The Emergent Rabbinic Pulpit

Feb 17, 2022
by admin

By Faith Leener, Executive Director, Base

 

As we continually reaffirm our organizational commitment to embrace the unknown, we open ourselves up to seeing our world and our work, anew. Base – our thriving network of pluralistic Rabbinic couples engaging young Jewish adults across the United States offers us a new lens through which to understand the Rabbinic pulpit.

 

As we continually reaffirm our organizational commitment to embrace the unknown, we open ourselves up to seeing our world and our work, anew. Base – our thriving network of pluralistic Rabbinic couples engaging young Jewish adults across the United States offers us a new lens through which to understand the Rabbinic pulpit.

 

Traditionally in the United States, Rabbis (Judaism’s most ancient form of communal leadership) have had three primary institutional structures to serve from:  a synagogue pulpit, a teaching position, or in a community organization (e.g. JCC, hospital chaplain, etc.) As we know well at Moishe House, this is not where the next generation of young Jews is showing up. They are in each other’s apartments, or at the coffee shop, bar, or gym down the street. They are in the metaverse, TikTok or on WhatsApp. And now, with the support and vision of many leaders and communities, they are also showing up to our Bases – seeking mentorship, spiritual guidance, and a community in which to explore our ever-shifting world and its impact on our lives and Jewish identities.

 

Base has become the non-denominational, non-institutional Rabbinate that the next generation of Jewish leaders seek to inhabit– it is the communal pulpit based in the heart of where life happens: our neighborhoods. As the global leader of post college, young adult Jewish engagement, Moishe House is primed to grow this program, and to attract early career Rabbis who seek to serve their peers in a fundamentally new way.

 

Since starting Base seven years ago, I’ve seen tremendous changes in the field of Rabbinics. When we first began to expand beyond our flagship pilots in New York City, I had to explain in painstaking detail, what Base is – how it is not kiruv work, and how it is different from the residential Moishe House model. If I got through that, then I had to convince young Rabbis it was worth the risk of not taking a more traditional pulpit. Truthfully and understandably, I was often unsuccessful. But a lot has changed in these last seven years. Today, dozens of early and mid- career Rabbis reach out to our team asking for a chance to build a Base, or advice on how to create something Base-like. When I dig into what that “Base-like” means, I usually hear something like, “I want to be with people. I want to help steward them through this turbulent moment in the world. I don’t want to wait for them to come in the doors of the synagogue, I want to go out to streets and meet them where they are.”  has been doing this work for years and programs like the Center for Rabbinic Entrepreneurship and the Beloved Builders Network have long waiting-lists for Rabbis who want to build new models of leadership and communal service.

 

Two things have become increasingly clear to me: Rabbis want to be with people, and people want and need more support than ever. The emergence of the joint economic and public health crises from the COVID-19 pandemic underscored the critical nature of the pastoral care that Base rabbis offer their communities. In fact, increasing evidence continues to emerge to demonstrate that young adults are being more heavily impacted by the emotional fallouts of COVID-19 than other age groups. 60% of young adults surveyed in 2020 by the Springtide Research Institute report feeling very isolated, and nearly half say they feel scared and do not want to be alone. Similarly, a study released by Brandeis University in January 2021 revealed that one in every four young adults surveyed feel lonely “often” or “all” of the time. The study went on to say, “The biggest danger facing young adults in a post-COVID world may not be medical or even economic, but emotional… Institutions and organizations in the Jewish community and beyond that serve young adults should recognize that social and mental health support might be the most pressing current need for young adults in the United States.”

 

Base Rabbis and their partners are doing this work. They are making space for uncomfortable conversations, hard feelings, and the emotional turmoil of our moment. They are creating safe gathering spaces, online and “IRL” (in real life). They are pastoring to the next generation who desperately needs it. Like the mishkan (tabernacle) that the Jews carried with them throughout their wanderings in the desert, our Rabbis are carrying their pulpit with them, from soul to soul.