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Clergy Camp

Custom & Craft
Los Angeles, California United States
Leadership team

Eileen Levinson, Founder & Creative Director
Wendy Jackler, Program Manager

Organization website
Prize category
1 – 3 years
Target audience
Jewish Professionals
Experiential Learning

Clergy Camp provides professional development for mind, heart and soul, for ordained clergy of any movement. For four days every summer, participants study text in the morning, develop skills in the afternoon, Emotions-in-Leadership practicum, and process that day’s learning in the evening during group Hashpa’ah (spiritual direction). The intensive program is designed to foster a supportive community of practitioners and peers in a setting safe enough to share deep struggles yet strong enough to provide support and new ideas. Clergy Camp shares all meals and davvening with “Smicha Week”: ALEPH’s Ordination student intensive curriculum, broadening the idea-sharing to include ALEPH faculty and students.

What Jewish wisdom do you use in your work?

Jewish tradition understands the heart, lev, as the integrated receptacle for both knowledge and emotions, operating in partnership. This view explains why the pedagogical holds attention to both intellectual and emotional learning. Clergy Camp's four-day intensive is dedicated to the transmission of Jewish wisdom, through the work of master teachers and practitioners who are at the top of their field.

The morning text study takes a deep dive into sources ranging from Tanakh and Talmud to Hassidic masters and modern thinkers. In 2016, the topic was “Geirut [conversion] as a Spiritual Endeavor,” taught by Rabbi Jeffrey Fox, Rosh Yeshiva of Maharat in the Bronx. Fox has distinguished himself on this topic, becoming a valued expert among his colleagues when facing a complicated case.

The afternoon Emotions-in-Leadership practicum seeks to actively involve students through case studies, journaling, role-playing, around-the-room movement and discussion prompts, etc. In 2016, “The Role of Feelings in Community, Leadership, and Change” was taught by Rev. Dr. Bill Kondrath, Emeritus Professor of Pastoral Theology and Director of Theological Field Education Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge. Kondrath is a widely published author and speaker, as well as a long-time VISIONS (diversity and inclusion) consultant.

The evening group Hashpa’ah (spiritual direction) session is designed as a way to help participants process the day’s learning, integrating lessons learned into their own lives as they are living them that moment. It is convened frequently with a niggun, a wordless melody in which all join. Then, each member shares as they wish, with no cross-talk, commentary or banter; the aim is to bear witness to each other’s truth, and to sit with it, in community. Often, a spontaneous prayer is uttered to both open and close the session.

How does your program work to make that wisdom accessible and directly applicable to your audience's lives?

Clergy Camp is focused on nurturing those Jewish ordained professionals who are trying to bring Judaism to life for their home congregations, universities and other institutions. To make the wisdom of texts, emotions in leadership, and spiritual recharging accessible, Clergy Camp seeks to hire master teachers and practitioners who are at the top of their field. Various modalities of learning are employed; the morning shiur is not merely a lecture, but a vigorous discussion with many points of view heard, debated and incorporated. Reading and writing also play a critical role. The afternoon program being more of a practicum, it seeks to incorporate participants’ actual field experiences, via discussion, role-playing, etc. Guided explorations of inner emotional terrain were accomplished via creative use of Power Point, graphics, photographs, and classroom exercises that invited participants to stand at different places to symbolize a point about diversity of experience.

The obvious value of the day’s learning emerged during group hashpa’ah in the evening. As various participants spoke, it became clear that their thinking about how to address an issue that they faced in their role as clergy was evolving, based on what they were learning. Within one day, the benefits of Clergy Camp were becoming clear.

What impact has your program had on your participants?

All participants of Clergy Camp spoke of how “transformative” their learning was, and how they couldn’t wait to apply lessons learned to their pulpits/positions. Here are a few of the comments participants made:

“Good balance of classes – text study and spiritual practice/emotional side, left brain and right brain.”

“The safe space created is a blessing. It is unique and important opportunity to speak freely with other clergy about matters of the heart.”

“Connecting with emotions is providing a great sacred space and deepening the collective clergy community. [I feel] gratitude.”

“Hashpa’ah in the evenings was helpful.”

“So much awesome!”

“This must happen again.”

“On the first morning of class with Rabbi Jeff Fox we study Talmud, Tosafot, Judith Plaskow, Tamar Ross, and Rambam, all of which inform our conversation about geirut (conversion) and the unfolding of Jewish tradition. I can feel synapses sparking to life that haven't been lit up in ages. The text study is enlivening, and the conversations that it engenders are even more so.
“We talk about Ruth and Ezra as opposite Biblical paradigms for how to relate to conversion. We talk about how Rashi sees the Exodus to Sinai journey as parallel to, and as a kind of, conversion. We talk about Jewishness as spiritual practice and Jewishness as peoplehood and what happens when we try to separate those two. We talk about the implication of seeing the Sinai moment as the paradigmatic experience of Jewishness if that moment occurred only for the men."
“I wish I could send a message back in time to my collegiate religion major self. Could I have imagined then that someday this would be my life: sitting around a table with wise colleagues who are at least as passionate about Judaism as I am, grappling with tradition, asking hard questions and taking joy in the wrestle?”
“Around the room, Rev. Bill Kondrath has posted signs with drawings of different emotional states, labeled with single words: "scared", "joyful", "sad", "mad", "powerful", "peaceful". He invites us first to stand beneath the sign depicting the emotional state that felt most safe to us in childhood. Then to stand beneath the sign depicting the emotional state we felt least able to express in childhood. And then to stand beneath the sign depicting the emotion we habitually substitute for the one we didn't feel safe expressing."
“In the conversation that ensues, one of my classmates mentions Reb Zalman's teachings about the need for rabbis to serve as geologists of the soul. This is maybe especially true for those of us who serve also as spiritual directors: it's our task to help those whom we serve to uncover the gems buried in the strata of their own hearts."
“Some of what we find inside is joyful, and some of what we find can feel like land mines. But the only way to defuse the land mines is to find them and gently dismantle them, and the only way to uplift the gems is to unearth them and polish them and let them shine.”
--From the blog of participant Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, just named as one of Forward Magazine’s 32 most inspiring rabbis in North America in 2016, as posted on her blog “Velveteen Rabbi,” named by TIME magazine as one of the top 25 blogs in the country in their first annual blog index in 2008.

“I just wanted to take a moment to say thank you to this group. Something special happened in that room, and I am not quite sure how. The learning was great and your shared life experience and wisdom was amazing. But the ability to build trust in just four mornings was special.”
-- Rabbi Jeffrey Fox of Yeshivat Maharat in the Bronx, who taught our text study in the morning.

What have you learned about applied Jewish wisdom that contributes to your success?

As clergy, our ability to influence and touch others comes from our ability to speak our deep inner truth, from a place of integrity, knowledge, and support. Jewish wisdom won’t spread without leaders who can give voice to it. Although Rabbis, Cantors and Rabbinic Pastors bear vital messages of wisdom, empathy, ethics and values, the world seems to be changing faster than our training can accommodate. When training for clergy focuses on the head more than the heart or soul, it can leave ordained field practitioners feeling at best unready and at worst vulnerable to burn-out or cynicism. What is more, that individual failure can translate to entire congregations feeling uninspired, at odds with each other, even hopeless. Clergy Camp seeks to bridge that gap. By tending to mind, heart and soul, today’s Jewish leaders can become tomorrow’s change-makers. I started Clergy Camp because I wanted that kind of education for myself.