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 from Sweeping Zen: Eight Ways to Change Zen - by Jundo Cohen

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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: from Sweeping Zen: Eight Ways to Change Zen - by Jundo Cohen   Sat Mar 08, 2014 1:28 am


Eight Ways GUDO WAFU NISHIJIMA Will Help Change ZEN BUDDHISM

Posted by: Jundo Cohen March 7, 2014




My Teacher, GUDO WAFU NISHIJIMA ROSHI, died this month, age 94. In manner, he was a soft spoken, gentle, conservative man of his times, born nearly a century ago in Taisho era Japan. In action, he was a perceptive visionary of the future of Buddhism, a great critic of the state of Zen in modern Japan and an outspoken Buddhist reformer (even if largely ignored by the Zen establishment). His students are not all cut of the same cloth, not by any means. Yet I believe his legacy will carry on through many of us in the following eight ways and more.

In a series of essays in the coming weeks, I hope to expand on each of these points. I will not assert that all are original ideas to Nishijima alone. There are many other folks these days who share such views to varying degrees. Nonetheless, what was unique about Nishijima Roshi was how thoroughly and energetically he called for a new vision of Zen Buddhism. Suchness transcends time, place and change, while Buddhist Truth is not dependent on outer wrappings. Yet, Buddhist traditions and practices must constantly change as they encounter new times, places and cultures. I believe that these eight changes which Nishijima symbolizes will have lasting effects on the future of Zen in the West; and Treeleaf Sangha, where I am one teacher, is dedicated and committed to their furtherance.

1 – STEPPING THROUGH THE TRADITIONAL FOURFOLD CATEGORIES OF PRIEST & LAY, MALE & FEMALE: Unlike most Buddhist clergy in Asia, Japanese priests typically marry and are not celibate. Some look at this as a great failing of Japanese Buddhism, a break from 25 centuries of tradition. In Japan and the West, even some Japanese lineage priests and lay teachers themselves are unsure of their own identity and legitimacy, and of their roles compared to each other. With great wisdom, Nishijima transcended all such questions and limiting categories. He advocated a way of stepping right through and beyond the whole matter, of finding living expressions where others saw restriction, and of preserving the tradition even as things change. While he was a champion of the celibate way (Nishijima Roshi, although married, turned to a celibate lifestyle for himself upon ordination), he never felt that celibacy was the only road for all priests. Nishijima advocated a form of ordination that fully steps beyond and drops away divisions of “Priest or Lay, Male or Female”, yet allows us to fully embody and actuate each and all as the situation requires. In our lineage, we are not ashamed of nor try to hide our sexuality and worldly relationships, nor do we feel conflicted that we are “monks” with kids and mortgages. When I am a parent to my children, I am 100% that and fully there for them. When I am a worker at my job, I am that and embody such a role with sincerity and dedication. And when I am asked to step into the role of hosting zazen, offering a dharma talk, practicing and embodying our history and teachings and passing them on to others, I fully carry out and embody 100% the role of “Priest” in that moment. Whatever the moment requires: maintaining a sangha community, bestowing the Precepts, working with others to help sentient beings. The names we call ourselves do not matter. In Nishijima’s way, we do not ask and are unconcerned with whether we are “Priest” or “Lay”, for we are neither that alone, while always thoroughly both; exclusively each in purest and unadulterated form, yet wholly all at once. It is just as, in the West, we have come to step beyond the hard divisions and discriminations between “male” and “female”, recognizing that each of us may embody all manner of qualities to varying degrees as the circumstances present, and that traditional “male” and “female” stereotypes are not so clear-cut as once held. So it is with the divisions of “Priest” and “Lay”.

2 – FINDING OUR PLACE OF PRACTICE AND TRAINING “OUT IN THE WORLD”: For thousands of years, it was nearly impossible to engage in dedicated Zen practice except in a monastic setting, to access fellow practitioners, teachers and teachings, to have the time and resources and economic means to pursue serious practice, except by abandoning one’s worldly life. By economic and practical necessity, a division of “Priest” and “Lay” was maintained because someone had to grow the food to place in the monks’ bowls, earn the wealth to build great temples, have children to keep the world going into the next generation. Although Mahayana figures like Vimalakirti stood for the principle that liberation is available to all, the practical situation was that only a householder with Vimalakirti’s wealth, leisure and resources might have a real chance to do so. Now, in modern societies with better distributions of wealth (compared to the past, although we still have a long way to go), ‘leisure’ time, literacy and education, media access and means of travel and communication across distances, many of the economic and practical barriers to practice and training have been removed. This is the age when we may begin to figuratively “knock down monastery walls”, to find that Buddha’s Truths may be practiced any place, without divisions of “inside” walls or “outside”. For some of us, the family kitchen, children’s nursery, office or factory where we work diligently and hard, the hospital bed, volunteer activity or town hall are all our “monastery” and place of training. We can come to recognize the “monastery” located in buildings made of wood and tile as in some ways an expedient means, although with their own power and beauty too. There are still times when each of us can benefit from periods of withdrawal and silence, be it a sesshin or ango, or the proverbial grass hut in distant hills.  Yes, this Way still needs all manner of people, each pursuing the paths of practice suited to their needs and circumstances, be they temple priests catering to the needs of their parishioners, hermits isolated in caves, celibate monks in mountain monasteries, or “out in the world” types demonstrating that all can be found right in the city streets and busy highways of this modern world. Nishijima, a zen priest yet a working man, a husband and father most of his life, stood for a dropping of “inside” and “out”. He was someone that knew the value of times of retreat, but also the constant realization of these teachings in the home, workplace and soup kitchens.



3 – SAVING ZEN PRACTICE FROM THE ‘FUNERAL CULTURE’ DOMINANT IN JAPAN & THE CREEPING INSTITUTIONAL  “CHURCHNESS” APPEARING IN THE WEST:
Buddhist priests in Japan play an important role in soothing the hearts of their parishioners during times of mourning. Funerals and memorial services are important aspects of Japanese tradition, as in all cultures. However, Japanese Zen, and other flavors of Buddhism, have become excessively focused on “funeral culture”, almost to the exclusion of all else. Except for shining lights scattered here and there who try to keep the ways of Dogen and Zazen alive, most Japanese Soto Zen priests do not even bother with the sitting of Zazen after their youthful training stint in the monastery. The massive Buddhist institutions of Japan, including the Rinzai and Soto schools, have become licensing guilds turning out conveyor belt priests (usually temple sons compelled into training in order to take over the “funeral business” franchise of their family’s managed temple). Nishijima was ordained and received Dharma Transmission from Rempo Niwa Zenji, the then Abbot of Eihei-ji, the senior Soto Zen monastery. Niwa was then the de facto “Pope” of the Soto Sect yet, knowing that Nishijima was a critic of the whole system he headed, Niwa nonetheless empowered Nishijima as a teacher based on Niwa’s own shared desire to help reform Soto Zen. Right now, in America and Europe, there is a tendency among some big Zen institutions to also grow into large zen “churches”, institutions concerned with preserving their own views of doctrinal “Orthodoxy”, with preserving their status, the authority of their priests, their rights to determine the legitimacy of Ordinations, all by themselves establishing domestic systems of guild membership. Many zen groups in America and Europe often seem to have become too concerned with preserving their turf, donations and influence within the Zen world, acting sometimes “more Japanese than the Japanese”, filled with cliquishness, politics and an “old boys club” attitude toward rooting out the few bad apples of ethical violators. Some other Zen groups have been downright “cultish” in their behavior (we should not be afraid to call a spade a spade on this issue). Of course, the maintenance of basic standards for priest training and ethics are very necessary and to be applauded. Our Treeleaf Sangha fully supports such efforts. The question, however, is where to draw the line between needed standards and helpful training, versus certain groups’ protecting their own primacy, exclusivity, authority and narrow dogma.

4 – OFFERING A HOME TO ZEN FOLKS WHO ARE REFUGEES FROM INSTITUTIONALISM, SECT POLITICS AND SCANDAL IN CERTAIN PARTS OF THE ZEN WORLD: Nishijima provided a haven for many vibrant Zen teachers who were excluded or isolated within other Zen groups in Europe, America and Japan. The situations took many forms: people fleeing the internal politics and factionalism in the Sangha where they first practiced; those blocked by glass ceilings and closed guilds in Japan and elsewhere; Japanese uninterested in joining “funeral culture”; those fleeing cultish behavior and unethical teachers; Christian clergy interested in practicing Zen as Christians; gifted Zen priests and teachers interested in combining Zen practice with home, work and “in the world” life without desire or ambition for monastic training; and people alienated by the doctrinal interpretations and dogma they were encountering in other groups. I often refer to this bunch, very diverse in character and personality, as the “Island of Misfit Zen Toys” (referring to an old children’s program in the US seen each year at Christmas, about an island where all the broken and misfit toys went to live from Santa’s workshop until they found a home). Nishijima provided a home to such folks, each very devoted to this Zen path in his or her own sincere way. Our Treeleaf Sangha, and Nishijima’s other students, will continue to serve as a haven for other “misfit toys” in the future.



5 – A RESPECT FOR TRADITION, YET AN EMPHASIS ON FINDING BRAND NEW EXPRESSIONS SUITABLE FOR MODERN TIMES AND WESTERN CULTURE:
Nishijima was thoroughly imbued with the spirit of Dogen, was (with his student Chodo Cross) the translator of Dogen’s complete Shobogenzo into modern Japanese and English, and held that Master Dogen had found ways to express the Buddhist teachings rarely heard until that time. Nonetheless, despite his profound trust in the teachings of Dogen, Nishijima was never a prisoner of Dogen. Among the many treasured teachings of Dogen which are timeless and survive the centuries, Nishijima knew that others were primarily the views and expressions of a man living amid the society and superstitions of 12th century Japan. Those of Dogen’s writings directed primarily to his band of monks at Eiheiji and elsewhere must be placed side by side with Dogen’s other pronouncements recognizing the possibilities of Zen practice for people in all situations in life. The teachings of Dogen are not simply for monks isolated in the snowy mountains, but are for all of us. His words, if appropriate only to his day and culture, should be left to his day and culture. Buddhism, and Dogen’s teachings, can be brought forth and adapted for our places and times. Is this not so for the teachings of so many of our Zen ancestors beyond Dogen as well? I remember, for example, asking Nishijima once about the “right way” to conduct a “Soto Zen funeral” for a good friend who had died in America. Nishijima told me that ultimately I should make a new, heartfelt ritual to honor my friend. He told his students in America, Europe and elsewhere to do things in sincere ways suitable for our cultures and societies, inspired by tradition, perhaps, yet finding new ways to express the same.

6 – AN INTERPRETATION OF ZAZEN AS THE FULFILMENT OF REALITY ITSELF: One key aspect of Dogen’s teachings that Nishijima fully danced, and all his students dance with him, is that Zazen is the fulfillment of Reality itself. On that, nothing more is in need of saying here.

7 – LOOKING FOR COMMON GROUND AND THE COMPATIBILITY OF BUDDHIST TEACHINGS, ZEN AND ZAZEN WITH WESTERN PHILOSOPHY AND SCIENCE: Like D.T. Suzuki, Masao Abe and other Japanese Zen figures of his time, Nishijima thought that Zen teachings could best be introduced to a Western audience via finding common ground with Western philosophy. Years before it was common to load meditators into MRI machines, Nishijima spoke of the connection of Zazen to the brain and human nervous system, influenced by the then cutting-edge research on meditation and the so-called “relaxation response” by Harvard’s Dr Herbert Benson and others. However, I wish to say honestly that Nishijima was not a professional philosopher nor a trained scientist. He tried to express from his own heart all encountered in Zazen. For that reason, he frequently spoke in very personal and, perhaps, too simplified ways on both Western philosophical concepts and, as a scientific layman, about all that is happening in the body and brain. It is only in recent years that we have come to understand that many separate physiological and neurological systems are interlinked in complex ways, each coming to play in Zazen and meditation. Nevertheless, Nishijima stood for the meeting and fundamental compatibility of Buddhist tenets and scientific method.

8 – AVOIDING SUPERSTITION, FANTASY, MIRACLES & MAGICAL INCANTATION IN BUDDHISM: One person’s “sacred and cherished belief” is another person’s “hocus-pocus and nonsense”. Sometimes seemingly exotic practices and legends can possess a psychological power and poetry which opens the human heart, even if not “literally true”. While recognizing that fact, Nishijima Roshi sought to present Zen practice freed of naive beliefs and superstitions, exaggerated claims and idealized myths masquerading as historical events even in our own Zen traditions, all of which can bury and hide the very real power of our Buddhist way in a pile of ignorance and foolishness. I, and many of his other students, join him in that task.

In such eight ways, and many others, Gudo Wafu Nishijima changed Zen Buddhism and continues to do so. His legacy lives on in his many students around the world and his teachings will further enrich and transform our tradition into the future.
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Diana



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PostSubject: Re: from Sweeping Zen: Eight Ways to Change Zen - by Jundo Cohen   Sat Mar 08, 2014 10:43 am

Thanks for sharing, Josh. This is very refreshing. I'm curious to hear what you (Josh) think of this and what is your opinion of the Treeleaf Sangha and it's teachers?
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PostSubject: Re: from Sweeping Zen: Eight Ways to Change Zen - by Jundo Cohen   Sat Mar 08, 2014 10:57 am

Sounds very good....thanks for posting, Josh.
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PostSubject: Re: from Sweeping Zen: Eight Ways to Change Zen - by Jundo Cohen   Sun Mar 09, 2014 10:10 pm

There are a lot of issues addressed in the original post.  I will jump in with a few reactions when I get a chance.  As to the Treeleaf Sangha - no experience about them, so no idea.  Main thing is always the behavior - not the words or philosophy or PR.  Right now, don't have the time or focus to visit many Zen centers - and even a visit or attending a retreat -  does not tell you much.  Healthy communities take a great deal of constant work - training - and practice - not only around zazen, but in sane communications and all the rest.
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PostSubject: Re: from Sweeping Zen: Eight Ways to Change Zen - by Jundo Cohen   Mon Mar 17, 2014 5:04 pm

So i am posting this not because I am promoting this particular Jewish leader / group, but simply because it demonstrates new expressions of spirituality, people finding their own way, some way outside the mainstream.....  posting it here I guess under the general sense of new paths to practice religion - to counter "one way" thinking.....

Synagogue, Rebooted
Lab/Shul Is an Experimental Jewish Gathering Still in Its Beta Phase
To see the full story, the slide show and the many comments - both in support and critical - 

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/16/nyregion/lab-shul-is-an-experimental-jewish-gathering-still-in-a-beta-phase.html

By JOHN LELAND
MARCH 14, 2014


At a rock club on the edge of SoHo (New York City)  on a recent Saturday, Amichai Lau-Lavie stood in front of two musicians and a set of video screens, bringing a message about counterculture. Mr. Lau-Lavie, 44, descends from at least 37 generations of Orthodox Jewish rabbis. He is also a gay man who lives in the East Village — a fan of the Smiths and Emily Dickinson, a father of three, the creator of a drag character named Hadassah Gross. On the screens was an image of a sacrificial lamb, taken from a Dutch painting.

“Some of you are synagogue veterans or synagogue survivors,” he said to the congregation before him.

Starting a loose dialogue with the audience, he asked them to name something they were thankful for. A smattering of answers came back.

If they felt guilt that they wanted to expiate, as ancient people did through ritual sacrifice, what did they feel guilty about?

“Where is sacrifice in our lives today?” he asked.

Audience members shouted answers without raising their hands. Mr. Lau-Lavie, a rabbinical student, walked into the crowd to share the microphone. What act in today’s society, he asked, was painful enough, messy enough, to approximate ancient sacrifice? Finally he offered an answer: unplugging from the Internet for one full day a week. It would hurt, sure, but it could also be cleansing, he said. Then he confessed: “Giving up digital for 24 hours is so healthy, but I don’t do it, because I’m addicted.”

The gathering was the monthly Sabbath service of Lab/Shul, an experimental pop-up synagogue that is still in what Mr. Lau-Lavie calls its beta phase. Mr. Lau-Lavie was gearing up for Purim this weekend and the confluence of Passover and Easter in April, when the congregation will mix traditions in a Last Seder.

“One of the ways to describe what this is about is creating sanctuary,” Mr. Lau-Lavie told the roughly 60 people who came to City Winery for the more-than-two-hour service, Lab/Shul’s fifth. Some were non-Jews or atheists; some were observant men and women comfortable in skullcaps. The conversational style and claim to counterculture, the texts and videos projected on screens, the emphasis on arts and music, resembled nothing so much as a modern evangelical Christian church. Mr. Lau-Lavie invited congregants into a big tent: “It’s a god-optional, bring-your-own-god, do-it-yourself-god, everybody-friendly community.”

These are precarious times for non-Orthodox synagogues in New York. According to a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Religion and Life Project, fewer than one-third of American Jews belong to a synagogue, and barely one-quarter say religion is very important in their lives, compared with 56 percent of the general public. The share of Jews living in a household where anyone belonged to a synagogue fell to 39 percent. In a 2001 survey, it was 46 percent. The decline has been especially acute in Reform and Conservative congregations, many of which have closed or merged to stay afloat, even as the Orthodox community expands.

The wreckage, in turn, has created opportunities to improvise.

“We’re in a veritable explosion of experimentation,” said Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, executive director of Mechon Hadar, a nonprofit group that teaches and supports Jews in communities of learning, prayer and service. “It used to be that there were three or four major flavors of Jewish life, and you belonged to one of them. Now you see things grow up in the spaces between those more institutional expressions of Jewish life, and they’re really taking off.”

Mr. Lau-Lavie finds himself part of a coterie of religious leaders, Christian as well as Jewish, asking a nearly impossible question: In an increasingly secular, technological, consumer-driven culture, how can they revise worship in a way that is relevant to people who have unlimited demands on their time and weak ties to institutions?

In New York, these leaders include Joy Levitt, executive director of the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, whose Jewish Journey Project restructures Hebrew school to group students by interest rather than synagogue. At the nondenominational Romemu synagogue, which meets at a Presbyterian church on the Upper West Side, Rabbi David Ingber has built a growing congregation and an Internet audience he says is close to one million with services that incorporate yoga, Buddhist meditation and New Age spirituality along with extensive Hebrew prayers.

“The Pew study tells us, if synagogue life won’t innovate, then we’re going to continue to lose people,” Rabbi Ingber said. “I’m convinced we’re blessed to live in a marketplace that forces us to hone what we’re doing.”

He added: “The hierarchical model of the rabbi speaking to a flock is obsolete. Experience is paramount. And information alone is not transformative, so people are not coming to synagogue to learn new things. If you have everything you want to know at your fingertips and you’re still unhappy, it’s clear that information isn’t enough. People ask how come their services aren’t as transformative as their yoga class. And they could be.”

At a Chinese restaurant near his office in the financial district, Mr. Lau-Lavie described the mixture of skepticism and family destiny that brought him to his current position, partly against his will, he said. It was a bitterly cold January day, and he was in New York on a visit from Jerusalem, where he is spending a semester-long sabbatical from the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary. He is in his third year of a five-year rabbinical program; it had been his plan to start Lab/Shul after he finished.

The genesis of Lab/Shul dates to 1998, when Mr. Lau-Lavie came to the United States from Israel to develop an arts education program at B’nai Jeshurun, an Upper West Side congregation known for its innovative services. “It was the ‘it girl’ of the ’90s,” he said of the synagogue.

But while he was there he noticed a disconnect. The heart of the service was given to a scriptural reading that felt lifeless compared to the competing forces in New Yorkers’ lives, he said.

“It’s really long, all in Hebrew, people go up, down, up, down, sermon, whatever,” he said. “It’s an hour. Whoever is there has either their nose in the text, trying to follow along, or they just check out, go in the back, go outside. The kids are whisked out. It was December and it was the Joseph saga, and I’m thinking, You guys, this is a good story. Down the road, on Broadway, there’s folks lined up around the block for a matinee of ‘Joseph.’ It’s the same story. Why is it so badly presented?”

Mr. Lau-Lavie’s eyes light up when he speaks, his tone alternating between genial pedagogy and — in a slightly higher register — punky mischief. He has spent enough time pitching his ideas that the words come in long paragraphs.

“That was my big light bulb,” he said. “What if we changed the unit of the worship? The storytelling? This is theater. There’s a guy standing on a stage; they are transmitting a story. It happens to be the world’s best seller. There’s an audience. It’s a performance. It’s just a bad performance. It’s really bad theater. What if it was actually theater?”

Mr. Lau-Lavie started a theater company called Storahtelling to present scriptural narratives the way he imagined them, in English, with music and dramatized. He also created a character named Hadassah Gross, hostess of a show called “The Sabbath Queen,” to assume the role of translator and M.C., or maven, from the Hebrew “mavin,” which means to understand.

For Mr. Lau-Lavie, it was a liberating experience. “There was something about publicly doing drag that was more shamanic than anything else,” he said. “Hadassah gave me a lot of blessings to be who I am, unabashed.”

Naomi Less, a musician and teacher, was an early member of Storahtelling. She had attended a Conservative synagogue as a child, but was looking for something more engaging as an adult. When she met Mr. Lau-Lavie, he handed her a postcard for his Rosh Hashana program, with an image of a toilet and an invitation to “flush away your sins.” She knew then that she wanted to work with him, she said.

“It almost felt deviant,” she said of Storahtelling. “We weren’t sitting in pews listening to a sermon that told you how to behave. We weren’t attached to cantorial modes. Everything I’d grown up with gave me roots and a foundation, but I could veer off and saunter. O.K., so now I’m in a new place.”

As Storahtelling grew, with holiday performances that drew several hundred people, Mr. Lau-Lavie began to develop new ways of thinking about his faith and his family legacy. Being gay had made him comfortable with challenging orthodoxies; either Scriptures were wrong, or he was an abomination, which he rejected. He was getting restless to push further, to “interrupt” people’s lives.

Michael Dorf, the owner of City Winery, joined the group’s board of directors. Mr. Dorf, who describes himself as a “cultural Jew,” mainly interested in observing the holidays, felt that Mr. Lau-Lavie was a charismatic leader who could provide more.

“As a music producer, when I see talent, I want to get it in front of people,” Mr. Dorf said. “Amichai is a rock star in the Jewish world. My role is to be the talent manager and ringleader producer of the show.”

At a 2012 board meeting, he said the group should evolve into a synagogue, with Mr. Lau-Lavie as its rabbi. He offered his club for services.

Mr. Lau-Lavie had resisted such entreaties before, feeling that “artists were the new rabbis.” This time, though, he felt he and the congregation were ready.

“What matured in me is the sense that Judaism, like all religion, is not the bottom line,” he said. “That it is a tool in our toolbox for human well-being and being helpful beings, and that there is a difference between many people who really view Judaism or religion as the end goal: In other words, keep the Sabbath or marry a Jew so the Jewish story continues. That’s of course how I grew up. I realized that that’s missing the point.

“I’m not flying Delta because I’m interested in Delta. I’m flying Delta because it’s convenient or I got the miles on it. The idea is to get somewhere. I’m practicing Judaism because that’s my airline, because I was born into it and I think it’s got a deeply profound, ancient and relevant toolbox for a good life, but the end goal is a good life, not to be Jewish. To be human. To be there for myself and others. And that’s a totally different proposition.”

Besides, Mr. Dorf said: “It was the family job — he couldn’t say no.”

Mr. Lau-Lavie is also a father, after a lesbian couple he knew asked him to donate sperm and help raise their children. They now have a son and two daughters, ages 3 to 7. Mr. Lau-Lavie sleeps over on weekends and one night during the week.

“My mother said it’s a very biblical model,” he said. “To my family’s credit, they took it very well. I’m very lucky. And the kids are lovely.”

Mr. Lau-Lavie’s vision is attractive to Jews disaffected from their tradition. Jennifer Lee and her husband, Scott Klein, discovered Storahtelling three years ago, when their daughter was approaching the age for bat mitzvah training. Though they had grown up going to synagogue at the High Holy Days, they had drifted away, returning only for the sake of their daughter.

“Amichai explained, ‘This is what I imagine B mitzvah training looks like,’ ” Ms. Lee said, using the gender-neutral term favored by Mr. Lau-Lavie. “It was interactive, with music, and we got to create our own service. We said, ‘I’m in.’ At the synagogue we were in, I said, ‘I’m out.’ ”

On a Friday night in January, Ms. Lee, Mr. Klein and their daughter were attending another Lab/Shul experiment: Instead of holding weekly services, what if the congregation broke up into Friday night dinners at various members’ homes, with general discussion suggestions from Mr. Lau-Lavie, but no top-down leadership? The wine flowed, the candles were lighted, the conversation moved in and out of topics suggested on a printed place mat called the “DIY Shabbat Handout.”

“We’re experimenting with the frequency and ways we get together,” Mr. Lau-Lavie said. “I’m not sure that in the 21st century it has to be every week. Sabbath every week, yes. Communal gathering? Public worship? I don’t know. Is once a month something that the oversaturated and urban lifestyle can support? I don’t know.”

Whether any of this can slow the decline in synagogue participation remains to be seen. Shawn Landres, who runs a Jewish innovation lab called Jumpstart, compared the experimentation in places like Lab/Shul to the “emergent” Christian churches, which have reached out to people turned off by religion.

“Emergent churches and synagogues are both moving away from traditional institutional forms, to reflect a broader cultural shift,” he said. “People coming to synagogues or churches now want to be in a relationship, not a contract. They want to be in a network, not an institution.”

The level of experimentation among synagogues, Mr. Landres said, recalled that of the 1950s and 1960s, when rabbis like Shlomo Carlebach and Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, immigrants to the United States, created lasting movements.

Yet for all the current efforts to innovate and adapt, the synagogues that are growing in New York are ultra-Orthodox, which benefit from high birthrates and higher rates of retention than they have enjoyed in the past. Mr. Lau-Lavie concedes the appeal of their message.

“The pews are filling with people who just want some structure,” he said. “ ‘Just tell me what to do. Give me order in the chaos.’ In an age in which we have more and more privileges and choices, the allure of a system that tells you what to do and what not to do, and what to wear and what to eat, and the consequences and limits of your choices, for some mental types, is essential. I get it. It’s a suspension of disbelief in its deepest sense. I’m judgmental of it and I have a lot of respect for it.”

Next up for Lab/Shul are holiday events and a fund-raising gala called Mezooza Makeover, to be followed by High Holy Days services that now draw more than 1,000 people. Maybe they will continue to meet at City Winery, Mr. Lau-Lavie said; maybe they will move around — change dates, frequency, venue.

Mr. Lau-Lavie seemed pleased but wary of his own success. If he continued on this course, would he become the thing he rebelled against? And if he did, could he still be a critic of the establishment? It was a paradox he turned over in his mind.

“I was counterculture, outside the box,” he said. “Now we’re going to do a shul and I’m going to be the rabbi?” He paused. “Is that giving up? Am I giving in? Now I’m the system?”
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PostSubject: Re: from Sweeping Zen: Eight Ways to Change Zen - by Jundo Cohen   Tue Mar 18, 2014 1:58 pm

This sounds very vibrant Josh-creative,a bit messy,-how life is and should be!
Thank you for sharing
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