Announcing Hadar’s Jewish Wisdom Fellowship Cohort

With support from the Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah, we are thrilled to announce Hadar’s Jewish Wisdom Fellowship Cohort. We have selected an outstanding cohort of professionals who represent a diverse background, age range, and have a wide reach within the many corners of the Jewish communal field.

Our world has greatly shifted over the past few months, leaving each of us searching for wisdom to help us navigate deep moral, intellectual, practical and ethical questions.

Jewish professionals play a unique role in this moment as those who are shepherding every corner of our community through these times of uncertainty. We were overwhelmed to receive over 270 nominations for this fellowship, and over 250 suggested questions to guide our learning. People are longing for ways to guide their own communities, and the Jewish canon is a great place to start.

The idea is not new. For millennia, during times of trouble and challenge, Jews have turned to the vast resources of Torah for guidance and inspiration. We intend to do the same. The 32 Jewish professionals and clergy members that make up this cohort will explore Jewish texts and probe our heritage for meaning and purpose. The fellowship will culminate with a final project, determined by each cohort, to share their learnings with the broader Jewish professional field. We hope they will return to their communities with the awareness that the Jewish canon is a treasure trove of moral, intellectual, and practical wisdom.

In order to take the pulse of our broader community, we asked the public to submit questions that are on their mind related to the pandemic. People submitted an extremely diverse range of questions that they are seeking Jewish wisdom to help address in this current moment. We received questions about everything from “How can we sustain the community remotely, when so much of our community-building relies on proximity?” to “How do we remain inclusive and welcoming even though we are afraid?” It is clear that we are collectively concerned about what the future holds for so many aspects of our communal and individual lives.

While we can not possibly address all of these questions in this fellowship, we want to share some of those questions with you, in the hopes that others in the broader community can work together to address some in the coming months.

Here are the questions that seem most prevalent, according to our analysis of the questions submitted.

Leadership, Community and Education

  1. What are the types of leadership that resonate and are effective in this time?
  2. How can we take advantage of this moment to make fundamental improvements to the Jewish professional sector that reflect our values while realizing the rapid transformation of the modern world?
  3. How do we shift the onus of religious life off of the specialist and back into the hands of the general population?
  4. How can we break down communal silos and work collaboratively to address the needs of a larger population?

Technology and Virtual/Remote Judaism

  1. How do conversations surrounding technology during COVID-19 reveal the boundaries and limits of what we consider to be acceptable, recognizable, and nourishing Jewish practice for our communities?
  2. What happens after the pandemic? Will Jews return to their synagogues, or will the ease and convenience of virtual worship become the new normal?
  3. How can/will Jewish organizations serve individuals and families in a future where Judaism becomes more home-based? How do we educate our kids during this time?

Diversity and Inclusion

  1. What critiques of “back to normal” do we need to crucially hear?
  2. What do we assume about Jewish communities today and who have we left behind because of those assumptions?
  3. How can we center the most marginalized in our communities? How can Jewish communities better support & lift up Jews of Color?

Tzedakah and Social Justice

  1. How do we divide scarce resources in times of need?
  2. How do you pay people fairly when the income isn’t coming in?
  3. How should we prioritize the pressing issues that will face people in our communities – whether Jewish or not?
  4. How will the Jewish community respond to issues of racism, equity, and inclusion and the gross disparities the virus has highlighted?

Looking to our past to inform the future

  1. What are parallels in Jewish texts to COVID-19, and what are the key values in Jewish law that can guide our thinking?
  2. What disruptions to the status quo have worked for Jewish communities in the past? What can we take from those models?
  3. How can our Jewish history inspire the type of leadership and solidarity we need in our community right now?

Adapting, Uncertainty, and Long Term Effects

  1. How do we face a crisis that has no predictable timeline?
  2. What should we keep from the innovations and learning we’ve taken from this pandemic? What have we always done that we clearly can live without?
  3. How do we create the space to both address the immediate needs but continue to work towards the long term needs?
  4. How can you attend to your community’s spiritual and emotional uncertainty?

Tefilah, Theology, and Spirituality

  1. What does a meaningful, communal, prayer experience look like when we can’t gather in person?
  2. How do we maintain a spiritual practice when so much of Judaism is about being connected to community in person?
  3. How do we bring ourselves and our community closer to God when there is so much sadness, death and negativity around us? What can our tradition offer us to anticipate, hold, and move through personal and collective grief?

Halakha and Practical Jewish Living

  1. How do we balance traditional Halakha practices with the current needs of the community?
  2. How does transferring Jewish life into a smaller sphere (the home) change what feels meaningful about traditions and rituals?
  3. How does COVID-19 influence the way we traditionally think about visiting and attending to the sick?
  4. Why are we so upset about the electronic adjustments that are being made? Does God really care? How is this any different than the rabbis who anticipated that prayer would replace sacrifice?