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Rabbi Irwin Kula
By MYRON LOVE
The good news, says Rabbi Irwin Kula, is that, contrary to doom and gloom commentary about the lack of interest among younger Jews in being Jewish, surveys show that over 90% of American Jews are proud to be Jewish.
 

 

“There is no Jewish identity problem” says Kula who is one of the featured speakers at this year’s annual Tarbut: Festival of Jewish Culture (November 10-18). “It is just that so many people are disconnected from our communal/legacy institutions. In other words, we don’t have an identity problem; we have an institutional problem. The unaffiliated, as the fastest-growing segment of our community, is a problem of disconnection from institution, not distancing from Jewish identity.”


 Rabbi Kula is a leader in outreach efforts to the unaffiliated and disconnected. He will be speaking on Thursday, November 15, at 7:30, on the topic, “Beyond Tribe and Creed, Religion as a Path to Human Flourishing”, at the Asper Jewish Community Campus.
 He describes himself as “a disruptive spiritual innovator and rogue thinker” with a focus on the “intersection of innovation, religion, and human flourishing”.
 A seventh generation rabbi, Kula was ordained in 1981 and has led congregations in St. Louis and Chicago. He notes that he also led the first Conservative congregation in the Old City in Jerusalem.


 Currently (and for the past ten years), he is the Co-President of Clal–The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. Clal was founded in 1974 by Elie Wiesel and Rabbi Yitz Greenberg (who is an icon in the Modern Orthodox movement).
 “Clal”, he explains, “is a think-tank whose mission is to re-imagine Jewish life for a globalized technological age in which people are mixing, blending and switching identities. We work at the intersection of religion, innovation and the science of human flourishing; and through seminars, classes, consulting and media outreach, we make Jewish wisdom a public good accessible to anyone everywhere.
 “Our bedrock principle is that Judaism and Jewish life must be profoundly and robustly pluralistic. No one stream or form of Judaism has a patent on the truth. We work with all religious denominations and political expressions of Judaism.


 “ The challenge,” he continues, “is not how to make people feel more Jewish. It is to explore how Jewish wisdom and practice can help people flourish. If Jewish wisdom and practice solve people’s real problems and help enhance people’s lives, they will use it. Just as we see a lot of innovation in many areas of society, we need innovation in religion, too. We need entrepreneurship, Jewish leadership and expressions of Judaism that enhance peoples’ lives in measurable ways.
 “There is an incredible explosion of Jewish creativity taking place in America. There are a tremendous number of new ventures starting up. Our challenge is not only to foster that start-up culture but also to help legacy institutions innovate from the inside.”
 Kula is also the co-founder and executive editor of “The Wisdom Daily”, a website for political, cultural and spiritual commentary and analysis. A popular media commentator, he is the author of the award-winning book, “Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life”, creator of the film, “Time for a New God”, and the Public TV series “Simple Wisdom”, and is co-founder of the Disruptor Foundation.


 Rabbi Kula has worked with organizations, foundations, and businesses in the United States and around the world to inspire people to live with greater passion, purpose, creativity and compassion.
 His newest initiatives, he reports, are working to develop a field of spiritual entrepreneurship and working on a new book titled, “Search Engine For Meaning.”
 Named one of the leaders shaping the American spiritual landscape, he received the 2008 Walter Cronkite Faith and Freedom Award for his work “toward equality, liberty and a truly inter–religious community” and has been listed in Newsweek for many years as one of America’s “most influential rabbis.”

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