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"Judaism won't make you better looking, or physically fit.  It won't help you get rich or achieve career success.  It may not even make you happier.  What it CAN do is help you be a better person."

This remark, from Rabbi Ed Feinstein a few years ago at Limmud, stuck with me, especially as we approach The Days of Awe - the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur. Whether we engage with the holidays' liturgy literally or metaphorically, it aims to inspire us to better ourselves in order to be sealed in the Book of Life.  If Judaism is about becoming a better person, the time is now.  The liturgy offers three paths: teshuvah(repentance), tefilah (prayer) and tzedakah (righteousness).

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat describes teshuvah as "letting go of the dream of a better past."
Neuroscience teaches that our memories are suspect.  Much of what we think we remember is actually a patchwork of memory and reconstruction - a paint by numbers canvass on which our memories provide broad parameters, with details filled in by our minds. We then color our memories through the filter of good intentions or the "dream of a better past."

I have found the mahzor liturgy wanting in awakening my soul (sometimes it's had the opposite effect). Going through the motions, standing up and beating my breast while reciting the al cheyt prayers didn't move me forward in the "accounting of my soul." For those like me, there are other options.

Recently, the Jewish practice of Mussar has been re-invigorated. Mussar, which literally means discipline, goes back over a thousand years; it developed as a serious and widespread Jewish practice in 19 th  century Lithuania.  Nearly destroyed by the Holocaust, it is enjoying a revival in 21 st century North America.

Mussar is both a field of study AND a practice, focusing on ourselves.  The goal is to "release the light of holiness that lives within the soul," according to Alan Morinis, a Mussar master teacher. It uses a lens of Middot (virtuous attributes) - to which we aspire and by which we can measure our spiritual progress.


Modern Mussar is gaining popularity.  Until recently, engagement with Mussar has been in Orthodox yeshivot and among adults.  That's beginning to change, with new resources emerging for teaching these concepts to younger students.

Filmmaker Tiffany Shlain came across Mussar while exploring universal character virtues for her short film,  The Making of a Mensch .  She has since worked with organizations across the country to develop programs, events and  kits for educators  to highlight and expose a new generation to these ideas for "Character Day" which she has declared for September 22.

Educator Rabbi Avi Orlow created this  "Periodic Table" of virtues, inspired by Mussar teachings and Tiffany's films.  Avi clustered 42 attributes into six key groups - Wisdom, Courage, Justice, Honor, Moderation, and Transcendence.

Julie Emden director of the  Embodied Jewish Learning Initiative , here at Jewish LearningWorks developed a set of resources for teaching  Embodied Middot  using yoga poses. 


For parent and family educators - click here for resources for families and young children  - including some great stuff from our friends at BimBam and PJ Library.

Mussar is catching on because it offers us a channel to a deep tradition of Jewish wisdom, wisdom that can enhance our lives and help us repair the world and ourselves.  Here are Jewish LearningWorks, we are excited to be working with educators develop new tools for teaching this wisdom (to all ages).

If you would like to read more about Mussar, click here for books available at the Jewish Community Library.


As we enter the month of Elul, the shofar is blown each morning.  Rabbis refer to the shofar as a wake-up call. "Awake, you sleepers!" Maimonides shouts in his Laws of Repentance.  I think Maimonides understood how the waking up of our souls involves "letting go of the dream of a better past," offering the prospect of a better future. 

David Waksberg
CEO Jewish LearningWorks
High Holy Day Resources 

  Resources for Educators and Families
Visit our onli ne resource portal  for a printable, sensory-
friendly activity booklet for kids, guide to ritual observance, useful links, activities and crafts on Pinterest and more!
Embodied Jewish Learning

Embodying the High Holy Days

Professional Development Tele-seminar with Julie Emden 
Wednesday, September 14th, 2016 6:00 - 7:15 pm  

Will you offer or lead Embodied Jewish Learning experiences for the holidays?
Connect to themes, texts and best practices for infusing body or movement-based elements in your holiday offerings.

Questions? Contact  for more information.
INCLUDE Special Needs

Becker Mini-Grants
Jewish LearningWorks is pleased to announce the recipients of the inaugural round of the Newton and Rochelle Becker Charitable Trust Mini-Grants.

These 2-to-1 matching grants of up to $1,000 are designed to support synagogues creating meaningful and relevant learning experiences for adults, with an emphasis on reaching younger adults with children still at home.
The synagogues receiving grants in this round are:
  • Congregation Shir Hadash (Los Gatos) for Experiencing Jewish Culture, looking at the Jewish experience through the lens of the Arts, language, and food.
  • Congregation Ner Shalom (Cotati) for Chant and Hike Up the Mountain of Revelation, led by Rabbi Shefa Gold.
  • Or Shalom Jewish Community (San Francisco) for Enchanted Journey with Piyut, built around exploring Jewish sacred song.
  • Congregation Beth Chaim (Danville) for Songs of Our Heartsparallel learning program for religious school parents.
The deadline for applications for the next round of grants is October 31st, 2016.

Jewish Community Library
Exhibit: 'Haiku and Prayers: Where Japanese and Jewish Converge'

Thursday, August 11th - 
Sunday, December 11th
Jewish Community Library, SF

Presented by: Jewish Community Library

Embodied Jewish Learning
Sacred Dance Circles for Women
Wednesday, September 7th
7:15 - 8:30pm
Peninsula Jewish Community Center
800 Foster City Boulevard, Foster City

Presented by: Julie Emden & PJCC

Embodied Jewish Learning
Moving with Elul

Thursday, September 8th
7:00 - 9:00pm
Chochmat HaLev 
2215 Prince St., Berkeley

Presented by Julie Emden & Chochmat HaLev

Embodied Jewish Learning
Embodying the High Holy Days
Wednesday, September 14th
6:00 - 7:15pm

Presented by: Julie Emden

Israel Education Initiative
Israel & The European Union
Sunday, September 18th
9:40 - 11:40am 
Congregation Shir Hadash, Los Gatos

Presented by Congregation Shir Hadash, Rochelle and David Becker Charitable Trust, and Jewish LearningWorks

J ewish Community Library
Yoga for Renewal

S unday, September 18th
2:00 - 4:00pm
4th Street Yoga
109 Fourth Street, Berkeley

Presented by Julie Emden, 4th Street Yoga, Chochmat HaLev, Congregation Netivot Shalom, JCC East Bay, and Kehilla Community Synagogues

Embodied Jewish Learning
Elul: Dance of Return and Renewal
Sunday, September 18th
7:15 - 9:30pm
Location in Berkeley provided upon registration

Presented by: Julie Emden

Professional Development
Generation Now - Understanding and Engaging Jewish Teens Today at the Jewish Community Federation's Day of Philanthropy

Thursday, September 22nd
2:00 - 6:00pm
Four Seasons Hotel, SF
Click Here for Details

Presented by: Jewish Community Federation

Jewish Community Library
Hebrew Storytelling for Preschoolers with Koren Zuckerman
Hebrew Storytelling Audience
Sunday, September 25th
11:00am - 12:00pm
Jewish Community Library, SF

Presented by: Koren Zuckerman
Embodied Jewish Learning
Yoga for Renewal in Chicago

Sunday, September 25th
7:00 - 9:00pm
Yogaview Wilmette, Wilmette, IL
Presented by: Julie Emden and Deb Wineman


For Families with Young Children

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