Applying Jewish Wisdom and Positive Psychology
Clal is collaborating with the VIA Institute on Character Strengths to reimagine how we can use Jewish wisdom and practice to deepen each individual’s personal character strengths towards greater human flourishing. The VIA Institute on Character is a non-profit organization, based in Cincinnati, Ohio, dedicated to bringing the science of character strengths to the world through supporting research, creating and validating surveys of character, and developing practical tools for individuals and practitioners. This is the first study in applying the science of character strengthens to religious ritual.
How It Works
What We Do
As part of their commitment to the project, a small cohort of Rabbis Without Borders are immersed in a year long study of character strengthens and positive psychology. They will then introduce these concepts to their congregations in a variety of ways: writing about them in synagogue newsletters, speaking about them in sermons, overtly connecting certain prayers to the character strengths, using what they have learned in individual interactions in pastoral counseling, and bar mitzvah tutoring among others.
The project will culminate at the High Holidays when the rabbis will be integrating what they have learned in to various parts of their congregation’s High Holiday experience. An outside evaluator, Rachel Hershberg of the University of Washington will be looking at how the learning impacts the rabbis work, and if the congregations were impacted by any of the changes.
A Groundbreaking Study
This will be the first study in America of the impact of religious practice, aside from meditation, on human flourishing and will contribute to Jewish life as well as the fields of positive psychology and religion.
Some Of This Year’s Cohort
Rabbi Rachel Kobrin is the spiritual leader of Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park, PA. In addition to serving her home congregation, she is thrilled to be building Moed—a soulful and engaging grassroots satellite of her home congregation—located in the heart of Philadelphia. A native of Rochester, NY, Rachel attended the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles. At Ziegler, she received her rabbinic ordination and Master of Arts in Rabbinic Studies, as well as the USCJ award for congregational leadership in 2009.
Rabbi Andrew Jacobs has been the spiritual leader of Ramat Shalom Synagogue in Fort Lauderdale, Florida since 2002. His cutting-edge learning programs, including Chai Tech – The Online Bar/Bat Mitzvah Preparation Program, are benefitting students both within and outside of his congregation. He is the founder of ISH – a spiritual source and service that provides innovative ways for all seekers to connect to Judaism in ways that are meaningful to them.
Rabbi Deborah Bravo is currently serving as the spiritual leader and founder for Makom NY: A New Kind of Jewish Community. This community seeks to reach the unaffiliated and disconnected Jew in suburban Long Island. Through a unique blend of collaboration, partnership and transparency, Rabbi Bravo and volunteers are lowering barriers and offering high level worship, programs and learning to Jews of all backgrounds and affiliations.
Rabbi Neil Blumofe is the Senior Rabbi of Congregation Agudas Achim in Austin, Texas, a flourishing congregation of 700 families. He holds Rabbinic Ordinations from the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York and the Academy for Jewish Religion in Los Angeles. Rabbi Blumofe also holds the diploma of Hazzan (Vocal Cantorial Arts) from JTS. Blumofe is on the faculty at the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, in Austin, where he teaches in the D.Min and M.Div programs.
Rabbi Irwin Kula is a disruptive spiritual innovator and rogue thinker. A 7th generation rabbi he is Co-President of Clal–The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership a do-tank committed to making Jewish a Public Good. A thought leader on the intersection of innovation, religion, and human flourishing, Irwin has worked with leaders from the Dalai Lama to Queen Noor and with organizations, foundations, and businesses in the United States and around the world to inspire people to live with greater passion, purpose, creativity and compassion.
RWB West Coast Coordinator
Rabbi Tsafi Lev is the Rabbis Without Boarders West Coast Coordinator. He is an accomplished speaker and educator. Ordained at JTS, Tsafi gained over a decade of pulpit experience before moving full-time into the true love of his rabbinate, teaching. Part of the founding faculty of New Community Jewish High School in West Hills, CA, Tsafi has proudly helped shape the Jewish curriculum of this innovative pluralistic school.
Dr. Neal H. Mayerson
Dr. Neal Mayerson, Chairman, received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology and worked in hospital, community mental health and private practice settings for 15 years as a psychotherapist with specialties in chronic pain and eating disorders. Dr. Mayerson is the President of the Manuel D. and Rhoda Mayerson Foundation, a private charitable foundation, President of The Mayerson Company, a real estate investment and management company, and Chairman of Mayerson Academy, a non-profit professional development organizations for K-12 educators.
Dr. Donna Mayerson
Dr. Donna Mayerson, Advisor for Applied Practice at the VIA Institute, is a licensed psychologist and earned her master’s degree in special education. Formerly a coaching director of Hummingbird Coaching Services, she is a certified coach who has used her deep knowledge of the VIA strengths as a framework for individual and organizational change with hundreds of education administrators and teachers, leaders of youth-serving organizations, in training coaches/practitioners and with individuals and families.
Dr. Ryan M. Niemiec
Dr. Ryan M. Niemiec, VIA’s Education Director, is author of several books including: Mindfulness and Character Strengths: A Practical Guide to Flourishing (with 10-track CD), and co-author of Positive Psychology at the Movies; and Movies and Mental Illness. Ryan is a licensed psychologist, certified coach, international workshop leader, and is adjunct faculty or professor at the following universities: Xavier University (Cincinnati), University of Pennsylvania, IE University in Madrid.