Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, the Executive Director of Mechon Hadar, has written a new book called
Empowered Judaism: What Independent Minyanim Can Teach Us About Building Vibrant Jewish Communities
. It’s an impressive book, and one that’s worth picking up if you’re involved in Jewish communal leadership of any kind, or if you’re constantly worrying about Jewish continuity. (Though this is tangential, I feel I should mention that the design of the book is particularly good. It makes for a remarkably smooth and easy reading experience.)
I can’t give a straight up review of the book, because I’m hugely impartial. I met Elie at a Simchat Torah meal in 2006, and learned with him for the first time at LimmudNY 2007. I was living in Nashville at the time, and was starved for Jewish learning opportunities, so my time at Limmud was especially important to me. After experiencing Elie’s shiurim (classes) at Limmud I decided to apply to the yeshiva he was opening, and ended up spending that summer learning for 14 hours a day at Yeshivat Hadar. At the end of that year I went back to Nashville to finish grad school, and then moved to New York, where I now attend the minyan Elie co-founded, learn with other alums of the yeshiva, and visit the yeshiva for classes. Clearly, Elie’s model of Empowered Judaism has had a big impact on my life.
In his book, Elie talks about how independent minyanim, and institutions like Yeshivat Hadar are creating meaningful spiritual experiences for young urban Jews, and how this experience can, and has been reinvigorating Jewish life. The book is part explanation–why are young Jews feeling so uninspired by Jewish life? What is missing?–and part prescription–how to build new meaningful communities without lots of capital, a building, or a rabbi. He’s able to lay it all out and make it look simple. People will start new communities when their needs aren’t being met elsewhere. Young Jews are looking for a meaningful spiritual experience, and they’re willing to step up and volunteer their time and resources if what they get out of it is a community that speaks to them, and a prayer experience that transcends what they’re accustomed to. When reading this book you will likely think to yourself–hey, I could do this. It’s not just the communities that Elie’s talking about that are empowering–the book itself is an empowering tool.