One of the joys of being a rabbi is the opportunity to sit and talk with people who come to me ready to take charge of their religious and spiritual lives. They are people who want to know more about Judaism and they are seekers searching for meaning, purpose, God, community and an increased sense of connectedness. Each seeker comes to me with a story. Sometimes a spiritual journey is initiated after a person experiences a death of someone close, or an illness, a loss of a job or some other hardship. Other times a person tells me that he or she has been on a spiritual journey for years and has tried just about everything, but for whatever reason, nothing, so far, has really ever clicked. They come hoping that Judaism will have answers to their many questions. What they often find through study and practice are both answers to their existing questions as well as new and even more challenging questions to consider.
Hearing a person’s story helps me to suggest a course of action. In some cases, a person looking for meaning and purpose is not looking for a deeper study of Judaism at all, but rather is searching for pastoral or secular counseling, and the warmth and comfort offered by a deeper connection to God and a caring community. In cases such as these, I have a completely different conversation than I would with someone who is looking to learn more about Judaism.
But for those who are looking to deepen their connection to Judaism, I then ask what about Judaism is appealing to them and I ask what are they interested in learning and doing? And then I ask them to imagine looking at their lives down the road—once they’ve found what they are looking for—what would their lives look like? From there, I try to cater an individualized study and action program that includes suggestions for classes to take, worship services, lectures, and Jewish programs to attend, people to meet, organizations to join, social action projects to try, music to hear, books to read, and movies to see. (BTW: One book I totally recommend is God Was Not in the Fire by Daniel Gordis).
Sometimes when I present such a list of activities the person looks at me like I am crazy. Who these days, has time to do all that? It is usually at this point that I ask if the person has an iPod, iPad, iTouch, or iPhone, or for that matter a computer with internet. As the answer these days is increasingly “yes,” I then give suggestions of some of my favorite resources that I downloaded on my iPod which have informed and inspired my own spiritual journey.
Since you are reading this now, I would be happy to share with you some of my suggestions. Though please note these suggestions do not replace the personalized conversations and the guidance you would get from a rabbi or other spiritual advisor. I would be happy to meet with you, if you don’t have one already!
This being said, here are a few of my favorites findings on iTunes as well as Jewish books I have downloaded from www.audible.com:
iTunes Podcasts: Go to iTunes and in the search, type in the following names, sign up for their free podcasts, and hit “get all” for all of the episodes or select from a list the ones that sound most interesting to you.
Rabbi David Wolpe: Recognized by Newsweek as one of the most influential Rabbis in the country, his sermons are among the best I have ever heard.
Being: A podcast recording of the weekly NPR show “Being.” It was formally called “Speaking of Faith.” It is so good!! A few of my favorite episodes are the interviews with Dr. Naomi Remen (11/26/2008, 7/29.2010) Days of Awe (9/2/2010), Eli Wiesel (7/13/2006) and Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks (11/11/2010), see also: http://www.chiefrabbi.org/ReadArtical.aspx?id=1552. SO GOOD!!
Pardes from Jerusalem: A weekly lecture on the Torah portion of the week, taught by the various brilliant scholars of that incredible learning center.
92nd Street Y: Recorded interviews and conversations with some of the greatest thinkers and entertainers of our day.
Union of Reform Judaism: Ten Minutes of Torah. This is not found on iTunes, but can be downloaded onto an mp3 player: http://media.urj.org/torah/hashavua.mp3 The content is excellent and worth listening to, however I think the narrator is the same robo-woman who is featured on my car’s GPS!
www.audible.com : This is a clearinghouse for audio books that can be downloaded onto your iPod. It requires a subscription, but I think it is totally worth it. A few of the many Jewish-themed books I have really liked are: The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, As a Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg, People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, Eyes Remade for Wonder by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, The Lord Is My Shepherd: The Healing Wisdom of the Twenty-Third Psalm by Harold Kushner, and The year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs.
Well, I hope this list is helpful. Of course, it is just a start. The opportunities to explore and experience Judaism are limitless and Jewish study is meant to be a lifelong endeavor. Please feel free to tell me which teachings you liked most and if you know of other examples of great downloadable learning, please share!