The following article originally Sept. 24., appeared in the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent.
Authenticity. Ethics. Relevance. Social action.
Rabbi Shelly Barnathan has gone on more than 100 coffee dates with members of the “baby boomer, empty nester” generation to find out what they are looking for in a Jewish community.
Through what she called “holy conversations,” she asked them questions like: “What are the pressing questions of deep pertinent meaning for you in this phase of your life?” “Tell me about your Jewish journey?” “What are your hopes and dreams for continuing to make deep authentic meaning in this time of your life?”
These keywords popped up again and again, and Barnathan noticed the pattern.
It helped lead to the creation of Or Zarua, a co-constructed spiritual community that aims to meet the spiritual needs of baby boomers and empty nesters at this stage in their lives.
Its name, which means “light is sown,” taken from a psalm, contains a crucial element for Barnathan, herself now an empty nester who graduated from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 2015.
To her, the notion of or, or light, is key.
“I knew from the start that the name — whatever name we did end up choosing — that light, or, would be part of it because for me it’s always about finding the light in the world and bringing light to the world,” she said. “By lifting up each other’s light, we see the righteousness in each person and then by expressing the gifts that are in us, we lift up each other’s light. It’s also not just for the purpose of lifting up each other’s light and learning or studying together, but it’s to bring tzedek, bring justice to the world.”
Check out our own interview with Rabbi Shelly Barnathan, RRC ’15, and Cyd Weissman, assistant vice president for innovation and impact.
And here's Cyd Weissman's blog post about the project.