New York.
Sometimes, David Evan Markus is confused with David Oscar Markus, an attorney in Miami who also graduated from Harvard Law School.Debra Kolodny
Debra Kolodny is a bisexual rights activist, congregational rabbi and Executive Director of Nehirim. She came out as bisexual in 1984. She edited the first anthology by bisexual people of faith, Blessed Bi Spirit,to which she contributed "Hear, I Pray You, This Dream Which I Have Dreamed," about Jewish identity and bisexuality. She was the National Coordinator of BiNet USA for five years and facilitator of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's National Religious Leadership Roundtable from 1998 until 2004. She has also been interviewed by several major news outlets for stories on bisexuality, such as the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Toronto Globe and Mail.Debra Kolodny joined Pnai Or, Portland’s Jewish Renewal congregation, as its rabbi in September 2011. Before moving to Portland she served for 9 years as the Executive Director of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal. Debra also served the northern Virginia community of Shoreshim for four years, was a lay leader at Fabrangen in Washington DC for 13 years and was the founder and spiritual leader of the Pnai HaSadeh learning minyan for 5 years. In March 2013 Debra began to split her time between P’nai Or and Nehirim, a national community of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Jews, families, and allies, committed to a more just and inclusive world, where she serves as Executive Director.She is listed in the Bisexuality-Aware Professionals Directory under the category of "Pastoral / Religious."Eden Village Camp
Eden Village Camp is a co-ed Jewish sleep-away organic farm camp in Putnam Valley, New York. It is a non-profit sustainable-living "farm-to-table" camp founded by Yoni Stadlin and Vivian Lehrer, located on 248 acres (100 ha) touching the Appalachian Trail, 50 miles north of New York City.Havurat Shalom
Havurat Shalom is a small egalitarian chavurah in Somerville, Massachusetts. Founded in 1968, it is not affiliated with the major Jewish denominations.
Havurat Shalom was the first countercultural Jewish community and set the precedent for the national havurah movement. Founded in 1968, it was also significant in the development of the Jewish renewal movement and Jewish feminism. Originally intended to be an "alternative seminary", instead it evolved into a "model havurah".Founders and members of Havurat Shalom have included Edward Feld, Merle Feld, Michael Fishbane, Everett Gendler, Arthur Green, Barry Holtz, Gershon Hundert, James Kugel, Alfred A. Marcus, Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Jim Sleeper, Michael Strassfeld, and Arthur Waskow. Historian Jonathan Sarna has noted that among these members were "the people who would be leading figures in Jewish life in the second half of the 20th century”.Lori Klein (rabbi)
Lori D. Klein is an attorney known for being one of the two first openly lesbian rabbis ordained by the Jewish Renewal movement. Klein and Chaya Gusfield were ordained at the same time in January 2006.Klein serves as an oncology hospital chaplain at Stanford University Medical Center.Klein is a Jewish community activist.She was chair of the Board of Directors of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal from 2009 to 2012.She lives in Santa Cruz, California. Klein used to be an attorney, but no longer has an active law license in California. Klein graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1985.Lynn Feinberg
Lynn Claire Feinberg (born 1955) became the first female rabbi in Norway in 2009. She was born in Oslo. She is an adherent of Jewish Renewal, and is the founder and spiritual leader of Havurat Kol haLev, the first Jewish Renewal havurah in Oslo.She is also a historian of religion, specializing in women and Judaism, and is trained as an astrologer and an eco-kosher mashgiach.Lynn Gottlieb
Lynn Gottlieb (born April 12, 1949 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania) is an American rabbi in the Jewish Renewal movement.In 1974, she founded the now-defunct feminist theater troupe Bat Kol.In 1981, she became the first woman ordained as a rabbi in the Jewish Renewal movement; she was ordained by rabbis Zalman Schachter, Everett Gendler, and Shlomo Carlebach.She authored She Who Dwells Within: A Feminist Vision of a Renewed Judaism (1995).In 2007 she was selected as one of The Other Top 50 Rabbis by Letty Cottin Pogrebin.Gottlieb led a Fellowship of Reconciliation delegation to Iran in 2008, thus becoming the first female rabbi to visit Iran in a public delegation since the 1979 Iranian Revolution.A 2013 dissertation from the University of New Mexico's department of anthropology, “Storied Lives in a Living Tradition: Women Rabbis and Jewish Community in 21st Century New Mexico,” by Dr. Miria Kano, discusses Gottlieb and four other female rabbis of New Mexico.Gottlieb supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.Michael Lerner (rabbi)
Michael Lerner (born 1943) is an American political activist, the editor of Tikkun, a progressive Jewish interfaith magazine based in Berkeley, California, and the rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue in Berkeley.Neo-Hasidism
Neo-Hasidism is a name given to contemporary Jewish trends of a significant fusing or revival of interest in the teachings of Kabbalah and Hasidism by members of other existing Jewish movements. Among non-Orthodox Jews, this trend stems from the writings of non-Orthodox teachers of Hasidic Judaism like Martin Buber, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Lawrence Kushner, Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Arthur Green. This is usually associated with the members of the Jewish Renewal movement. A second form of this trend is found within the Modern Orthodox Jewish community, and is referred to as Neo-Chassidus, involving those who are Modern Orthodox but have taken interest in the works of Hasidic masters.Rachel Barenblat
Rachel Barenblat, the "Velveteen Rabbi," is an American poet, rabbi, chaplain and blogger who was ordained as a rabbi in 2011 and as a spiritual director in 2012. In 2013 she was named a Rabbis Without Borders fellow by Clal, the Center for Learning and Leadership, and in 2015 was named co-chair of ALEPH: the Alliance for Jewish Renewal along with Rabbi David Markus. In 2016 the Forward named her one of America's most inspiring rabbis.Shir Yaakov
Sam Benjamin "Shir Yaakov" Feinstein-Feit (born February 27, 1978) is an American liturgist, singer-songwriter, composer, and prayer leader. He is a co-founder of the Kol Zimrah minyan and musical director at Romemu, the largest Jewish Renewal community in New York. As a musician, he has recorded three full-length albums and has performed with the groups Darshan and The Epichorus.Tirzah Firestone
Tirzah Firestone (born May 27, 1954) is a Jungian psychotherapist, author, and Jewish Renewal rabbi. She is the founding rabbi of Congregation Nevei Kodesh, a Jewish Renewal synagogue in Boulder, CO, and is now Rabbi Emerita there. She was ordained by Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi in 1992 and is a leader in the international Jewish Renewal Movement.
Widely known for her work on Jewish feminism and the modern applications of Jewish mystical wisdom, Firestone teaches nationally on Jewish ancestral healing and the common boundary between ancient Jewish heritage and modern psychology.
Firestone is an active Member of Aleph: Alliance for Jewish Renewal (1994–Present) and the Ohalah Rabbinic Association (2003–Present). She was the National Co-Chair of T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights (2009-2010) and is currently serving on the board of the Yesod Foundation (1997–Present).
Tirzah Firestone was raised in an Orthodox Jewish family in St. Louis, Missouri. Firestone was the fifth of six children born to Sol and Kate Firestone. She is the younger sister of Shulamith Firestone. She went to Hebrew day schools through high school. Firestone earned her Masters Degree in Holistic Counseling from Beacon College in 1982; and her doctorate in depth psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, CA, in 2015. After graduating, she spent an extended period living in Israel and working on Kibbutz Ma'ale Gilboa and Moshav Amirim. She also apprenticed in Jerusalem with Rabanit Leah Sharabi, the wife of Kabbalist, Rabbi Mordechai Sharabi, who influenced her greatly. In her memoir, Firestone tells the story of how her first husband inspired her return to Judaism by means of his own faith and love of Judaism. Firestone remarried in 1999 to David Friedman. Together they have three grown children.Yonassan Gershom
Yonassan Gershom is a Rabbi and writer who was ordained in the Jewish Renewal movement during the 1980s and is now a follower of Breslov Hasidism. He was associated with the early days of the B'nai Or movement, a forerunner of Jewish Renewal, in which he was ordained by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi in 1986, although he is not in agreement with the direction that the movement has taken in more recent yearsGershom lives on a farm in rural Minnesota, where he writes and conducts himself as a "cyber-rabbi" on the Internet. In 1997 he made a pilgrimage to the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in Uman, Ukraine, a trip that has strongly influenced his later writings. Until this point, "he wasn't aware how much the rural experience shaped Hasidism. It gave him a deeper understanding of Hasidic stories and the Torah." He has served on the Advisory Board of the Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) and is active in the vegetarian and animal welfare movements. In 2013 he was widely quoted as opposing the use of live chickens for Kapparot ceremonies.Gershom is best known for having written several books on the topic of the Holocaust and reincarnation. Beyond the Ashes and From Ashes to Healing recount stories of people who claim to have died in the Holocaust and are now reincarnated, while Jewish Tales of Reincarnation deals with Jewish accounts of reincarnation, including a few from the Holocaust but mostly others from classical Jewish texts and oral tradition.
In his books on reincarnation, he discusses theories concerning whether Jews who died in the Holocaust did so as punishment for their sins in their previous lives. He argues that in the Jewish conception of evil and reincarnation (as opposed to the conception found in some other religions), suffering in this life is not necessarily punishment for wrongdoing in a previous life. Rather, he argues, undeserved suffering in this life can be purely due to the wrongdoing of the perpetrators and not some punishment for the victims. He does, however, argue that, according to the Jewish concept, wickedness can be accumulated over a succession of reincarnations. Thus, he argues, it is possible that the Nazis committed the Holocaust due to the evil they had accumulated through many lifetimes of persecuting and killing Jews throughout the preceding centuries. He cites that Adolf Hitler might have been a reincarnation of the biblical Amalek.Gershom has appeared on several TV programs in connection with his reincarnation work, including Sightings and Unexplained Mysteries. The Duluth, Minnesota PBS station, WDSE, also featured him on their Venture North news magazine show in connection with his philosophy on gardening and Jewish spirituality. He appears in the 2007 documentary film, A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World, directed by Lionel Friedberg for the Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA).
Although he is best known for his books on reincarnation, Gershom is also a lifelong pacifist and peace activist, who has written many articles on Judaism and nonviolence, later collected into an anthology entitled Eight Candles of Consciousness. He was active in the peace movement in Minneapolis during the 1980s, and publicly protested against the policies of Meir Kahane. He is also a supporter of gay rights, basing his stance on equal rights under the law rather than theology. He graduated from Mankato State University in 1975 with a Bachelor of Science degree in German language and Native American Studies.Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
Meshullam Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (28 August 1924 – 3 July 2014), commonly called "Reb Zalman" (full Hebrew name: Meshullam Zalman Hiyya ben Chaya Gittel veShlomo HaCohen), was one of the founders of the Jewish Renewal movement and an innovator in ecumenical dialogue.