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Embodying Spirit, En~spiriting Body

Custom & Craft
Los Angeles, California United States
Leadership team

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

Organization website
Prize category
3 – 5 years
Target audience
Community Building

Embodying Spirit, En-spiriting Body offers an in-depth learning experience for Jewish clergy, student clergy, lay leaders, and spiritual practitioners who love to move, and who long to integrate movement, dance, and creative expression into their personal Jewish practice and community leadership. In the supportive and focused setting of four residential retreats, participants explore the deep structure of Jewish prayer, bring Torah alive, awaken and expand the experience of Divinity within their own physicality, and participate in co-creating a holy, movement-centered Jewish learning community.

What Jewish wisdom do you use in your work?

Our work is entirely sourced in Jewish wisdom, which we explore and integrate in new and creative ways. During the Embodying Prayer module, we unpack the underlying dynamic of the traditional siddur prayer service, from the gratitude of the morning blessings through the praises of Pesukei d'Zimra to the meditative and devotional states of the Sh'ma and the Amidah. Participants practice finding their own ways to express the essence of a prayer through movement, song, chant and poetry; each retreat culminates in a co-created Shabbat service in which each participate leads the community through one or more of the traditional prayers.

For the Embodying Torah module, each participant spends several months studying and finding ways to embody his or her birth parashah (the Torah portion that was being read during the week of their birth). During the retreat, each person presents their parashah to the group, incorporating intellectual text study with art, movement, and sound in a direct and very personal encounter with the text. In the Embodying Kabbalah retreat we work with primary sources, from Sefer Yetzirah to Zohar to Hasidut, placing the concepts and qualities inside our bodies, dancing with them and exploring them as tools for bringing insight and balance into our lives. The final module, The Sacred Dance, explores Jewish approaches to life cycle and the rituals that traditionally mark them, from birth through bone mitzvah, marriage, and death, touching on many points in between. Coming to understand the basic components that characterize all transformative ritual, the participants then devise their own creative rituals and practice guiding the whole group through them.

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

As described above, in each area of focus over the four retreats, participants directly encounter prayer, Torah, kabbalah, and life spiral in a profoundly personal way, and are supported in presenting their insights to their group in novel, creative, forms. In between the four residential retreats, which are held six months apart over 18 months, participants meet regularly with a hevruta (study) partner from their cohort, as well as with the Program Director and other faculty members, to study, discuss the embodied projects they are developing, and to share. These hevruta relationships often continue beyond the program.

Participants are encouraged to bring their experiences and insights back to their home communities, where many draw on their what they've learned in the program to facilitate classes and create worship services that integrate movement, and bring a lively spirit of exploration to their synagogues, Jewish education programs, and workplaces.

What impact has your program had on your participants?

Participants in each cohort have brought the work into their roles as Jewish community leaders, educators, and Jewish artists. Two participants in the program's first cohort began cantorial training after completing the program; another participant was ordained as a cantor and another as a rabbi,

Here are a excerpts of comments by past participants:

"Words can’t really fully express the depth of the special impact that this exquisite program, Embodying Spirit, EnSpiriting Body (ESEB), under the brilliant direction of Rabbi Diane Elliot, has had on my life – really only Dance and Movement could touch the truest place! It was as if I had finally woken up out of a deep sleep – everything was more vivid, vibrant and radiant. With the sacred combination of text, prayer, chanting, meditation, authentic movement and, above all, community, I could finally shed much of my inhibition, fear and disconnection, and become more fully alive." (Mimi Nelson Oliver, natal specialist, Jewish lay leader)

"As a 20 plus year participant in many different kinds of spiritual gatherings and retreats, I can say without equivocation that Rabbi Diane Elliot's Embodying Spirit, En-Spiriting Body program is the most magnificent of any I have attended....I think the most meaningful change wrought for me by Rabbi Diane's program is that I'm learning how to make contact with my own innermost self.... And it's my sense that this is happening for each person in my cohort, because ESEB invites its participants to en-wrap themselves, in a deeply experiential way, in the worlds of Jewish prayer, scripture, and practice - to dance and sing and study those worlds. And because it provides the safest of spaces, the most expertly guided of spaces, in which to do this with an eye towards repairing the separations, lived out in our bodies, hearts, minds, and souls, between worlds." (Dr.Gwen Weil, psychotherapist, Jewish community member)

"I felt that the heavens reached down to open a path of light and love to me, filling it with dancing soul sisters of deep intent and full hearts, all beckoning me onward on the journey that is mine. A life-giving feast for body, heart, mind, and soul!” 
 (Evlyn Gould, professor & lay spiritual leader
at Temple Beth Israel, Eugene OR
, ALEPH cantorial student)

"Diane’s way touches and opens my heart and all of my being to such great depths, to a place where I can truly access more of my essence and authentic self and, in turn, gain more access to our Torah and liturgy.... I am learning so much and feeling deepened in the process… the information becoming wisdom, nourishing, challenging and illuminating deep places within me.
" (Alisa Fineman, Cantorial Soloist at Congregation Beth Israel, Carmel Valley, CA; HUC Cantorial student)

"The reminder and the re-enlivening of the body-sensor, the physical-knower, the joy of non-thought, 'bimah-in-motion,' [Rabbi Diane’s] guidance, the space [she] create[s], [her] own inner source, have been such a huge part of my opening, offering me just the perfect space in which to experiment with suspending disbelief and to practice in the deepest sense."
(SL, corporate leadership trainer, Jewish community member)

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

To release the juices held in the Jewish wisdom sources, it's not enough to simply read texts or discuss the impact they have had and may have in the future. We have learned though the work of this program how deeply people respond to "living the texts." Wisdom comes alive when we can experience it moving us – moving within and through our own lives.

To make "living the text" experiences available to members of our Jewish community and beyond, we must first consciously address the patterns and strictures that keep us diminished and mired in unproductive ideas about ourselves, our communities, and our world. A potent tool for this release is somatic (body-based) healing. As Founding Director of this Program, I bring my years of experience within the world of somatic healing, dance, the arts, and spiritual direction this training, These skills safely and gently help people open into their own places of fear and shutdown so they can cultivate trust, and connect joyfully with wholeness. By assembling an impeccable team of supporting staff and teachers, we are able to create a multi-skilled safe space in which to do in-depth work -- to support each person as he or she lives deeply into these transformative wisdom sources, and creates novel forms of expresion that make Jewish wisdom come alive in fully embodied ways.