For 20 years, Ritualwell has served as a pioneering resource for original Jewish liturgy and rituals, along the way nurturing an informal network of liturgists, poets and ritual innovators. Now, it has launched ADVOT @ Ritualwell, a formal online community offering unprecedented support and empowerment to writers who are imagining new ways to mark life’s most salient moments in a Jewish context.
This effort reflects a growing do-it-yourself ethos within progressive Jewish spaces and highlights the ferment and innovation taking place in online and emergent Jewish communities. It reflects the spiritual need felt by many to call upon rituals that reflect contemporary lived experience. And it responds to the reality that writing, for many, can be an isolating experience. For writers of Jewish liturgy, opportunities to come together in community were practically nonexistent – until now.
Hila Ratzabi, director of virtual content and programs at Ritualwell, hopes ADVOT @ Ritualwell will provide a space for creative support, learning and nourishment.
“Poets, writers and liturgists have been telling us that they really needed a space to come together. We’re fulfilling a need that we hope, and believe, will produce a ripple effect in Jewish communities. ADVOT empowers people to take ownership of their Jewish experience, to honor each unique voice in the unfolding of Jewish creativity – something that Ritualwell, and Reconstructing Judaism more generally, have always sought to do,” said Ratzabi, an award-winning poet.
ADVOT means “ripples” in Hebrew. The goal is that each participant will make ripples, inspiring creativity in others and leading to more vibrant, engaged Jewish communities. RIPL also happens to be the English acronym for ritual innovators, poets, liturgists, the community served and cultivated.
The launch of the program is supported by a generous grant from Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah.
ADVOT @ Ritualwell held its first salon in early October with 26 participants signed up for the year. Participants are taking part in monthly salons, quarterly one-on-one mentoring sessions, open mics and an annual-in person retreat, among other activities. Ritualwell will also produce a print publication highlighting participants’ work at the end of the first year of the program.
Founded in 2001, Ritualwell, an initiative of Reconstructing Judaism, will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a Dec. 20 virtual program. Ritualwell is the most extensive online resource that publishes original Jewish rituals. Ritualwell grew out of a need for rituals that speak to the experiences of women and LGBTQ individuals. Since then, Ritualwell has published hundreds of prayers, poems, ceremonies and songs to mark moments for which Jewish tradition did not have a ritual, such as the loss of a pregnancy or celebrating a gender transition. In recent years, Ritualwell has grown to include content channeling the hopes, fears and frustrations of social and racial justice advocates. Much of the recent content responds to current events, including natural disasters, communal tragedies and the COVID-19 pandemic that upended so many lives.
ADVOT member Heather Paul, rabbinical student at ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal’s rabbinical program, and Senior Jewish Educator at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, said that this is the first writing community she’s participated in where she felt comfortable sharing prayers she’d composed. “I was just so pleased to see this space from Ritualwell for people who write liturgy and rituals. I’ve been really craving that because what we do is really different.”
Jena Schwartz, a writing coach and the poet in residence at her synagogue in Amherst, Ma., echoed the sentiment that ADVOT is a writing community she could not find elsewhere: “I felt I need to do this as a gift to myself to be in community with other people who have that unique, very particular kind of expression.”
Alex Carter, who writes queer liturgy for her synagogue, was so excited to hear about ADVOT, she said, “when this opportunity came up I almost burst into tears at the very idea.”
Mandie McGlynn, a spiritual director, was happy to find a space that combines spirituality and creativity: “My spirituality and creativity are really deeply interwoven – one is almost always an expression of the other, so it’s really beautiful to have a place that is intentionally both.”
Others expressed that ADVOT fills a need for connection. Cantor and teaching artist Karen Webber, of Baltimore, Md., shared: “I’ve been yearning for a community in which to do this. I feel that a lot of writing is done in a vacuum and it can get very lonely.”