Eileen Levinson, Founder & Creative Director
Wendy Jackler, Program Manager
Too often Jewish holidays catch us off guard and we are spiritually unprepared to engage in them meaningfully. Dare to Prepare, a yearlong series of creative learning workshops from The Jewish Studio Project, is designed to help participants, including disenfranchised or disinclined Jews, prepare spiritually for upcoming holidays to make these key moments in the year transformative. Dare to Prepare offers an innovative framework for Jewish engagement in which participants creatively explore, learn, and set intentions ahead of holidays. This experience promotes creative empowerment, allowing participants of all backgrounds to take ownership of our collective tradition.
A vast body of Jewish wisdom fuels both the methodology and content of The Jewish Studio Project’s (JSP) Dare to Prepare series. These creative learning workshops offer a dynamic approach that blends the traditional beit midrash (house of Jewish learning) with a multi-modal creative arts studio. Based on the Jewish teaching that human beings are made B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of the Divine, JSP’s core belief is that we are all inherently creative beings. Just as God is creator, we too possess the sacred ability and desire to create. Simply by being human, we have the creative capacity to draw on deep sources of wisdom to make sense out of chaos, to give form to new ideas, and to add beauty and complexity to the world. It is from this understanding of B’tzelem Elohim that Dare to Prepare provides all participants—regardless of prior experience—the space, creative framework and community to find new connection points between their lives and Jewish holidays.
A verse from Proverbs describes Torah as an Etz Chayim, a tree of life. JSP interprets this wisdom to say that Torah is alive, breathing new life into us as we breathe new life into it. It is by learning and playing with the text that we show honor and respect for the life-giving wisdom we have inherited. From this understanding of Etz Chayim, Dare to Prepare creates an accessible and welcoming environment for learning in which participants are given the creative tools to add their unique voices to text, thereby empowering them to be both inheritors and innovators of our rich tradition.
Each Dare to Prepare workshop draws on a specific nugget of Jewish wisdom related to a particular holiday. For example, Dare to Prepare: Entering The New Year uses a Hasidic text that describes teshuva (i.e., return) as an act of creativity and pegs it to Rosh Hashanah as the anniversary of the creation of the world. This specific theme is woven throughout the session through song, study, painting and reflective writing. The experience builds community, reinforces the notion of B’tzelem Elohim, and offers participants new connection points to teshuva, empowering them to set personally meaningful intentions for the New Year.
Recent studies show that Jews are increasingly disengaged from Jewish life and community and, in significant numbers, lack a sense of Jewish identity and connection. The Jewish Studio Project addresses the need for new ways of meaning making and investment in Jewish community by offering an innovative and dynamic framework for Jewish engagement that promotes creative empowerment and ownership over Jewish tradition. Through programs like Dare to Prepare, JSP activates creativity within individuals and communities to reinvigorate Judaism, make meaning in our lives, and promote positive social change. JSP designs and facilitates creative learning programs for a wide range of organizations (e.g., nonprofits, foundations, alumni groups) and leads its own immersive experiences and community programs.
JSP offers a new approach to Jewish creativity - one in which art is not just for artists and texts are not just for scholars. Dare to Prepare workshops utilize JSP’s unique learning methodology (The Jewish Studio Process), which combines two proven approaches—traditional hevrutah study and practices from the world of art therapy. Hevrutah study involves two learners exploring a shared text in order to come to know it and, in the process, to better understand and refine their own ideas and beliefs, as well as those of their partner. JSP’s creative arts process—a multiple-intelligence approach that utilizes practices such as painting, collage, movement and reflective writing—is then employed to more fully investigate the personal significance of the questions that arise through hevrutah learning.
Engaging in this way, participants find new entry points into the Jewish holidays, receive new insights into their lives and develop confidence in their inherent ability to create meaning. By emphasizing creative inquiry as the primary way to engage Jewishly, Dare to Prepare offers a reinvigorated approach to applying ancient Jewish wisdom that opens hearts and challenge minds; connects people to Jewish holidays in a way that is relevant to their lives; and provides the space and opportunity for creative risk taking.
Dare to Prepare has already provided hundreds of people with the framework and tools for finding personal meaning in Jewish holidays. This series offers a powerful entry point precisely when people are most looking for Jewish connection. At one event, a participant remarked, “I now feel more invested and involved with the spirit of the High Holidays. You made me think!” (Rosalie, lay leader, Syracuse NY).
In the first year of Dare to Prepare, JSP led 18 pre-holiday programs in partnership with over a dozen unique communities, directly impacting over 900 individuals. Participants came from a wide range of backgrounds and affiliations (including those who are unaffiliated). According to JSP post-workshop surveys, 96% of participants found their experience either very meaningful or meaningful and 95% of participants said they would recommend a Dare to Prepare workshop to a friend or colleague.
Recent participants describe their experience in the following ways: “I’ve been looking for a way into Judaism for a long time. Tonight I found my way in” (Dory, Bay Area Marketing Executive); “So different from anything I've ever done in relation to Judaism” (Sarah, 2015 Adamah Fellow); “Pushed me out of my comfort zone in a supportive, warm and meaningful way” (Elana, Social Entrepreneur); “I now feel inspired to take more creative risks as a way to explore Jewish life” (Dani, UC Berkeley Hillel student).
Judaism is an extraordinary, rich, diverse, and nuanced tradition that continues to unfold as we live it. At its best, our tradition provides a framework for living a life of meaning; it also provides avenues to challenge ourselves, turn over our ideas for greater scrutiny, and revisit our assumptions—all efforts to deepen both our individual and collective Jewish experiences. Its rituals, texts, prayers, holiday observances and lifecycle practices help us navigate life—elevating our joy, holding our sorrow, and permeating our existence with profundity. Some people sense that this is true about Judaism but lack the tools to access the wisdom in a meaningful and authentic way; others have never been open to exploring a Judaism that seems remote and uninviting.
Dare to Prepare offers a framework for individuals and communities to tap into the richness of Jewish tradition during key receptive moments in the annual Jewish holiday cycle. The success of this program comes from our ability to harness JSP’s unique learning methodology and toolbox to help people bring their full, authentic selves to an encounter with Judaism.
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