Judaism Unbound Episode 163: Collective Effervescence - Lizzi Heydemann


Lizzi Heydemann, the rabbi and founder of Mishkan Chicago, joins Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg in conversation about creating a 21st Century Jewish spiritual community. In their discussion, she calls for embodied experiences of Judaism that are “primal,” “spiritual,” “bold,” “visceral,” and “powerful.” [1]

(0:01 - 15:11): To begin the episode, Lizzi Heydemann looks back at the beginnings of Mishkan Chicago, which was created to reach people in Chicago who had not yet found a robust form of Jewish communal life that spoke to them both socially and spiritually. She then turns to the name “Mishkan Chicago,” outlining its ancient meaning from the text of the Torah, [2] along with how it maps onto the lived reality of the space that she now leads. [3] She emphasizes the ways in which the Tabernacle (Mishkan) traveled from place to place in the Torah, and how it served as a paradigmatic location of spiritual practice for the Israelites. Heydemann also looks at the wide variety of roles held by different groups of Israelites in the Mishkan’s construction, and how Mishkan Chicago has replicated that through micro-communities, in addition to their large-scale gatherings.

(15:12 - 28:51): Heydemann looks at what it means to experience Judaism as a visceral, or primal, experience. [4] She notes Abraham Joshua Heschel’s critique of 20th Century prayer as overly “polite,” and, following his example, calls on participants in Jewish prayer to embrace the possibility of extraordinarily deep and emotional feeling. She also reflects on the wide variety of insecurities that different kinds of people bring into Jewish spaces. Turning to the question of audience, Heydemann explores the kinds of people who are most attracted to Mishkan Chicago’s work, along with those who are less likely to gravitate towards its work. In doing so, she outlines a few initiatives that are part of Mishkan’s programming, highlighting the “Mensch Academy” and “Maggie’s Place.” [5]

(28:52 - 48:34): Turning to questions around intermarriage, Heydemann talks through her decision to leave the rabbinic association of the Conservative movement (the Rabbinical Assembly). Through a quote from Pirkei Avot (a core text of the Mishnah, which translates to “Ethics of our Ancestors”), which centers on the idea of “bringing people closer to Torah,” she examines ways in which her own methodology of achieving that important goal differs from that of the Rabbinical Assembly. Shifting gears a bit to some “futurology,” Heydemann speaks to ways in which she surprises people with her pessimism — not about the Jewish future, but about the future of our world more generally when confronting the issue of climate change — and how this pessimism leads her to see certain battles fought in the Jewish community differently. To close the episode, Heydemann reflects on the legacy of Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf [7] — a rabbi who was deeply influential one her early life — and how he taught her the foundational and vital truth that Torah can and should be powerful! In doing so, she argues that there are many contemporary voices that resemble his, calling boldly for a more powerful, more liberated, Jewish future.

[1] Learn more about Lizzi Heydemann by clicking here, and check out Mishkan Chicago’s website at MishkanChicago.org. Mishkan Chicago is part of a coalition of Jewish spiritual communities called the Jewish Emergent Network, which you can learn more about at JewishEmergentNetwork.org.

[2] Want to learn more about what the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was, in the Bible? Check out this MyJewishLearning.com article to explore.

[3] In discussing organizational names, Heydemann briefly cites Noa Kushner, rabbi of The Kitchen (another Jewish Emergent community, located in San Francisco). For a past Judaism Unbound conversation featuring Kushner see Episode 23: Hello Mazel - Noa Kushner, Yoav Schlesinger.

[4] Dan refers back to a Judaism Unbound episode with Ruby Namdar in exploring the idea of visceral Jewish experiences. Listen in at this link: Episode 153: Fiction Between Worlds - Ruby Namdar.

[5] Check out Mishkan Chicago’s Mensch Academy here, and learn more about Maggie’s Place here.

[6] Hear more from Heydemann about her decision to leave the Rabbinical Assembly by watching this video.

[7] For more on the legacy of Arnold Jacob Wolf, click here.