Post-denominational Judaism and Jewish Education

Learn to Read Hebrew, Chant Torah, and Explore Alternative Paths to Bar and Bat Mitzvah

Jewish education deepens when you learn to read Hebrew and chant Torah, unlocking a treasure trove of learning, wisdom, fantastic stories and an eloquent ethical guide, given to us by our ancestors.

There are many possible paths. There are infinite ways to live a Jewish life – a different way for every person. Whether you are a passionate congregant in a synagogue, you prefer Havurah or home-centered celebrations or you don’t observe at all – and anything in between, Torah and Jewish learning are the keys to owning your Jewish experience. The key is being able to read Hebrew – this unlocks Jewish learning! Jewish education starts with the alef-bet and there is no end to what you can discover about the world and yourself.

Why learn to read Hebrew? One of the reasons an individual starts on the path of learning to read Hebrew is in preparation for Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah. Becoming a bar or bat mitzvah is a spiritual passage, and chanting Torah before your community is that passage is celebrated. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that learning Hebrew and Torah are a spiritual engagement. Learning in an unhurried and supportive environment, with tools to help you learn in your own style, makes preparing for Bat and Bar Mitzvah services pleasant for both students and family. Remember, it is never too late to learn the alef-bet. Adult B’nai Mitzvah events are awesome and rewarding experiences!

Alternative path to Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah. Access to a synagogue or Rabbi should not be a barrier for someone to learn Torah! Homegrown ceremonies and celebrations of Bar and Bat Mitzvah are real and sacred events when given adequate preparation and kavannah (prayerful intention). What I love to do is to help Jewish families discover an alternative path to Bar Mitzvah  or an alternative path to Bat Mitzvah, including learning the elements of Hebrew and prayer necessary, and creating a service that is inclusive and meaningful to you and your community.

“At this very moment, for the peoples and the nations of the earth,
May not even the names disease, war, famine, and suffering be heard.
Rather may their moral conduct, merit, wealth, and prosperity increase,
and may supreme good fortune and well-being always arise for them.”

Auspicious Wish – Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche – 20th century Tibetan Buddhist Lama

Lately, as my heart aches with the news of the world, I have been pondering how Jewish prayer can facilitate my desire to pray for humanity. We are not alone in this world. We are all one family, living in different ways, but our hearts beat the same, our tears all taste salty and our chests hurt the same when we cry.

The tribe of my birth and ancestry is Jewish, and so the language I usually speak when I talk with the Divine is a mishmash of multi-denominational Jewish Prayer (in Hebrew or English depending on my whim) with a personal flare of my own experiences and aesthetics.

As a child, in addition to the treasures of Judaism, stories by the Hassids and the cheerful glow of candles and festive meals, I was initiated into teachings and prayers of Tibetan Buddhism. When I set out to daven or to pray, I have the siddur, the prayer book that serves as a guide for my words and intentions, in much the same way it has my ancestors for countless generations. But when my heart is moved to prayer spontaneously, it is often the Buddhist prayers, the noble prayers I learned as a child, that come to my lips.

These are prayers that yearn for all suffering to be relieved, for poverty and hopelessness to be banished, for war and tragedy to be unknown. They bubble up when I feel moved to pray for the soul of a crushed animal or a dying person, that their light may speed quickly to back to God, that they endure no agony in their passage.

I know that at the source, all faiths and religious traditions share the yearning to make the world whole, complete, healed… Over the years, as our Jewish prayer books have been canonized, it seems these noble prayers I assume must have been there once have been lost or overlooked, with a few exceptions. I feel it is time to recover them and include them in our most earnest daily prayers.

For those of us who pray for Moshiach, for the Messianic spirit to come to our world and end strife, war and suffering, the language we use places the responsibility of bringing such change upon the Divine. In truth, we all have the power to relieve suffering and prepare the world for peace and wholeness. The language of the Auspicious Wish, above, feels like a prayer directed within as well as without. We can pray to God and simultaneously remind ourselves that the changes we want to see in the world must originate in ourselves, and noble wishes must guide our every actions to the best of our limited human capacity.

It would be easier for me to pray daily, to pray instead of worry or obsess, to pray instead of grow despondent, if I remembered to include noble prayers in my sacred dialogue with God. I am grateful for the interfaith influences of my childhood and how they help inform my Jewish faith today.

Seder plate

When I was a child, Passover was a main feature of the Jewish year. It seemed most of the families in our small West Sonoma County town of Occidental had at least one Jewish parent, and these beautiful Jewish families created home grown Seders. Pot-luck style havurah is how I describe my childhood Judaism, but our potlucks were Post-denominational Judaism.

One of the parents would copy and paste together readings and brachot from various sources and we would use our Haggadot year after year, until they were dog-eared and splattered with Manishewitz wine and the sepia shadows of Charoset. My mother would assemble the seder plate, my father would play the guitar, and the children would hunt for the afikomen and run wild in an overgrown yard in the increasing twilight.

We were Jewish and we knew it. We couldn’t explain what Judaism was, but we knew how it felt, how it sounded and tasted… We lived our Judaism, without walls, without definitions… This was my first experience with what I call “post-denominational Judaism.” I believe it was a reaction on the part of our parents who were forced into a religious life that felt empty or controlled, or for others whose Jewish education was entirely absent. As adults many of them felt allergic to synagogues. Others found the 40 minute drive to the nearest shul tedious.

We have a difficult challenge in rural America: Jewish centers should be central to the communities, but have enough participants that they feel vibrant and full. There are many Jewish families living on the outskirts of towns and in rural communities. How can we invite God to dwell in our midst? Invite God to a potluck!