What is Asiyah? Part two: A mission statement


People sometimes ask me, “So what’s Asiyah? What’s your vision?”

This is the second installment in a series attempting to distill three years of thinking into something that's more than an elevator pitch and less than an essay. Here's part one, if you need to catch up.

When I talk to funders, I tell them "Asiyah’s mission is to establish a spiritual home for Jewish seekers and fellow travelers in the Cambridge/Somerville area of Massachusetts through an engaged, open, and inclusive community of Jewish practice and experimentation, in the lineage of Jewish Renewal, supporting personal growth and transformation while living the change we want to be in the world."

There’s a lot to explore in that paragraph, so let’s take it one piece at a time:

A spiritual home. You know hygge, that super-trendy Danish word for cozy? Like that, but also someplace where your yearning and your doubt can coexist. More specifically, it is a community where you feel familiarity and appropriate intimacy, even if don't know every person in the room. I mean home metaphorically, but also literally, because Asiyah is a tree with twin, entwined branches. The events we’ve had so far are the tender shoots of a prayer community, which many of you have experienced at a service or a song circle or a farbrengen. 

The other branch, still just a bud, is a café that will also be a physical home for the community (think coffeeshop with drop-in meditation room by day, beit midrash/house of learning and yearning by night, cozy shtibl/storefront prayerspace on Shabbes, all with regular rabbi office hours). It will also be a gathering place for the broader community to explore our shared and distinct sacred journeys, to study, to share food, to be artistic and creative, and to socialize.

For Jewish seekers and fellow travelers. Anyone who wants to make common spiritual cause in a primarily (but not exclusively!) Jewish space is welcome here.

Engaged. Every community will have its free electrons, orbiting for as long or as briefly as they choose, and we always welcome their energy and spark! But the vision for the core of the community (the nucleus, if you will) is one of high engagement and commitment. In a time when every app’s user base is called a "community," Asiyah is an effort to reclaim the concept and give it depth and thickness. In our evolving model, there will be a place for everyone—electron, neutron, or proton. (And we’ll also find a warmer, fuzzier metaphor!)

Open and inclusive. Our design is to live out radical inclusion every day, which includes involving LGBTQA+ folks, people of color, and people of differing abilities and needs in the design process. We affirm that folks with relative social power will take on the onus of learning how to serve our various identity communities so that people can spend more of their time being and not explaining. When, in our evolution, we fall short on this front, please talk to me (David) or someone in the leadership. We want to make it right.

Community of Jewish practice. I call it this, and not a “Jewish community,” because we are brought together by what we do (asiyah), not how we were born. Also, practice is a lifelong ... practice—there is no "perfect" here. Like all spiritual practices, the goal is to get better at being human, not performing a given ritual function.

Experimentation. In the evolutionary process of Judaism, experiments are crucial in finding the next step. This works on two levels: (1) Asiyah as one of the many experiments out in the broader evolving Jewish landscape, and (2) our experimentation with what Asiyah is becoming. My favorite definition of Judaism is “the 3500-year conversation about what it means to be Jewish.” We’re another part of the conversation.

In the lineage of Jewish Renewal. One way to understand Jewish Renewal is as a neo-Hasidic movement: taking the ecstatic prayer, deep meditation, and everyday mysticism of the original teachings of the Ba’al Shem Tov (the founder of Hasidism) and bringing them into a contemporary egalitarian/non-triumphalist framework. Another way to think of it is as the Jewish edge of the world’s renewal—the paradigm shift that so many of us palpably feel is under way. A third way is to experience it. Come experience it!

Supporting personal growth and transformation. This should be the object of every spiritual practice. If this isn’t happening for you, if this (or any) practice doesn’t increase kindness, compassion, and generosity in you and make you feel more alive, then it’s not working! 

Living the change we want to be in the world. This is that kindness, compassion, generosity, and aliveness expressing itself through you. This is an integral part of the “doing” which is the definition of Asiyah (as I wrote last week). How this expresses itself in its particulars will greatly depend on who ends up forming the core of the community. Are you an activist week in and week out, looking for a place to recharge your batteries? Are you looking for a community that is organizing around environmental, civic, and social change? Or do you just want to do Jewish in an way that's authentic to your highest values? Let’s build that together.

Photo credit: Adrianne Mathiowetz for Scout Cambridge