Tidewater Together’s Alan Morinis plans transformative journey for area Jews

by | Jan 30, 2017 | Featured, Other News

Thursday, February 2–Sunday, February 5

Strengthening the Jewish community and engaging all area Jews in a truly transformative experience are two primary goals of the Milton “Mickey” Kramer Scholar-in-Residence Fund’s 4th Annual Tidewater Together. Unique in its scope and in its appeal to community members of various affiliations, involvement, and levels of observance, this year’s fourday event features Alan Morinis as scholar-in-residence.

Morinis, founder and dean of the Mussar Institute, will lead six progressive discussions about the practice of Mussar—a Jewish tradition which emphasizes self-awareness, action, and, ultimately, transformation.

Each of Morinis’ conversations will take place at a different area synagogue, all of which are excited to open their doors to bring the Tidewater Jewish community together.

There is no charge to attend the discussions—all of which include a reception with lunch or desserts. As it has for the past three years, Ohef Sholom Temple will host a Tidewater Together community Shabbat dinner before Morinis’ talk on Friday evening. (The 6:30 pm event costs $10, and is free for those 12 and under. A kosher option is available. Dinner attendance is not mandatory for the 7:30 pm service and dessert reception.)

The Jewish News spoke with Morinis via Skype and asked him to provide insights into each of the topics he will speak about. We also asked if it was necessary to attend all six discussions.

“While any one theme can stand on its own, they’re deliberately structured to build on each other,” he says. The progression, he adds, can be transformative for everyone who attends, and for the community at large.

The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar
Thursday, Feb. 2, 6:30 pm, B’nai Israel Congregation
Alan Morinis: This first session is the overview. Here, what I want to establish for people is, “You know folks, I didn’t make this up. It’s not coming out of my own head or my own experience.” What came out of my experience was an encounter with a Jewish tradition that I was unfamiliar with. Which, as you look into it, you’ll see how substantial it is.

The Ways of the Righteous:
Contemporary Lessons from a 16th Century Text
Friday, Feb. 3, 12 pm, Temple Israel
AM: Immediately, we jump into this next session and into a text. Orchot Tzaddikim is its name. An orchot is a way, or a path. Tzaddikim are the righteous, so orchot tzaddikim is the path of the righteous, the ways of the righteous.

This little bit of text from the introduction to the book sets up the paradigm for how to understand and see our own experience in a very clear way, in very straightforward language. And you can’t believe it’s written 500 years ago!

It’s talking about everyday experience—seeing it not just as things that happen, but in a sense as a personal curriculum. The things that happen to you are things that you are supposed to learn from and grow with and grow through. The second talk goes right to this source, because it’s very important for me to ground things in the tradition itself. We do that by going to the text.

You Shall Be Holy:
Personal Transformation as a Jewish Imperative
Friday, Feb. 3, 7:30 pm, Ohef Sholom Temple Dinner: 6:30 pm, $10
AM: The third talk is “You Shall be Holy.” That’s the goal. Now we’re looking through our everyday experience, but how do we organize it? How do we make sense of it? You need to have a reference point that is the ultimate reference point in order to make sense of all the bits and pieces. That notion of “you shall be holy” comes directly from the Torah and is really the driving force behind all of the work that one is meant to do on oneself—it’s not for the sake of improving yourself, it’s for the sake of filling the Jewish mandate to be holy.

If you’re really impatient, that’s not going to contribute to being holy. If you’re an angry person, that’s not going to contribute to being holy. If you’re a miser, or you’re paralyzed by worry, or whatever it might be, those personal characteristics and those habits and those proclivities are not just things in and of themselves.

Yes it’s true, it may better to be patient than to be impatient, but in a Jewish context, that’s not how we understand it. What we understand is a person who is overly impatient or overly patient has a quality that is a barrier on their journey towards holiness. The journey toward holiness is the inner journey of understanding yourself, understanding your experience, and seeing your challenges and overcoming them.

Torah Through a Mussar Lens:
A Mussar Lesson from Parshat Bo
Saturday, Feb. 4, 9:30 am, Congregation Beth El
AM: In the fourth session we take it down into Torah. The point is to connect it to the deepest and most profound level of our tradition. So that it’s not just superfluous to, but rather in fulfillment of.

Mussar shows up in the Torah in many different ways, but so often what we find is interpreted in terms of collective living. Through this session, looking with a Mussar lens, what we’ll see is that the Torah is actually giving us guidance for personal living.

What is Spirituality? A Jewish Take
Saturday, Feb. 4, 7:30 pm, Temple Emanuel
AM: Session Five is all about you. It’s not about theory. It’s about understanding your own curriculum.

The miser has been assigned generosity. The impatient person has been assigned to learn patience. The worried person has been assigned to learn trust. If you get it, you realize, “Hey, this is a great thought. It’s not that I should feel badly about myself for feeling impatient. I should realize that that’s what’s on my curriculum and I should do something about this.”

This isn’t about self-criticism. It’s about self-awareness and then going to the next step, which is based on a very profound Jewish idea—that we can change. You know, not every human culture or spiritual tradition says we can change. Some of them say we can’t. They say, “It’s your destiny. It’s your fate. It’s your karma.” That’s not the Jewish view at all.

The Jewish view is if you’ve done something or if you’re in the habit of doing something, do teshuva [repentance] and you can change. That is the view of Jewish life. It’s very much in our hands and flexible. It’s right here where the rubber starts to hit the road around the personal aspect of things—you’ll see things in your own life, through this lens.

How to Get to Heaven:
Practice! Practice! Practice!
Sunday, Feb. 5, 10 am Kehillat Bet Hamidrash Synagogue
AM: The final session is practice, practice, practice! The teachers in this tradition realize you don’t change because you get information. And you don’t change just because you understand better. Those things are necessary, but they only set the stage.

It’s like when you get a diagnosis of high cholesterol. It’s good information to have in the sense that you can then proceed to do something that’s in the interest of your bodily health, but the diagnosis itself doesn’t change you. The same thing is true in relation to personal spiritual work.

Mussar is rightly described—among other things— as being a path of practice, or a discipline that one takes on. It’s at this session where I say, “Okay, go now. It’s time to get out of the classroom and really take responsibility for who you are and who you could be.”

The thing about the Jewish spiritual path it is that it can’t be focused on you as an individual alone. We don’t have monasteries and convents in caves in the mountains. We don’t hold that out to people as being the way of spiritual practice.

Jewish spiritual practice happens in the context of relationship. And what you find in relationship is when one person begins to change in a relationship, it changes the relationship—and the other person has to change too. In the context of a group—be it a synagogue or JCC or Federation or Hillel or school or family—you find that when people begin to understand their own inner life better and take responsibility for it and attach themselves to moving closer to the ideals of what the Jewish tradition says, then the culture of the organizations, school, and even the family changes too.

These four days and the practice that follows is a transformative process. I hear it from students, from communities, from board members, from individuals: “I’m not the same person as I used to be.” It’s interesting to realize that this is what Judaism asks of us, that this is fulfilling a very major Jewish purpose. Which is to change ourselves—to engage with our challenges in life in order that we move through those challenges in the direction of holiness. That’s a Jewish mandate.

For more information, and to RSVP for the community dinner and for host synagogues’ planning purposes, visit www.TidewaterTogether.org, call 757-965-6138 or email jamitay@ujft.org. Updates will be available on the UJFT Facebook page, www.facebook.com/UJFTidewater.