I had a conservative Jewish education, but except for the music, felt unfulfilled spiritually by Jewish practice until I found Jewish Renewal 30 years ago. Reb Zalman's attitude that one could be a Jewish practitioner of generic religion was a perfect fit for me. Aleph has given me the opportunity to explore, with fellow spiritual travelers (my "rebbe chaverim"), the growing edges of Jewish music, ritual, art, and prayer without fear of condemnation. By now many of my friends have become the rabbis and cantors of the next generation of Judaism. My teenage daughter naturally considers herself a "renewal Jew."
I first experienced the Jewish Renewal perspective over a Shabbat weekend with Reb Zalman in the late 1970's. It opened me back up to my Judaism and started me on a journey of spiritual exploration within Judaism that has lead me to being active with Aleph. This is connection with my spiritual roots that run deeper and wider than any other I have experienced. Being at an Aleph gathering truly brings me to a place of joy and learning like no other in contemporary Jewish America.
As a young person who wandered away from Judaism looking for spiritual experience, it was Aleph and Reb Zalman who showed me it was all in Judaism, in deep and real ways. Thus my life changed and led me to the path I currently trod.
Raised in a Socialism Atheistic household in Brooklyn, my Jewish connection was cultural. When my marriage was breaking up and I sought help American Indian spiritual advisor friend Grehalva Grey Wolf told me "you're Jewish. You need to talk to a Rabbi". This sent me on a quest for my authentic Jewish roots. When I found Reb Zalman and Jewish Renewal about 27 years ago it was the beginning of the foundation of "home" in Judiasm. I was welcomed where I was and offered a large and varied plate to explore. While I appreciate wisdom in all Spiritual traditions I know where my roots are and delight in the teachings.
Aleph and all the renewal movement opens my soul. A place to dance, sing, shake and be with nature in a way that no other place can open that soul space for me. The various leaders and Rabbi who have explored subjects that make you sit aat the edge of your seat....
Finally, an organisation that wants to bring the joy back into Judaism! When I'm in Aleph circles, I feel guilt-free and invited to be creative. There is a deep sense of the love of the Jewish people, the honour of the customs with the openness of outside influence and the re-discovery of internal beauty of our tradition. Praying in Aleph communities can be full of laughter, movement, meditation, soul-sharing or all of the above!
I attended this year's Kallah, since it was in Ohio. The Renewal congregation here is terrific: the Rabbi is intelligent and the members are my age. But I digress. I had to tell you about the Kallah. It was unbelievable, chock full of things to do and opportunities to participate, too. But the one thing I want to tell about is their handling of the "disability" issue. I, being disabled, wanted to participate in everything. And, I couldn't without a maximum expenditure of energy. The events were all over; the buildings were not accessible; and the transportation was not coordinated. What I want to say, is that it was faced up to like a mensch. They admitted their faults and offered me whatever I needed. They also offered me the next year's planning! I think, though late, they stepped up to the plate!
ALEPH has played a key role in my Jewish development since 2000. The people are a mix of, on the religious spectrum, those who could be labelled 'fundamentalist' & 'secularist'. But primarily liberal religion & progressive in critical respects such as gender equality, broad inclusivity Similarly, political views range from anti-Zionist to 'far right' religious nationalists. It is a society, an environment encouraging us to see who we can be as JEws.