Alumni “Dare to Prepare”: Hebrew College Alumni Prepare for the High Holidays with Jewish Studio Project
“The sounds of the High Holy Days are in our bones,” Rabbi Jessica Kate Meyer `14 said. “Even if you’re new or somebody whose discovering it for the first time there is something so deeply rooted in the music of the High Holy Days that to me is a homecoming.”
Meyer is one of five Hebrew College alumni working with the national non-profit and Jewish arts learning organization Jewish Studio Project (JSP) for the holiday season. In addition to Meyer, alumni with roles in JSP’s Elul initiative include Rabbis Adina Allen `14, Adam Lavitt `12, Jordan Braunig `14, and Gray Myrseth `17. “The initiative was created collaboratively among the JSP team,” said Allen, JSP’s co-founder & co-director. “We’ve been wanting to put out a robust set of Elul offerings for years and finally have the team and capacity to be able to do so!”
Rabbi Meyer experienced a personal homecoming of sorts coinciding with the month of Elul. “This year in particular was a pretty rough year. I came home from the West Coast to the East Coast, and I had this experience after Tisha B’Av of shedding and starting again.”
But that’s what the High Holy Days are about. “It is really daring to take the time to not just think about but let soak into us what this upcoming season or holiday is going to be… We need to really prepare ourselves spiritually and emotionally to receive the potency of the holidays,” said Allen. The phrase “Dare to Prepare” might describe their holiday programming intentions, according to Allen.
Elul is a time of renewal and new beginnings in anticipation of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Like the five alumni working with JSP, our rabbinical school graduates help prepare people all over the world for the High Holidays. “There is this core Jewish belief that change is within us—our capacity to make headway, to change the paths in our neurons, is an obligation as part of our year,” Meyer said.
Rabbi Lavitt, JSP’s Director of Program Design & Facilitation, similarly sees Elul as a month-long preparation for an experience of potent personal and relational healing. Following one of his teachers, Rabbi Benay Lappe, he described the holidays as a “booster rocket” for internal work and experience.
The Jewish Studio Project envisions a future in which every person is connected to their inherent creativity. In these trying and perilous times, “so much is needing to come undone, and so much is needed to be born,” Allen said. “Our mission at JSP is to cultivate creativity as a Jewish practice for spiritual practice and social transformation.” This philosophy was in part informed by the staff’s experiences at Hebrew College.
“At Hebrew College, we really got to make texts the central piece of our learning and could bring different practices to bear on the texts, to open up the texts, to make the texts speak to our lives,” said Lavitt. “We’re bringing that experience here now—that experience of using a different mode of creative inquiry to the texts but letting the texts be central,” he continued.
“What Hebrew College also offered is that we don’t have to, and we shouldn’t, do that process alone,” Allen added. “That is such a radical assertion that Judaism makes…and this is something that JSP provides.”
The alumni involved in JSP’s Elul Initiative dare to take that time of spiritual preparation through a slate of creative programs. Allen will be leading one of the foundational programs, “Have You Made Art About It Yet?”, a special Elul edition of their monthly program that explores the power of art marking for personal and collective renewal. Beginning on the first of Elul (Aug. 26), Braunig will offer daily writing prompts “with a mix of traditional teachings, lyrical poetry, folksy anecdotes and the occasional culinary metaphor.” Myrseth and Lavitt will lead two different sessions of “Creative Commentary,” a morning routine of uplifting songs, commentary on the week’s Torah portion, and a selection of creative writing. Meyer will co-lead JSP’s High Holiday services and a pre-high holiday sing to begin to learn and connect to the melodies and prayers of the season.
“Much of our education at Hebrew College was about holding dichotomies, holding complexities and ambiguity, and being willing to traverse the unknown… that feels related to renewal,” Allen said, “For something new to be born, something else has to die and fade away. Renewal is a both-and process.”
To register for any of the programs or for more information about Elul 2022 with JSP, visit jewishstudioproject.org/elul2022. All programs are available online.
For a full listing of alumni leadership placements this holiday season, visit our page for High Holidays 5782.