Associate Rabbi Aaron Alexander of Adas Israel Congregation in Washington is one of 13 people selected for a yearlong fellowship program, Jews Beyond Reason.
Alexander and the other LEAP fellows will hear leading Jewish scholars explain their research on emotions, feelings, imagination, impulse and intuition. These topics will be discussed through history, literary criticism, philosophy, psychology, anthropology and art.
LEAP, which stands for leverage, expand and popularize, is a joint fellowship program with the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and Clal — The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a leadership training institute that aims to build bridges across communities.
Participants will spend two days on three separate occasions at the Katz Center.
“It’s actually a phenomenal fellowship. It hits all the right questions,” said Alexander, who came to Adas Israel after serving as associate dean and lecturer at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles.
The idea of the fellowship is to translate scientific research into religious and spiritual life, Alexander said. “We brainstorm together. Having access to these scholars and being able to sit and talk with them is great.”
He said that discussions revolve around “some of the most important questions Jews are tapping into.”
The first of the fellows’ three meetings took place Nov. 2-3 and centered on ancient Jewish prayer practices and the Jewish Renewal movement in the United States and in Israel.
Alexander said he learned about prayer techniques used during the Second Temple period. After speaking to fellow clergy at Adas Israel, the synagogue began a new Shabbat prayer experience called “Shabbat Awakening,” he said. It “integrates some of the ancient prayer with modern spiritual techniques.”
What he learned during the first session will help him “translate modern scholarship into dynamic Jewish life,” he said.
The next meetings are planned for January and March.
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, Clal president, said this year’s program will center on “new perspectives on the Jewish inner life.” The goal is to leverage “great ideas so that [the participants] reach and serve the widest possible audience.”
Study will incorporate the Dead Sea Scrolls and Jewish New Age spiritualism. Discussions will revolve around what to do once what happens in the Jewish institutions stop relating to you, he said. “It’s a living laboratory.”