Spiritual Direction (Hashpa’ah) in Jewish Organizational Life

By Rabbi Shohama Harris Wiener, D.Min.

During the week of April 13, 2015, I attended the SDI (Spiritual Directors International) Conference in Louisville, Kentucky, with ALEPH co-chair Rabbi David Markus, ALEPH Board members Rabbinic Pastor David Daniel Klipper and Rabbi Evan Krame, and some 550 other spiritual directors from around the world.  This year’s conference echoed the core principles of “Emerging Wisdom” that ALEPH represents: envisioning a contemporary spirituality that is joyous, creative, spiritually rich, socially progressive and Earth-aware.

For decades our beloved Reb Zalman z”l was our spiritual guide in these matters; just last year he and Rabbinic Pastor Eve Ilsen were keynote presenters at the SDI conference on the roots and modalities of Jewish spiritual direction.  For this reason, I found this year’s conference less “Emerging Wisdom” than a blossoming of wisdom that we’ve inherited and that the world so desperately needs.  That said, it was a joy to receive specific tools and insights from Christian, Sufi, Buddhist and Jewish spiritual directors.  Together we experienced first-hand how today’s increasingly fast-paced world makes contemplative and other transformational inner practices ever more important.

This year’s conference was notable for another reason bearing on ALEPH’s mission, and also on my own newly expanded mission as Rosh Hashpa’ah (Head of Spiritual Direction) for ALEPH as the umbrella organization for Jewish Renewal.  At a conference dinner for Jewish spiritual directors, the 18 in attendance (what a number!) experienced a curious synchronicity in that a number of us – both within and beyond ALEPH – are feeling deployed to bring spiritual direction to other parts of the Jewish organizational world.

To date, ALEPH is the only Jewish clergy ordination program to require spiritual direction for all students and new musmachim (ordinees) as well as offer a training program in spiritual direction for students and ordinees, although the Reform and Reconstructionist seminaries are experimenting with various models of promoting spiritual direction.  Our dinner group of Jewish spiritual directors also noted a shared and growing desire to bring spiritual direction to synagogues and community groups – to cultivate the flow of spirit through the entirety of Jewish communal life, and thereby elevate the spirituality of both individuals and communities in all forms.

Like other “coincidences” now unfolding across spiritual life – including new commitments to deep ecumenism, equality in gender and sexual orientation, and radical Earth-awareness – this synchronicity about the potential of spiritual direction to inspire and reshape Jewish life brings excitement and opportunity for innovation and collaboration.  These are precisely ALEPH’s callings in the world.  ALEPH will help lead this unfolding movement to expand spiritual direction across Jewish life.  Please stay tuned, and join me in the intention that the spiritual seeds Reb Zalman planted will continue to sprout and flourish for us and all the world.

Rabbi Shohama Harris Wiener Rabbi Shohama Harris Wiener, D.Min., serves as Rosh Hashpa’ah–Head of Spiritual Direction–for ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal and its Ordination Programs, and Founding Director of the seminary’s Hashpa’ah Program which trains spiritual directors. With Rabbi David Markus, she is co-rabbi of Temple Beth El of City Island, NY.