Podcast Ep #17: Writing as Spiritual Practice
I think one of the things that’s so important to me both about poetry in general and about prayer is that they both make space for the complexities of the human, the heart. They are both places of layered presence and places where there’s a lot of room for paradox.– Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld
On this episode of Speaking Torah, we’re introducing you to a tefillah with a difference. In this particular tefillah group, Hebrew College President, Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld, leads the students not only in writing reflections on the prayers but writing as an act of prayer. It is both the writing and the reading of poetry that allows for a deeply creative connection to The Divine. The poems are based on liturgy, combining ancient voices with their own, resulting in a truly timeless prayer.
Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld is President of Hebrew College and former Dean of the Rabbinical School. Emmanuel Cantor and Chaim Spaulding are students in Hebrew College’s Rabbinical School and members Sharon’s creative writing tefillah (prayer) group.
Tune in today to discover creative interpretations of liturgical texts from Hebrew College’s talented rabbinical students. Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld is sharing the ethos behind her unique tefillah group, and her students are discussing how writing as spiritual practice has brought them closer in their relationship to God.
What You’ll Discover from this Episode:
- How ambiguity in language became Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld’s inspiration for her poem “Devotion.”
- The impact a poetry-writing practice has had in Rabbi Sharon’s tefillah group.
- Why Sharon views writing as a spiritual practice, making space for complexities and paradox.
- How the practice of writing allows students Emmanuel and Chaim to break down barriers of understanding liturgical text.
- Why Sharon’s students see value in writing poetry as prayer instead of the more traditional prose or new translations of prayer.
- Sharon’s observations about Hebrew College helping rabbinical students develop deep literacy, working from inside the language of the traditional sources.
Featured on this Episode:
Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld became President of Hebrew College in July 2018. Rabbi Anisfeld first came to Hebrew College in 2003 as an adjunct faculty member of the Rabbinical School and then served as Dean of Students from 2005-2006. She went on to serve as Dean of the Rabbinical School from 2006-2017. Rabbi Anisfeld graduated from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1990, and subsequently spent 15 years working in pluralistic settings as a Hillel rabbi at Tufts, Yale and Harvard universities. She has been a regular summer faculty member for the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel since 1993 and is co-editor of two volumes of women’s writings on Passover.
Emmanuel Cantor is a fourth-year rabbinical student at Hebrew College. As a student rabbi he has served a number of Jewish communities, most recently Congregation Dorshei Tzedek and the Slifka Center for Jewish life at Yale. Before rabbinical school, Emmanuel worked as a community organizer for Jews United for Justice and lived in an Avodah Bayit. He earned his BA at Yale and is an alum of Yeshivat Maale Gilboa in northern Israel.
Chaim Spaulding (they/them) is a second-year rabbinical student at Hebrew College. They grew up in Arlington, VA and studied sociology at Columbia University in New York, where they nurtured a fondness for musical theater and public transportation. Outside of rabbinical school, when they are not hanging out at Nehar Shalom Community Synagogue or studying at Yeshivat Hadar, they can often be found reading and writing queer speculative fiction, hiking, dancing, and cooking with friends.
Rabbi Jessica Lowenthal `19 (Host) is the spiritual leader and Education Director at Temple Beth Shalom in Melrose, MA. She was ordained in 2019 at Hebrew College. Before attending rabbinical school, Rabbi Jessica was Assistant Regional Director at the Anti-Defamation League in Boston, working with partners like MIRA (Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition) and MassEquality. She holds an MBA in non-profit management and MA in Jewish Leadership from the Hornstein program at Brandeis University and a BA from George Washington University in Religion and Judaic Studies.
A special thank you for this episode’s musical contributions:
Intro by: Jackson Mercer
Jackson is an Ordination Candidate at the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College in Newton, MA. He grew up at Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael, CA where he cultivated a love of Judaism, embolden with music, spirituality and justice.
Esa Einai (Psalm 121:1)
Music by Jackson Mercer
Guitar and Melody by Jackson Mercer
Harmonies by Cantor Rosalie Will, Ilana Sandberg, Rabbi Micah Shapiro, Rabbi Josh Warshawsky, Noah Diamondstein, Ryan Leszner, Eliana Light.
From Touro Synagogue’s album “Celebrate! 30 Years of Shabbat Joy”
Featuring Cantor Kevin Margolius`13 and the Panorama Jazz Band
Touro Synagogue, New Orleans, LA