People, not programs
Heed the call: ‘Base’ educational philosophy
At Base, we strive to model authentic Jewish living in real time. Our rabbis and partners teach Torah not only in the form of scheduled classes and events but in how we greet guests into our home, how we imbibe and reflect back the news, how we engage with (or disengage from) social media, how we decorate our homes and how we react if and when our children “interrupt” our lesson plan.
Seven years ago, together with our spouses, we brought to life a shared dream. A dream of creating a new type of pluralistic communal rabbinate not dependent on denomination or institution, a platform for the next generation of young rabbis to serve our peers in the most authentic way we know – through welcoming them into our homes and lives. With our neighborhoods as our pulpit and our families as the offering, we built relationships with thousands of young Jews and their partners and friends.
If this model sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Chabad has been using radical hospitality as a vehicle for transformation in Jewish communities for years. We felt it was time that rabbis and Jewish leaders outside of the ultra-Orthodox community heed the ancient call of Abraham and Sarah and open our tents. Today, we are proud to have 10 diverse couples leading this movement from a wide spectrum of Jewish backgrounds in New York, Chicago, Boston and Miami.
Thanks to the support of many teachers, mentors, philanthropists and visionaries, this dream is still unfolding and even beginning new chapters. In March 2021, we became a part of Moishe House, the global leader in post-college Jewish engagement. And in the Summer of 2022 we will open two new Bases in the Bay Area and Denver.
As we enter our seventh year, our shmita year, we have an opportunity to take stock and offer a cheshbon hanefesh, an accounting of the soul, of the work we do, and why. It’s in that vein that we offer our educational philosophy to you, our colleagues in the field.
1. At Base, we strive to model authentic Jewish living in real time. Our rabbis and partners teach Torah not only in the form of scheduled classes and events but in how we greet guests into our home, how we imbibe and reflect back the news, how we engage with (or disengage from) social media, how we decorate our homes and how we react if and when our children “interrupt” our lesson plan. We believe in the need of a Torah that speaks to the vulnerabilities and struggles of our time, in real time, in real life.
2. At Base, we do not own a monopoly on truth and “the” Jewish way (though we regularly recommend our teacher Rabbi Yitz Greenberg’s book of the same name). Instead, we invite “Basers” into our homes, humbly and vulnerably, and engage them on their own path of discovery and learning. Still, we believe passionately in our Jewish practice and traditions and are proud to share about the choices we’ve made along the way. We invite students to explore the Jewish calendar through radical hospitality, to tap into the wellsprings of Jewish thought, to engage in acts of love (gmilut hasadim) in service of our local community. We believe deeply that there is always much more to learn, not only for our Basers, but for our own selves.
3. At Base, we strive for “ldaber bilshono,” “to speak in their language,” as The Piaseczno Rebbe wrote. We do this naturally because it is our language as well: We are the millennial rabbis our generation seeks: Rooted in tradition, open to the world and unafraid of a damning question. To this end, Instagram, Substack, YouTube all become new kelim, vessels in which to share our rabbis’ Torah with the world. We maintain the sanctity of panim-el-panim encounters over coffee or tea or now Zoom. We prioritize a pastoral encounter over a plug and play conference.
4. At Base, we encourage rabbis to lean into their strengths and we respect our partners as integral in our Base rabbinate. All too often in the Jewish communal landscape, our partners are intended to be “on.” At Base, rabbinic partners are compensated since they are key shapers of our Basers experiences and our work. What the partners’ role looks like is for the partner to decide and explore, but what is shared is a commitment to using the home as the launch pad for Jewish life and exploration.
5. At Base, we believe in people, not programs. Full stop. We are privileged to help shepherd souls through a small but potentially monumental chapter of their lives. Our rabbis are pastors, teachers of Torah, social justice activists, writers, musicians, scholars and artists. We believe that sharing and teaching what we love will set other people on fire, and hopefully inspire the question, “What nourishes my soul?”
6. At Base, we believe in the Jewish family – in its varied and diverse forms. We know our destinies are inherently bound up and intertwined with each other, no matter where we live or what political or religious affiliation we hold. We strive to make space for all who are genuinely curious and eager to learn as we know there is a fifth child to the Passover haggadah like the Lubavitcher Rebbe once taught, the child who doesn’t show up. At Base, we strive to make room for those of you who don’t feel like you belong, with the hope that when you do show up, you will be most welcome.
Some of these ideas took to paper last year when we co-hosted an evening called “Heed the Call,” a zoom session exploring what Base work looks like for rabbis in training. We didn’t know how many would show up, or what interest it would garner. Over thirty rabbinic students from Reform, Conservative, Renewal, Reconstructionist and Modern Orthodox seminaries showed up. The conversation was rich, and the questions nuanced. We left the evening feeling inspired by the many emerging leaders eager to work in this role and build a new type of communal rabbinate for the next generation.
Our work and our learning is ongoing and unfolding but if these ideas inspire you in any way or if you know of a rabbinic educator who they might speak to, please do consider sharing this article and learning more about our work through our website. Lastly, if you are eager to apply to join a revolution of Torah and chesed, working with souls hungry for authentic accessible Yiddishkayt, please join our march. We need you to write the next chapter of the Base dream.
Faith Leener is the executive director of the Base movement. Rabbi Avram Mlotek is the mashgiach ruchani, spiritual director, of the Base movement.