• Aaron Levi

God & Spirituality

In a previous post, I argue that American Jews today are undergoing a dramatic sea change in how we do, engage with, and, most importantly, perceive Judaism. In the end, I asked what does it mean to be Jewish in 2018? What are the Jewish knowledge, skills, and sensibilities that today’s learners require to navigate the world with self-confidence and agency inspired by Jewish values?

These questions are particularly salient as I begin writing a new unit in one of my curriculum development projects. Throughout this year, I have consulted for a synagogue seeking to transform its religious school into a more camp-like, experiential environment exploring key Jewish values while developing skills around collaboration, understanding, empathy, communication, and more. I am starting to structure a unit of 24 lessons for 100 4th-5th graders who will explore their connection to God & spirituality as well as Jewish life-cycle events.

As I reflect on what I hope the students will achieve next year, I find myself asking: What do 4th-5th graders need to know about God? What role can spirituality play in their day-to-day lives? Let’s tackle the spirituality part of this first. According to our friend Google, spirituality is “the quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.” Okay, so according to this definition, a spiritual person will choose between two opposing concepts—the spirit/soul or material/physical things. But, I ask, what’s the “spirit” behind spirituality? In God In Search of Man, Abraham Joshua Heschel writes: “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement…get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual, is to be amazed.”

I find that quote so instructive because spirituality is personal. It’s about my relationship to the world, to the past and to the future. It’s a choice we have in every waking moment to see, recognize, and rejoice in the beautiful—both in the world and ourselves. Spirituality is also about the collective, too. By holding the beautiful in one hand, we can hold in the other what’s broken in the world and in ourselves and, thereby, strive to achieve a more perfect state in both. But this can only be done if one also is able to pause and ask questions: What happened? Why? How did that make me feel? This process of open-ended inquiry itself brings us closer to God. As Heschel notes: “We are closer to God when we are asking questions than when we think we have the answers.”

If the curriculum I’m writing is successful at the end of next year, students will recognize that radical amazement is a gift that they can give themselves at any time but, especially, at milestones throughout their Jewish journeys. They will understand that our lives are not defined by objects or possessions but by people and experiences—and by our contributions to the Jewish people and the world. They will see and celebrate the awesome that is while also envisioning and working towards the potential awesome that could be.

There will be more engaging questions to ask and pedagogy to dissect throughout this unit, so, if you enjoyed this post, stay tuned! In the meantime, come join the conversation, and let me know what you think!


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