Where do you go when you've been a congregational rabbi for 27 years, written five best-selling books and are looking for something else? If you are Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin, you found, direct and serve as rabbi for a new organization, Kol Echad: Making Judaism Matter, a trans-denominational, adult learning community in Atlanta.
This adult-education institute, located in an office complex, is "an amalgamation, like a kollel for non- Orthodox Jews," Rabbi Salkin said in a phone interview. He will be in Overland Park this weekend, serving as scholar in residence at The Temple, Congregation B'nai Jehudah Nov. 16-18.
His organization is experimenting with different kinds of outreach, aiming to be “a liberal alternative to Chabad.” The programs seek to “teach Judaism in an intellectual, lively and playful way,” said the rabbi. For example, one of the courses is “What Madonna Doesn't Know About Kabbalah.”
Rabbi Salkin grew up in Long Island, N.Y., and is a 1981 graduate of the Hebrew Union College- Jewish Institute of Religion. He is best known for his books on spirituality, all published by Jewish Lights Publishers. Among his works are: “Bar/Bat Mitzvah Memory Book: An Album for Treasuring the Spiritual Celebration;” “Being God's Partner: How to Find the Hidden Link Between Spirituality and Your Work;” “For Kids: Putting God on Your Guest List;” and “Putting God on the Guest List: How to Reclaim the Spiritual Meaning of Your Child's Bar or Bat Mitzvah.”
The latter work, first published in 1992, is one of the top-selling books on American Judaism today. Thus, it is no coincidence that his scholar-in-residency falls during Jewish Book Month, which began Nov. 4.
Rabbi Salkin's most recent book was undertaken as a prelude to Israel's 60th birthday celebration in May 2008. “A Dream of Zion: American Jews Reflect on Why Israel Matters To Them” presents a multitude of Jewish voices, whose comments are categorized into five headings: identity and heritage, refuge, faith and covenant, tikkun olam and American historical perspective. Because there is no approved way of thinking about Israel, Rabbi Salkin said he looked for a multitude of mainstream opinions. Yet the variety of contributors is amazing Lillian Hellman, Harpo Marx, Debbie Friedman, Albert Einstein, Solomon Schechter, Danny Maseng, Emma Lazarus, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise and 105 more.
“I edited this book because I was profoundly aware of the emotional distancing taking place between American Jews and Israel,” Rabbi Salkin said. “The inconvenient truth is that Jews travel less, give less and care less (about Israel).”
Rabbi Salkin would like to see this book read by anyone who is curious about Israel, especially non- (OVER) Jews, many of whom have a “blind spot” when it comes to Israel.
A recent study undertaken by Steven M. Cohen and Avi Kelman reported that less than 50 percent of the Jews surveyed believe if the state of Israel were destroyed it would be a profound loss for them. “I wanted to create a book so everyone would understand why (so many) Jews care about Israel.”
Rabbi Salkin says he would like to “hit control/alt/delete, reboot the Jewish spiritual computer, reformat the hard drive and reinspire American Jews.”
Rabbi Salkin will speak at 6 p.m. services, Friday, Nov. 16, at Temple B'nai Jehudah on “Israel: Yours, Mine and Whose?”
Saturday morning, he will teach at the 10:30 a.m. service and then attend a Shabbaton for Bar/Bat Mitzvah youth and their families. Saturday evening, at 7:30, he will speak at a program sponsored by the Brotherhood on “Why are Jewish Men Like That? A Search for Jewish Masculinity.”
Sunday, he will speak at the Cuppa Joe, drop-in adult study session from 10:05 to 10:55 a.m.