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There is a vast amount of diversity across the Reconstructionist movement. This is a good thing: the embrace of diversity, the recognition that it could be vitalizing for the Jewish people and the Jewish civilization, is at the heart of a Reconstructionist approach to being Jewish. Yet there is one thing on which every Reconstructionist I encounter agrees: we all want the Reconstructionist movement to have greater visibility. We all want recognition for all our past innovations and for all the ways we continue to reconstruct Jewish life now. As Rabbi David Kominsky (2004) remarked to me recently, we help the mainstream Jewish community figure out what it wants to look like in 50 years.

I assure you that we are working hard on raising our visibility on a variety of fronts. One way is through actively participating in coalitions and partnerships with like-minded organizations. We are increasingly ambitious in our efforts to place stories about the Reconstructionist movement in the Jewish press and, where possible, in the secular press. (A list of everything we sign onto as well as any statements we make in response to emergent situations is available on our website and included in every issue of Reconstructing Judaism Today, as is a round-up of articles featuring Reconstructionist communities, leaders and ideas.) Another is through active participation by lay and professional leaders in various leadership forums. We are showing up and claiming our seats in various community gatherings. We continue to generate influential religious and educational resources, including Ritualwell, which has 25,000 unique visitors a month. And we want to continue the kind of groundbreaking thought work that Mordecai Kaplan and the circle gathered around him pioneered — and get the recognition for it.

Evolve: Groundbreaking Jewish Conversations is a major investment by Reconstructing Judaism and members of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association to demonstrate a Reconstructionist approach to the complex, urgent questions at the intersection of Jewish and contemporary life. At the present moment, there are few Jewish-grounded resources or forums to have deep, openhearted reflection and nuanced, mutually respectful conversation. Evolve aims to correct that.

Evolve is an online platform with conversation-sparking essays from rabbis and lay leaders on urgent issues of our day. Evolve brings multiple voices together to listen to one another’s point of view and to interact respectfully, with a goal of bringing to life constructive, respectful, groundbreaking conversations on the most challenging topics. Evolve cultivates covenantal conversations even when participants disagree, and through careful curation Evolve’s editors post a wide range of views without endorsing all of them. The values undergirding this cultivation of constructive debate include tzelem Elohim (regarding and treating all people as created in the divine image), kavod (respect), redifat shalom (pursuing peace), and makhloket leshem shamayim (controversy for the sake of heaven).

Evolve began when we surveyed Reconstructionist rabbis to ask what are the most urgent topics we should be discussing today. Based on their counsel, we commissioned seven initial papers, then facilitated webinars for rabbis discussing them. The webinars enabled us to post additional materials on the subjects, some written expressly in response or by invitation, some already written. The Evolve team [Rabbis Jacob Staub (1977) and Ariana Katz (2018)] also gather together other resources to expand the conversation, including study guides, and moderate comments submitted by users.

There are now seven “buckets” of substantive material on the following topics:

These themes helped to animate our recent convention and we will post related resources from convention to augment Evolve’s website. In addition, look for webinars on these topics in coming months, and interested readers can sign up for a monthly newsletter from Evolve. Later this spring, we will be rolling out three new buckets:

  • Foundations of Jewish spirituality
  • Gender and sexuality
  • Anti-semitism

We will be hosting webinars on each of these topics in March and April — you can register to participate at this link. These are interactive symposia, rich in both content and in the process of the respectful, mutual covenantal conversation they aim to promote. Evolve is in the tradition of The Reconstructionist, which was a groundbreaking magazine in its day and a place for Reconstructionist thought to be articulated and, well, evolve. Evolve aims to harness the interconnected and interactive potential of the web to continue this thought leadership in a manner most appropriate for the 21st century and most participatory for Reconstructionists and fellow travelers.

We believe that, if we provide deep, thoughtful, challenging materials to rabbis, professionals and educated laypeople, and if we provide forums for discussing and reflecting on these materials with respect, then we can help move the Jewish community toward greater equity, inclusion and hesed. Concretely, we are seeking to help the Jewish world regain the capacity to be in relationship across differences and to model effectively and influentially the principles of respectful conversation. If we are to be the caring, abiding, vital Jewish community we aspire to be, we must find ways to combine and connect with those who are challenging to us. We must do this by stepping out of our comfort zones and into new practices and new relationships. We must evolve how we talk to and with each other. Please join in our covenantal conversations and help us bring this vision to life by registering for upcoming webinars at this link.

 

Spiritual Practice
President, Reconstructing Judaism; Aaron and Marjorie Ziegelman Presidential Professor, RRC