American Jewish life is in a time of transition that calls for bold, new thinking and the development of new models for identification. Membership and affiliation patterns that have sustained synagogues and other legacy Jewish institutions for more than a century are eroding. At the same time, we see a dramatic growth of interest and energy in new expressions of Jewish community. Some are focused on learning; some are focused on social justice; some are focused on contemplative practice and spirituality; some are focused on food and environmental sustainability; some are focused on prayer. Some look like synagogues; some do not. Each sector has seen one or more organizations emerge that have either seeded the phenomenon or have created a network to sustain and support the phenomenon.
Defining "Communities of Meaning"
What the sectors have in common is that they employ a particular idiom unique to contemporary American culture that attracts other Jews with similar interests. The richness of the Jewish heritage is literally being re-invented in our time by the way in which Jewish wisdom is being applied to the challenges that confront our world today. If properly nurtured and encouraged, these “communities of meaning” can form the nucleus of an American Jewish renaissance. Communities of meaning are networks of individuals that are inspired by ideas or practices that enrich the lives of participants and/or significantly improve conditions in the world for others.
Using the Hebrew word for “portal” or “entranceway”, the Kenissa Network brings together the people leading contemporary efforts to re-define Jewish life and community so that they can learn from each other and be supported in their efforts to create communities of meaning.
- At annual Consultations every March, Kenissa convenes 50+ individuals whose work reflects innovative approaches to Jewish life. Participants benefit from seeing their particular endeavors in the context of a changing socio-political landscape and a rapidly changing Jewish community. Significant thinkers and practitioners beyond the Jewish world also enrich and broaden our conversation.
- Our website hosts a weekly blog, providing thought leadership for this emerging trend.
- Every December, Kenissa‘s national “Cross-Training” taps into the expertise of members of the Network. Any Kenissa Consultation participant can bring a team from their organization to this capacity building gathering.
- Network members may also participate in one or more Communities of Practice ranging from sustainability to organizational culture.
- Kenissa‘s most ambitious project is to create a national database of communities of meaning in American Jewish life. Individuals who would like to have their projects listed should fill out this form.
Kenissa is an independent project housed at Hazon. It is led by Rabbi Sid Schwarz, the founder of several cutting edge Jewish organizations and initiatives and the author of, among other books, Jewish Megatrends: Charting the Course of the American Jewish Community. Co-sponsors of the Initiative are the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, JOIN for Justice, Mechon Hadar and UpStart. Over the course of the next five years we intend to build and collect a body of knowledge and broaden the universe of participants. It will eventually incorporate thinkers and practitioners from other faith communities in America. The Kenissa: Communities of Meaning Network is being supported by lead funding from the William Davidson Foundation.
Rabbi Sid on the Kenissa Network
- “JFNA’s Remarkable Pivot, And Me”, November 2019
- “Re-Imagining Jewish Communal Life”, May 2019
- “Jewish Communities of Meaning: Ideas Matter”, May 2018
- “Introducing the Kenissa Network: A 21st Century Pathway into Jewish Life”, March 2017
Kenissa in the News
- JTA, February 18, 2021:
- Jane Shapiro and Rabbi Sarah Tasman write about the track they chaired at Kenissa’s Cross-Training entitled, “Adult Jewish Learning as a Spiritual Practice”.
- “Sid Schwarz and Others Discuss What’s Trending” by Jane Eisner, Forward, April 2013