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Ritualwell’s Writers Weave Creativity Though Time and Tradition

Cathleen Cohen is a well-known poet and painter who didn’t necessarily need another writers’ group to help her hone and find an audience for work. Yet when she first joined ADVOT @ Ritualwell in 2021, she was looking for something else: Jewish writers inspired by Jewish tradition, and crafting ritual and liturgy. 

Three years later, and she’s as invested in ADVOT as ever. She finds sustenance in ADVOT she can’t access anywhere else — in person or online. It’s a writer’s community where she can express her artistic and spiritual selves in a Jewish context; an address where she can join other Jewish writers who are composing from a liturgical, spiritual and ritual mindset. It’s also where she’s found the freedom to explore the interplay between text and image. 

Cathleen Cohen

ADVOT has also proved a refuge during a time of rising antisemitism, when many Jewish writers have reported being shunned in literary spaces, had their events canceled, their work rejected and their books “review-bombed” online. While Cohen hasn’t experienced any of this firsthand, she’s heard fellow writers describe their own experiences and said that more than ever, it’s vital for Jewish writers to have platforms like Ritualwell and communities like ADVOT. 

“There is so much competing for our attention, but for me, I am still feeling supported and uplifted by ADVOT,” said Cohen, a former poet Laureate of Montgomery County, Pa. “What pulls me to continue to be part of it is the community and the relationships I have formed. And Ritualwell has done such a wonderful job of addressing issues and concerns in the world that affect us and influence us. ADVOT has strengthened my confidence as a specifically Jewish writer.” 

The third compilation of ADVOT member's writing: "Weaving Through Time"

Cohen’s writing, and that of 17 other ADVOT members, is highlighted and celebrated in the new volume Weaving Through Time: Poems, Prayers, & Rituals by Members of ADVOT @ Ritualwell. It’s the third such compilation published since 2022, the year after ADVOT launched. 

The book’s virtual launch party, ADVOT’s end-of-year-celebration and poetry reading is set for June 27 at 7 p.m. Register here to attend. 

Some of the authors have published numerous books. Others may be seeing their names in print for the first time. 

“Writing is a solitary experience, and when our work is generally printed in an anthology, we don’t know most or even any of the other contributors. To create an anthology of work as a community is a powerful experience,” said Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer, Ritualwell’s director of virtual programs who, along with Adva Chattler, edited Weaving Through Time. “I’m excited for our reading — for poetry and liturgy and song to come to life. This will be a deep and moving experience for everyone who joins us!” 

Founded in 2001, Ritualwell is an extensive online resource that has published thousands of prayers, poems, ceremonies and songs, many moments for which Jewish tradition did not have a ritual, such as the loss of a pregnancy or celebrating a gender transition. 

ADVOT is Ritualwell’s writer’s group, and its members include some of Ritualwell’s most frequent contributors. ADVOT means “ripples” in Hebrew, and the goal is for participants to make ripples, inspiring creativity in others and leading to more vibrant, engaged Jewish communities. Participants bring a wide range of Jewish backgrounds and writing experience, joining for connection and accountability. ADVOT members come together virtually every week to create and share work, twice a year congregating in virtual retreats that feature guest writers and speakers. ADVOT members can also take part in Immersions, Ritualwell’s online learning offerings. 

For three straight years, Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah has awarded a generous grant to ADVOT@Ritualwell. 

Writing is a solitary experience, and when our work is generally printed in an anthology, we don’t know most or even any of the other contributors. To create an anthology of work as a community is a powerful experience...

Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer

In its design and content, Weaving Through Time builds on the idea of making ripples, of concentric circles pushing outward into the world. With original prayers, poems and rituals, this roughly 80-page collection can be read like a book of poetry, utilized to inspire personal contemplation or spiritual practice, or even incorporated into synagogue services. 

The collection is divided into four sections — “yud,” “hey,” “vav,” “hey” — the four letters given in the book of Exodus as God’s unpronounceable name. The sections explore spiritual conversations; the pursuit of finding meaning in our challenges; the gifts of ancestral wisdom; and our interconnectedness with the sacred ecology of nature. 

“ADVOT writers are talking to their ancestors or about their ancestors, and they are talking to their children. It is like being woven through time,” said Chattler. 

A page from the new compilation showing off the four sections of the book.

McKenzie Wren, a facilitator, ritual artist and writer, is new to ADVOT and looks forward to the June 27 launch party. 

McKenzie Wren

“I’m incredibly excited to hear the work of my new cohort in their own voices and to have a celebration of creativity in this way,” said Wren, who has three pieces published in Weaving Through Time. 

A longtime writer whose Omer cards are available in Ritualwell’s online store, Wren had found her creativity stymied in recent years.

“The goal was to get jump-started again, and with prompts and encouragement, I am now writing much more now than in the last couple of years,” said Wren, who has added a blog and Substack newsletter to her output. “ADVOT has been a huge boon to me in multiple ways.” 

ADVOT writers are talking to their ancestors or about their ancestors, and they are talking to their children. It is like being woven through time.

Adva Chattler

Batya Diamond, a singer and songwriter who composes and reinterprets Hebrew prayers, joined ADVOT three years ago to find collaborators working in Jewish liturgy and to have appointed time and space each week to compose. Diamond, an ordained kohenet, or Hebrew priestess, said she’s found all that and more through ADVOT, and has formed deep relationships with other participants. 

“ADVOT honors our work and holds that sacred space for us,” said Diamond, whose lyrics appear in Weaving Through Time alongside a QR code that links to a recording of the song. 

Diamond has seen much of the work that appears in the collection throughout the creative process, yet is eager to see the finished products in print and read aloud. 

Batya Diamond

“I’m so excited to hear the completed work of pieces people have been working on during the course of this year,” said Diamond. 

Bryan Schwartzman

The Reconstructionist Network

Serving as central organization of the Reconstructionist movement

Training the next generation of groundbreaking rabbis

Modeling respectful conversations on pressing Jewish issues

Curating original, Jewish rituals, and convening Jewish creatives

The Reconstructionist Network