Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu
RWB Vision Statement
Rabbis Without Borders envisions a world where Jewish wisdom is a source for wellbeing for anyone anywhere. The rabbis in the RWB Network, are committed to pushing the borders of what it means to be a rabbi today. We seek to share our Torah in pluralistic, innovative ways grounded by a sense of service to all. While Rabbis Without Borders does not define itself by these four propositions, our work is aligned with each of them in some way.
Lives of Sacred Purpose/Kedusha
Everything we do is infused with sacred purpose or kedusha. As rabbis, the individuals involved in RWB have committed themselves to a life of scared purpose and see their jobs as helping others to do the same. Our goal in sharing Jewish wisdom, traditions, and practices is to help each individual where ever they are on their spiritual journey to use Judaism as a source for deeper meaning and purpose in their lives. (See also Flourishing below)
RWB challenges rabbis to use Jewish wisdom to speak to contemporary needs and trends. Sharing Jewish wisdom outside of the context of people’s lived experiences will not help them find meaning in the tradition. To that end, we educate the rabbis about the sociology of religious identity today so that they can understand the larger American and global context in which they are working. We introduce the rabbis to advances in communications through technology so that they can make the best use of the tools available to them to share Jewish wisdom. We train them in adopting a pluralist approach to issues so that they can speak, teach, and learn with people on opposite sides of ideological divides. In addition, we familiarize rabbis with new methodologies like Positive Psychology to explicate Jewish wisdom and practices. After introducing each new concept or idea, the rabbis work on integrating their new knowledge with the Jewish wisdom they already have in order to share it in innovative ways. An incredible number of new communities, nonprofits, programs, curricula, and writings have emerged as a result of their RWB experience.
RWB provides a community for the rabbis who are a part of the RWB network. They rely on each other for support, inspiration, necessary challenges, and questions. They help each other move forward in their quest to share Jewish wisdom in more meaningful and accessible ways. The sense that they are pioneers testing new ideas holds them together and allows for experimentation and growth both personally and professionally.
As a result of the community the rabbis have created for themselves, they are better able to create community for others. Several report strengthening their own synagogue communities or creating new spiritual communities after learning from their RWB experience.
RWB is not a social justice organization in the traditional sense of the word. However, we have a commitment to lift up the voices of the unheard in our communities and practice true pluralism in hearing their voices. This can manifest in different contexts in different ways. In a liberal community it would be instructive to lift up conservative voices and vice versa. Lifting up these voices, we believe will bring all of us closer to understanding each other and solving some of the problems which are inherent in our society.
In addition, we are committed to serving the underserved Jewish population. There are many communities across the country that do not have access to a rabbi for a variety of reasons. As a group, the RWB rabbis committed two days of time a year to volunteer their services to these communities. The RWB Service Corp was just launched this fall, and seven matches have been made so far.
There are at least two areas where we are working outside of the four propositions. The first is leadership development. RWB by design is a program for rabbis to increase their efficacy as communal leaders and organizers. To move the Jewish community forward, we need leaders who can act in many different spaces with a pluralist and open mind set. The rabbis in RWB are trained to have this mindset and how to use it. Pluralism is promoted in everything they do, and this is why they can be effective in so many different areas. They focus on the human being in front of them and meet him or her where they are. They do not try to make them over in their own image. This pluralist, human-centered approach we believe is crucially needed in the Jewish community today.
In addition, RWB focuses on human flourishing. We do use Jewish wisdom to help all of us flourish in our lives, to be better humans, parents, children, bosses, workers etc. Jewish wisdom is not just limited to the Jewish community. Anyone should be able to access it and use it. In our increasingly multicultural world, for Judaism to remain meaningful it must be seen as a valuable resource to all. We are embarking on experimentation and research to test our theory that different Jewish practices and pieces of wisdom can be useful in helping people be more themselves and live fuller, more meaningful lives.
Rabbi Rebecca W. Sirbu is the Director of Rabbis Without Borders at Clal. She is also the manager of the Rabbis Without Borders blog on myjewishlearing.com. Previously she was the Director of the MetroWest Jewish Health and Healing Center providing mind, body, and spiritual services from a Jewish point of view.