Open Dor Project Announces its First Cohort of Spiritual Startup Leaders/Communities

By Rabbi George Wielechowski
and David Cygielman

When the Open Dor Project announced its first call for applications in eJP four months ago, our team and our selection committee could never have imagined the inspiring diversity of emerging Jewish spiritual leaders and communities we would encounter. As a new, initiative focused exclusively on supporting spiritual startup leaders and their communities, we just didn’t know, frankly, what exactly we would find out there. In a world where the very meaning of the words “spirituality” and “community” are changing so rapidly, would there be a critical mass of brave Jewish clergy leaders doing this path-breaking work and searching for their own community of practice? Moreover, would there be populations seeking out new models of Jewish spiritual community to help them fulfill a missing yet core piece of their own life journeys?

We were overwhelmed (in all the best ways) by the reception from dozens of spiritual leaders across the country, who each shared their very different visions and expressions of what it can look like to be a connected, spiritual people. It has been truly gratifying to see that many entrepreneurial clergy are hard at work building vibrant Jewish spiritual life in new ways and that so many otherwise unaffiliated Jewish individuals, couples, and families are lining up to participate – when given an opportunity that fits their lives and needs.

There are the communities providing paths of artistic expression and healing into Jewish life; the one-on-one networks giving unconditional welcome where it hasn’t been felt before; the communities bound together by music or the sacred place where fine arts and Jewish spirituality meet without judgment; the micro-communities of interest groups activated around common passion or cause; the synagogue reboot; the activists deeply rooted in Jewish spirituality; the urban renewers and the suburban re-imaginers. The majority of communities we encountered are intergenerational, with a core participant base in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. All of these communities successfully empower a much less traditionally affiliated generation to embrace communal leadership and a sense of real ownership over their Jewish journeys, while simultaneously creating a needed diversity in the expression of Jewish sacred space.

And that’s only a small glimpse into the unbounded creativity – in form and content – that is the hallmark of these innovators and, perhaps, the harbinger of our Jewish future.

All in, we spoke to 55 rabbis around the country building, or hoping to build, new visions of Jewish spiritual community; 31 applied; we had the difficult task of narrowing it down to 8 finalists; and we are proud to announce today the 4 talented and inspiring spiritual startup leaders in our Year One Cohort:

  • Rabbi Dan Ain, Because Jewish     Brooklyn, NY
  • Rabbi Adina Allen, Studio Am        Berkeley, CA
  • Rabbi Dan Horwitz, The Well         Detroit, MI
  • Rabbi Ari Moffic, CoHere                Chicago, IL

You can learn more about each of these leaders and their communities here. Cohort members will receive multi-year funding, training, and the support of a learning community made up of their spiritual and entrepreneurial peers.

A key learning for our team is that while there are many talented entrepreneurial spiritual leaders entering the space, it is incredibly challenging for most of these leaders to raise funds or participant contributions prior to having several years of operations. The need for extreme bootstrapping is a serious barrier to entry for spiritual startup teams that we hope the philanthropic community will help in lowering.

Our sages encouraged us to remain open to the idea that the journey to meaning and purpose would naturally come in different forms for different people: “All the words [teachings, interpretations, approaches, models] were given to us by one Shepherd, one God created them, one Provider gave them, the Lord of all deeds, Blessed be He, has spoken them. So make yourself a heart of many rooms …” (Tosefta – Sotah 7:12).

So many of us today are inclined towards building for ourselves hearts with many and varied spaces within, waiting to be filled with a diversity of approaches to loving, connecting, and living. If our experience in the first year of the Open Dor Project is any indication, we’re going to be blown away by how many creative Jewish spiritual communities are out there – just over the horizon – looking to help us fill every one of those rooms with abundant blessing.

Rabbi George Wielechowski is the founding director of the Open Dor Project.
David Cygielman is the founder and CEO of Moishe House.