As I read Rabbi Sid’s introduction to Jewish Megatrends: Charting the Course of the American Jewish Community, I felt a sense of relief. It affirmed much of what I’ve sensed about current trends in the American institutional framework and it acted as a sort of mirror, reflecting that the work that Kesher Pittsburgh* is doing is on the right track. I came away with a renewed sense that it’s valid, necessary and sacred.
In smaller and larger ways, there is alignment between the four propositions framework and the work that Kesher Pittsburgh is doing:
Chochma – While we are not focused on developing avenues to explore Jewish wisdom directly, we are intent on surrendering our traditional understandings in favor of translations, prayer forms and expressions which bring resonance and relevance to the modern moment. We are sensitive to issues of cultural/spiritual appropriation while exploring the natural connections between Judaism and other world religions’ beliefs, faiths and practices. This manifests through intentional consideration of the prayers (and translations) which comprise our services. While holding particular kavanot, we are liberal with keva, opening various “doors” as we welcome pray-ers who connect through different forms. As a result, we enjoy simultaneously learning Jewish ways and find sacredness in our connection to what’s present. Proceeding with curiosity and with more questions than answers, we revel together in wonder.
Tzedek – We believe that tikkun olam can take on many forms. Some folks pray with their feet on the front lines of marches while others go about the work of healing in quiet, and often unseen ways. We do not advocate one “right” way. Rather we teach that a good way is to lean into whatever way we can ripple positive impact at any given moment. We lift up social justice and collective liberation by participating in wider community efforts, by working to exemplify Jewish values, by thinking critically about tough questions (and often being humbled along the way), and by weaving these ideas and teachings into our consciousness through the substance of our gatherings.
Kehilla – Core to Kesher Pittsburgh’s mission is creating a strong community which shares in its members’ simchas, and where we hold one another in times of hardship. To us, this is a natural by-product of knowing one another and sharing experiences, both meaningful and mundane. We understand community as something that lives in the relationships between us (rather than being in a “place” where people come to drink from the trough of community). Also, we consider ourselves to be a community underpinned by Jewish values (rather than a “Jewish community”). We articulate ourselves in this way in order to be clear about what is at our core, without putting a boundary around who is at our core.
Kedusha – Kesher Pittsburgh’s kavannah around meaning and purpose has never been a strategic choice meant to attract a generation that sees the shortcomings of capitalism and consumerism. Rather, Kesher itself exists as a response to the very emergence of this awareness among us. Everything we do is a love song to each person who crosses our threshold (and to the rest of the world), helping us to make meaning and find purpose inside the paradoxes in which we live. We believe that “the only way to shift culture is to shift culture”. That is to say that we seek to counter the wider culture – to push back on assumptions, to disrupt expectations, to give space for unpacking some of our ingrained beliefs and practices, and to simply try things another way. We do this not because we want to be rebellious (though we don’t mind), but for the sake of moving toward a better way for us, for our elders and for the ones that we are raising up. This, in and of itself, is the sacred purpose which drives everything we do.
I also feel curious about the white fire: what lies between the four propositions, holding them together, bringing depth and further meaning to the work that we do. This led me to shift the second question slightly and ask myself “what is it about Kesher that’s not captured within the model?” What eventually emerged was the idea that what we’re “doing” misses something intangible: the motivations and beliefs which are fundamental to what makes our community sacred.
A primary (and fundamental) driver of everything that we do is that we are embodied, connective and earth-based in our understanding and practice. Of course, this is not an end to itself but rather is a compelling and natural way of practicing Judaism (and life!) and it has helped many of us to integrate Judaism into our lives in meaningful ways. Layered on top, there are some guiding principles such as:
- Strong, healthy identity comes from a place of deep love;
- The world is not binary; meaning can be found in the shades of grey;
- Being Jewish is not so much about being chosen as it is about doing the choosing;
- The richness and texture of our community comes from the tension between individual desire and collective good;
- Asking “what is this in service of?” is a great starting point and guiding question.
These teachings are sometimes explicit and more often implicit as scaffolds for our way of life. Even if not everyone is conscious of it, we are moving toward paradox as a practice in presence, and in service of creating a community which is alive and enlivening, compassionate and strong, spacious and held, human and sacred.
*Kesher Pittsburgh is an everyone-friendly, post-denominational, independent community underpinned by Jewish values. We are Priestess-led, feminist, embodied, earth-based, musical, magical and connective. Our activities currently consist of Kabbalat Shabbat (monthly), High Holiday and Rosh Chodesh gatherings. We are also involved in a variety of wider community collaborations from service leadership to social justice events to community conversations.
Kohenet Keshira haLev Fife is the founder and leader of Kesher Pittsburgh, an independent, everyone-friendly, post-denominational Jewish community. She is also an avid traveler, a community weaver, a ritual creatrix and a songstress who delights in sprinkling sparkles, disrupting expectations, and offering blessings wherever she goes.