From Base to Center
What Judaism looked like five hundred years ago was vastly different to Jews five hundred years prior; and the future is no different. Today, however, we can appreciate our crucial place in that eternal link of transmission from generation to generation and build out our institutions accordingly.
In 2017, my wife Jessie and I moved from New Jersey down to Miami to launch an innovative project called Base, piloted by Hillel International’s Office of Innovation, and partnered with the University of Miami Hillel, the Greater Miami Jewish Federation (GMJF) and the Mason Glasier Fund for Jewish Identity. We were tasked with engaging the graduate school and young professional population in Miami to explore what it might look like to build a home-based pluralistic Jewish community, deeply rooted in Jewish values and texts. The Base model, now under Moishe House and in multiple cities, uses the home of a pluralistic rabbinic family as a central meeting place for Jewish life and learning. After our initial two year pilot here in Miami, GMJF absorbed our local branch allowing us to continue to grow our programming and expand our reach. With the tremendous vision and support of our local federation, Base Miami was able to partner with a wide variety of local and national organizations, synagogues, programs and initiatives to more deeply engage in our work of building a pluralistic Jewish community extending the boundaries of our own home and personal world-view to include the varied voices, perspectives, understandings and connections to the eclectic tapestry of Jewish peoplehood.
As a relationship based model centering deep personal relationships, we were able to expand our programming and experiences in direct response to the needs of our community and participants. The relationships and connections we built across the denominational spectrum to local synagogues, institutions and programs allowed us to direct and connect people to the spaces, services, classes, gathering teachers and rabbis that were best for them. We built Base Miami into a pluralistic resource reflecting the diversity of Jewish life today and serving as a jumping off point to many other modes of communal involvement. This was only possible because we never had a denominational mandate, membership model or an “institutional” gathering space.
Courtesy of base
Recognizing our place in the expansiveness of Jewish history and tradition, we strove to meet individuals in our community where they were rather than assume we had any ‘right’ way of practicing and living a Jewish life. We encouraged and guided them to direct their own unfolding life and accompanied them along their path connecting them to Jewish texts, practices and sources along the way. What Judaism looked like five hundred years ago was vastly different to Jews five hundred years prior; and the future is no different. Today, however, we can appreciate our crucial place in that eternal link of transmission from generation to generation and build out our institutions accordingly. And, we are not bound to frameworks and structures that were once successful in their relegated time and place. The same way rabbis of the second century designed and implemented prayer after the destruction of the Temple in an attempt to preserve a ritualized connection with the Creator, in the age of science, technology, social media and wide-spread spirituality-seeking, we owe it to our people, our ancestors, and all that our tradition has to offer, to re-assess the frameworks and structures we have thus far relied on. We are not alone in this endeavor to make Judaism accessible and relatable to a new age of Jews, and we are honored to have partnerships and relationships with all walks of Jewish leadership pursuing this holy work for the continuity and preservation of the Jewish people.
Base was a remarkable opportunity and invitation to listen deeply to what modern Jews are asking; of me as a rabbi, our family as an educational resource, and of themselves as the living, breathing embodiment of the bridge between the past and the future. How and where do they fit in the diversity, complexity and vastness of Judaism and Jewish life? The truth is, only each individual can answer this question for themselves. All I can do is walk with them as they navigate the answers that most resonate with them and their lives. Fortunately, our people have amassed a remarkable library of texts, rituals, holidays, poetry, customs and celebrations amidst the cornucopia of Jewish traditions allowing and encouraging us to explore more deeply how to connect and continue this collective Jewish peoplehood rooted in our shared wrestling with the Infinite Holy One.
It has been a tremendous honor to have been given this opportunity to connect with Jews of all backgrounds. Learning from the diversity of Jewish life only enhances and clarifies the fullness of the picture of what Judaism is and will grow to be. Each voice, denomination, contribution, and challenge offers yet another dimension and facet to the ever-changing Jewish collective.
I believe the operating principles and values at the core of Base Miami–a people-centered, ritually and textually rooted, pluralistically welcoming hub for all–can be at the core of the future of Jewish communal living. I am humbled to take on the role of chief programming and engagement officer at the Center for Jewish Life Miami and Beth David. In this role, I, along with Rabbi Julie Jacobs and the executive leadership of CJL, will continue to further this exploration of Judaism and its people to build an institutional home for our evolving, growing, and expanding peoplehood. The Center will strive to bring together the varied and diverse voices of Judaism and Jewish life from across the denominational spectrum to further help individuals and families more deeply engage with their personal exploration of their Jewish identity and connection to this eclectic and diverse Jewish community.
At the Center our programming, classes, community gatherings and social events, will be rooted in the ideals of a pluralistic Jewish community where we can learn from the vastness of Jewish tradition and life. We will also welcome rabbis from across the denominational spectrum to share their Torah – whatever most deeply connects them to Judaism and to the Jewish people. This open invitation draws on the beauty of each denomination, practice, and framework, while offering a platform for rabbis and educators to share their personal connection to Judaism. Through this sharing, our community and participants can hear and learn from the multiple voices of Judaism today, enhancing their own understanding and connection to all our tradition offers.
The core of our work is working with people and individuals as they navigate their Jewish lives. The peoplehood component is finding a community to wrestle with alongside our own personal journey. “Mah tovu ohalecha Yaakov mishkenotecha Yisrael-How goodly are the tents of Yaakov, the dwelling places of Israel (Numbers 24:5).” Our peoplehood is our collective wrestling while supporting one another’s unique, intimate and personal individual wrestling. The Center for Jewish Life and Beth David has recognized this need to rethink and reimagine a Jewish communal space that simultaneously honors the values and teachings contributed by denominational Judaism while supporting the uniqueness of individuals and their need to learn from the varied voices and teachings of Jewish life today.
As always, this next chapter is only possible because of all that has come before. The chapters yet to be written will be possible because of whatever we build today. Join us at the Center for Jewish Life Miami and Beth David.
Rabbi Adam Gindea is chief programming and engagement officer at the Center for Jewish Life and Beth David.