Program Banner Image

Directing the Heart: Journeying with the Psalms. Submitted by A Way In Jewish Mindfulness Organization, Philadelphia PA

Custom & Craft
Los Angeles, California United States
Leadership team

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

Organization website
Prize category
5+ years
Target audience
Experiential Learning

The rich tapestry of psalms offers companionship on our journeys through life’s joys and pain. These ancient poems yearn, cry, comfort, exalt, lament and sing, declaring sacred this human endeavor and reminding us that we are connected to each other and guided by a Divine Mystery that is there whenever we call. Through accessible, creative translations the psalms teach us how to meet well the challenges and blessings of life and how to live with presence, awareness and gratitude.

A mindfulness approach guides us in using their wisdom to “trust in the unfolding mystery and act for good.” (Psalm 37:3)

What Jewish wisdom do you use in your work?

Our ancient psalms have guided our ancestors through the ages, offering comfort and protection, calling forth healing and peace, expressing pain, sadness and terror and lifting up hope, possibility and praise.
Rabbi Yael Levy has explored the psalms through meditation, reflection and study. They guide her personal practice and her rabbinic teachings. Through these endeavors she has created translations that are accessible and shine a light on the power and beauty of the psalms’ ancient and relevant wisdom. While the translations represent her own experiences with the psalms, they have been informed by The Art Scroll book of Psalms, The Book of Psalms by Robert Altar, The JPS Tanakh, Opening to You by Norman Fischer, and Psalms for Praying by Nan Merrill.

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

The psalms sing with intimacy and passion. They are the cries of individuals seeking connection and they are the calls of a common humanity searching for meaning and reaching for a relationship with the Divine.

Rabbi Yael Levy’s original translations and interpretations seek to convey the personal and universal messages of the psalms, making them accessible to guide and inform the ways in which we live.

Psalms do not offer a quick fix. They provide a deep practice that connects us to all who have come before us and all who will come after. Through workshops, prayer services, classes, art projects and retreats, we teach how these ancient songs can sing to our hearts and come through the work of our hands, helping us live in more open and loving connection with ourselves, each other and this beautiful and fragile world.
Through A Way In Jewish Mindfulness Organization, we offer classes and workshops in which we explore psalms to discover how their ancient and universal wisdom can enrich and guide our lives.
We teach translations of entire psalms and verses from psalms to lift up prayer, meditation and individual and communal spiritual practice.
Rabbi Levy makes available individual psalm verses for a person’s Hebrew name. These are used for meditation, prayer and creative projects.
We offer guidance on how to create your own psalm by combining verses from different psalms and also how to create a psalm for someone else to ease, offer comfort and celebrate life’s passages.
We offer instruction on how to work with psalms to cultivate gratitude, awareness, generosity, kindness and trust. And we teach how to use psalms when faced with fear, uncertainty, pain and tragedy.

We share these teachings with our local community in Philadelphia, through retreats in New Mexico, Northeastern Pennsylvania and New York, and with various communities around the country during Shabbat and weekend scholar-in-residence invitations. We also offer teachings nationwide on line and through the web to the over 3000 people who have signed up for our mailings. Verses and passages for meditation, daily intentions, study and guided reflection are available on daily Facebook posts, Twitter and a blog.

What impact has your program had on your participants?

The psalms have offered great guidance for our participants. They have provided strength and comfort in times of pain and support in times of confusion, uncertainty and fear. They have called us to live fully with gratitude and love and have lifted up celebration and joy.

“The translation of psalm 37:3, 'Trust in the unfolding and meet it well,' taken directly from the first and last letters of my Hebrew name, has provided me with great comfort when I feel fear and uncertainty about my life. This passage has spoken to me most strongly when I feel I have lost control of balance or missed the mark. Quieting myself — or using the psalm to quiet my thoughts — has helped me understand the deep meaning of these words and their impact on my everyday life. I am so appreciative.”

“May my prayers be rooted / May they rise like incense / May my prayers be received as a gift.” (Psalm 141:2) I use this powerful prayer each morning to set an intention for my day. On many days, I will substitute the word 'prayer' for a specific intention that arises, for example, I might use my words, or my thoughts, or my actions, or my care giving …or simply, my day. I have found that I truly am “rooted” by this prayer. Often, before I say the Sh’ma at bedtime, I will review one activity for the day that exemplified my intention.”

“I have set to music the verse 24 from psalm 118 that we have spoken about so often.
'This is the moment we have, let us rejoice and give thanks.'
It helps me remember the preciousness of each moment and it gives me strength and inspiration when I am faced with a difficult situation.”

“I repeat a verse from psalms before going in to see my patients. It helps clear my mind of distractions. I am finding that this practice is making me a better doctor.”

“The psalms have 'lifted my eyes' in a new way and have shown me that I can be more generous and kind to myself and others.”

"I am so thankful for the guidance of the psalms, they are helping me and my whole family find healing with each other: 'Guide me, Infinite One, on your path; let me walk in your truth. Unify my heart that I may live in awe,' from Psalm 86:11."

In many ways, our work with the psalms have helped people create spiritual practices that support them in living with greater awareness, kindness, trust, gratitude and love. The accessible language of the translations has brought many into deeper relationship with the wisdom of the tradition and has shown how Judaism provides tools for meditation and guidance to help us live with impermanence and uncertainty.

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

We have discovered that the psalms are an intimate dialogue between our souls and the Divine Mystery and that we are all invited to add our voices, yearnings, pain and joys to these Eternal songs. We have learned, through these songs of our ancestors, that a relationship with the Divine is a relationship with the unfolding of all life and that we do not walk life’s journey alone.
From the psalms we learn that gratitude, trust, compassion, patience, clarity and strength are all practices and it is incumbent upon us to deepen these qualities in ourselves so we are better able to care for each other and our world. Psalms teach that each of us has something to give and that each of us is here to offer ourselves for the benefit of all. We have learned from the psalms to listen to the songs of the earth, sky, water and all living creatures and to add our voices to help bring forth harmony, understanding, beauty and love.
We have learned that all of us yearn for connection and that the wisdom of the psalms provide a path that helps us create meaning and live in compassionate and loving relationship with ourselves, each other and the mysteries of life.