By: Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah
“At Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah, we see this as a moment of incredible opportunity… to make Jewish teaching and practice a vibrant resource for answering life’s most important questions…. Jewish wisdom can make our lives and the world better. This is the moment to act on this proposition and make it the watchword of the next great movement in Jewish life.”
As the Founding President of Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah, Dr. Jonathan Woocher (z”l) articulated a vision for the future of Jewish life that continues to guide our work. Following his charge, our mission is to help people apply particular Jewish wisdom to universal human questions; and we strive to do so in all aspects of our grantmaking, Prize, convenings, communications, network building, and thought partnership.
“I learned from and treasured every conversation with Jon,” said Joe Kanfer, a close friend of Dr. Woocher and a Founding Director of Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah. “His clear-eyed understanding of the Jewish world combined with an unquenchable optimism helped shape the worldview of educators and lay leaders alike. In Jon’s work we can see the roots and the branches of the incredible renaissance of Jewish life which we are experiencing today. At Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah we are proud to be carrying on his work.”
But Dr. Woocher also taught us that this vision represents a paradigm shift from the “continuity-focused” orientation that pervaded (and continues to pervade) much of the Jewish community. This means that the new paradigm is not only a vision to strive for, but also a hypothesis to be tested. In that spirit of curiosity, it requires answering fundamental questions, including:
- What are life’s most important questions today?
- How can Jewish wisdom help people answer them?
- What are the biggest challenges and opportunities of this approach?
We are heartbroken that we no longer have Dr. Woocher as part of our team answering these questions, and we constantly find ourselves asking, “What would Jon do?”
While the particular answers vary depending on the situation, one unifying theme remains constant: more research. Dr. Woocher pushed LKFLT to make research an essential part of our work. From sponsoring research exploring the impact of our inaugural Lippman Kanfer Prize for Applied Jewish Wisdom, to commissioning a study of Jewish sensibilities, to dreaming of a fellowship in educating for applied Jewish wisdom (which eventually became a reality through a partnership with JTS’s Davidson School of Education), he helped us develop a culture of rigorous reflection and curiosity.
To honor this tremendous contribution to our work and to the shaping of the future of Jewish life, we are very moved to announce the creation of the Dr. Jonathan Woocher Research Fellowship (the “Woocher Research Fellowship”). Starting this summer, LKFLT will sponsor Woocher Research Fellows to explore topics that helps answer the question of how Jewish wisdom can be applied to universal human questions that people navigate in their day-to-day lives.
We are thrilled to announce that the inaugural research fellow will be Rabbi Dr. Vanessa Ochs. Rabbi Dr. Ochs introduced Jewish sensibilities as a framework for thinking about Jewish life; and that framework was deeply influential on both Dr. Woocher and our Foundation.
“Long before I knew Jon Woocher as a colleague,” said Rabbi Dr. Ochs, “he was my mentor, for his work opened up my eyes to new ways that American Jews were expressing themselves and finding meaning through communal ritual. That he eventually trained his sharp eye on my own work on Jewish Sensibilities was a great honor and I valued our conversations that sharpened my thinking. His work continues to inspire and challenge me; I miss him greatly. It is a great privilege to be the inaugural Jonathan Woocher Research Fellow and to pay tribute to his contributions in this way.”
Rabbi Dr. Ochs’ will explore how particular Jewish sensibilities are being turned to in the contexts of healing (personal and communal) and healthcare, especially scenarios in which these sensibilities intersect or conflict, as well as those in which a negative guise of the sensibility may come into play. We are very excited to learn more from Rabbi Dr. Ochs’ scholarship on this important topic.
Although Dr. Woocher did not live to see this Fellowship, we hope it would make him proud.
“Nothing defined my father more than his intellect, curiosity, and love of learning,” said Dr. Meredith Woocher, “so I can’t think of a better way to honor him and keep his memory alive than the Woocher Research Fellowship. My mother, Sherry Woocher, and I are very grateful to Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah for bringing this to life. We are eager to read and learn from the new scholarship that Woocher Fellows will create in the coming years!”
If you are a researcher interested in a Woocher Research Fellowship, please contact Rabbi Ayalon Eliach, Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah’s Director of Learning and Strategic Communications at [email protected]. We are currently seeking proposals from researchers to study the data collected from the most recent Lippman Kanfer Prize for Applied Jewish Wisdom. More information can be found here.