Ideas for Nurturing Jewish Peoplehood with Warmth, Intimacy, and Self-Expression

image from Come & Listen
image from Come & Listen

[This essay is from The Peoplehood Papers, volume 13 – Jewish Peoplehood: What does it mean? Why is it important? How do we nurture it? – published by the Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education.]

By Hannah Kapnik Ashar

I believe we can nurture the perpetuation of a flourishing Jewish People through the following pursuits: cultivating warmth in community; permitting multiple authentic faces of Judaism; creating intimacy with God and Torah; and finding avenues for self- expression… Here are a few practices for cultivating these qualities.


Joey Weisenberg teaches in his work to Build Singing Communities, “If you want to build a bonfire, bring the logs close together.” The suburban arrangement of many American shuls (and much of American Jewish life) allows people to sit, sing, and pray at a distance. Choose intimate prayer spaces and ask that people come close during tefilot.


As a fellow at Yeshivat Hadar, I asked Aryeh Bernstein if he thought it was authentically Jewish to daven without a mechitzah, the traditional partition between men and women. He responded, “authentic like authentic to Abraham and Sarah, or like to 16th century Jews in Poland?” I realized the extent to which I had assigned ownership of ‘Authentic Judaism’ to the Orthodox. I opened to the reality of multiple Jewish paths, processes, and communities that embody authentic Torah values and manifest God in the world. What a liberating moment that was!

At Come & Listen, a new Jewish podcast, we encourage listeners to surrender to the absence of an authentic Judaism by broadcasting dynamic conversation between tradition and modern values – the authentic process of bringing Judaism into the next era.


On this year’s tefilah retreat, Jonathan Dubinsky facilitated an extremely intimate Torah service, in which the Torah scroll itself was an accessible tool for studying and loving Torah. You can, too:

  • Open the Torah to the entire parsha, leave it open through the Torah service.
  • Gather everyone directly around the Torah to see, cherish, and guard it.
  • Invite all present to read at least one sentence from the Torah, with or without cantillation, with no judgment from peers.
  • In each aliyah, ask readers to bring to light what they notice in that reading.

And intimacy with God?

As in Shaiya Rothberg’s workbook, “What Do You Mean When You Say ‘God,’” we need to continue to personally redefine that laden word in light of ultimate meaning. Experimenting with names of God may be helpful, too, in finding the right way to address Our Creator, Be-ing, You. Recently, I have started calling God ‘Ima’ (Hebrew for mother), inspired by the Chasidic “Tati” (Yiddish for father). This name honestly, tenderly reflects the gentleness, strength, and femininity of God I experience.


Experiment with honesty in prayer! Some great resources: Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi z’l’s Siddur Tehillat Hashem Yidaber Pi, helps identify the essence of the praise and requests of traditional prayer, translating into English that serves the intellect and the heart. Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels teaches prayer as a tool for cultivating yearning, gratitude, joy, sadness, and more as emotional education.

The haggadah teaches that “every person must see herself as though she came out of Egypt.” The future of Jewish Peoplehood is dependent both on engaging our vast intellectual and spiritual heritage, and on experiencing God, Torah, Judaism as alive and evolving within us.

Hannah Kapnik Ashar is co-founder of the new Jewish podcast Come & Listen and The Tefilah Retreat, an annual weekend of Jewish Spiritual Practice; and mother to her splendid daughter, Leiba Ziv.

JPeoplehood newThis essay is from The Peoplehood Papers, volume 13 – Jewish Peoplehood: What does it mean? Why is it important? How do we nurture it? – published by the Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education.