Rabbis Without Borders envisions a world where Jewish wisdom is a source for wellbeing for anyone anywhere. We, the rabbis in the RWB Network, are committed to pushing the borders of what it means to be a rabbi today. We seek to share our Torah in pluralistic, innovative ways grounded by a sense of service to all.
Rabbis Without Borders is the first Rabbinic Network in America which spans denominations, geography and experience. Serving over 1.5 million people in the United States to date, RabbisWithout Borders is uniquely poised to serve the needs of today’s increasingly diverse American population.
We are in a new era where people are switching religious affiliations, blending their families in new ways, and mixing different rituals and belief systems in order to create meaning, purpose and community. Religious identities and communities are in flux. According to the 2011 American Religious Identification Survey, the number of Americans who cite no religious affiliation is 19% rising to 33% among people under 30. Americans no longer grow up and automatically belong to the synagogue or JCC of their parents. In fact 50% of Americans change their religious affiliation over the course of their lives.
By envisioning a world where Jewish wisdom is a source for wellbeing for anyone anywhere, the rabbis in the RWB Network are committed to serving people wherever they may be: affiliated or not, educated or not, with Jewish connections or not. These rabbis share their Torah in pluralistic, innovative ways grounded by a sense of service to all.
Impact of RWB
Founded in 2008, the impact of Rabbis Without Borders is being experienced across the country. By adopting a “beyond borders” approach to their rabbinates, the rabbis report that:
- 96% of RWB Fellows have strengthened and increased their comfort crossing denominational and institutional boundaries.
- 91% of RWB Fellows have created new programs in their synagogue/organization.
- 81% of RWB Fellows have seen an increase in participation in programs and use of services in their synagogue or organization.
Consciously adopting a pluralist approach and looking to serve all people anywhere has significantly increased these rabbis ability to share Jewish wisdom and practices. In addition, 80% of RWB Fellows are appearing in/writing in/teaching in new venues including launching their own blogs, writing for Huffington Post, local papers and appearing in both local and national media since participating in the RWB Network. They have been given the confidence to seek out new places to reach people. They are no longer bound by whatever they saw as the traditional boarders of their communities, and this in turn is growing the impact of Jewish wisdom on the world.
This ability to think expansively has also allowed the rabbis to be particularly innovative in their approach to teaching Judaism and bringing people together. RWB rabbis staff a full ten percent of the organizations listed in the 2014 Slingshot Guide to the Most Innovative Jewish Organizations in North America. No other group can claim such a large representation. These innovations are at the cutting edge of Jewish life in America today. You can read about their new ideas and creations here.
Building on our initial successes, RWB is entering a new phase in its growth. Given the high quality of these rabbis and the fact that 60% of the RWB Network rabbis are in touch with each other on a monthly basis, the opportunity to harness the power of this collective to transform American Jewish life is unprecedented. To realize this opportunity over the next several years RWB will:
- Find new avenues to serve the underserved, those looking for Jewish wisdom and spiritual fulfillment.
- Be a voice of pluralism in the public square, breaking down the polarizing issues dividing people in America today
- Foster Innovation to revolutionize Jewish life.
Rabbis Without Borders is transforming the rabbinate in America into a highly skilled innovative class of American religious leaders who use Judaism to help American Jews and all Americans flourish.
A Rabbi Without Borders embodies the following principles:
A Rabbi Without Borders is:
- Deeply pluralistic and strives to be aware of the partial truth in a view with which we deeply disagree.
- Sees/experiences Jewish tradition and personal faith as a public resource and expresses them as such – at least a significant part of the time.
- Recognizes that people are more important than ideology. Places other peoples questions before our own answers, without shying away from the answers to which we are passionately committed.
- Knows that being loving, nurturing, compassionate, is a crucial piece of our understanding of what it means to be right.
- Not worried about dilution or work from a narrative of erosion.
- Relatively optimistic and embracing of the future and of the new – be it technology, ideas, possibilities, innovations.
- Places limited importance on boundary questions and realizes that they are personal, more than policy issues. We all have and need boundaries but they exist because of our need, not because of some absolute and independent necessity.
- Embraces doubt and questions alongside answers and certainty. Appreciate that neither should ever hold sway over the other – at least not for very long, and not without revisiting the conclusion.
- Privileges the question of to what we might contribute, and how to be innovative, as opposed to what we must resist or correct.
- Personally evolving and experiences that evolution as a coherent process, not as a betrayal of past conclusions. Coherence emerges from something larger than observable constancy.
Who We Are
Rabbi Rebecca W. Sirbu
is the Director of Rabbis Without Borders at CLAL – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. Named as one of the most innovative Jewish organizations in America by the Slingshot Guide, Rabbis Without Borders stimulates and supports creativity in religious life. Rabbi Sirbu was named as one of the “Most Inspirational Rabbis in America” by The Forward Newspaper. She is a consultant for synagogues, organizations, and individuals on leadership development, building creative capacity, actualizing ideas, and how to work across religious and cultural borders. She is an expert voice on social media, speaker, and writer, on a variety of issues related to religion in America today. She is published in several books: I am Here: The Untold Stories of Everyday People
, Faithfully Feminist: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Women on Why They Stay
, and The Sacred Calling: Forty Years of Women in the Rabbinate
(anticipated 2015), and is regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy
among other publications. She manages and writes for the Rabbis Without Borders blog
on myjewishlearing.com. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Vassar College, she holds a master’s degree and ordination from The Jewish Theological Seminary of America. She tweets at @rabbirebecca and @rwbclal.
Rabbi Tsvi Blanchard, Director of Organizational Development at CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, is an ordained Orthodox rabbi. He holds Ph.D.’s in Psychology and Philosophy, and has taught at Washington, Northwestern, and Loyola universities, the Humboldt University School of Law in Berlin, Fordham Law School, the Drisha Institute for Women, the Jewish Theological Seminary, and the Wexner Heritage Foundation. He is also a practicing clinical and organizational psychologist in New York. A popular speaker and consultant, he has appeared in the media on such programs as “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “Eye on Religion.” In 2006, he was featured along with Elie Wiesel in the film, Turn to Me, by Academy Award nominee Murray Nossell, on the gift of volunteering. Author of the article, “Jewish Voices, Jewish Values” in Jewish Week’s Directions Magazine (Dec. 2006), and a participant in Psychoanalytic Perspectives: A Journal of Integration and Innovation’s (2006) roundtable discussion on psychoanalysis, spirituality and religion, he is a 2003 Reisman Award winner for “Article of the Year“(Journal of Jewish Communal Service), co-author of Embracing Life & Facing Death: A Jewish Guide to Palliative Care (CLAL, 2003), and writer of the introduction for photographer Frederic Brenner’s acclaimed book, Diaspora: Homelands in Exile (Harper Collins, 2003).
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, President of CLAL, has been ranked several years in a row in Newsweek as one of America’s “50 Most Influential Rabbis,” and recognized as one of our nation’s top “Preachers & Teachers,” by Beliefnet.com. Author of the powerful book, You Don’t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism (Harmony, Jan. 2008), he conceived and hosted two landmark series for Bridges TV? American Muslim TV Network, “Building Bridges: Abrahamic Perspectives on the World Today” and “American Pilgrimage,” and is a regular commentator for Tru-TV. Co-host of the weekly radio show, “Hirschfield and Kula” (KXL, Portland, OR), and featured on PBS’s “Frontline: Faith and Doubt ant Ground Zero,” and the acclaimed film, “Freaks Like Me,” he writes a column for the WashingtonPost/Newsweek.com’s “On Faith,” For God’s Sake, and his blog, “Windows & Doors,” appears on Beliefnet.com. A popular speaker, he has appeared at the Aspen Institute, the Washington National Cathedral, the Islamic Society of North America, and many leading universities and religious institutions. A Scholar-in-Residence for the JCCA, he is the editor of Remember for Life: Holocaust Survivors’ Stories of Faith and Hope (The Jewish Publication Society, 2007), co-author of Embracing Life & Facing Death: A Jewish Guide to Palliative Care (CLAL, 2003), and a contributor to Three Times Chai: 54 Rabbis Tell their Favorite Stories (Behrman House, 2007), and A Dream of Zion (Jewish Lights, Jan. 2008).
Rabbi Irwin Kula, President of CLAL, is the author of Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life, winner of a “Books for a Better Life Award,” selected as one of the “10 Best Spiritual Books of 2006,” and featured in the public TV special, “The Hidden Wisdom of Our Yearnings.” Named one of the new leaders to watch on the American spiritual landscape by Fast Company magazine and “Religion and Ethics Newsweekly” (PBS), Irwin has been listed several years in a row as one of the nation’s “50 Most Influential Rabbis” in Newsweek, he received the 2008 Walter Cronkite Faith and Freedom Award for his work “toward equality, liberty and a truly inter-religious community. A regular on “The Today Show,” and a repeat guest on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” he hosted his own public TV series, “Simple Wisdom,” and was featured in the acclaimed film, “Time for a New God.” In addition, he is co-host of the weekly radio show, “Hirschfield and Kula” (KXL, Portland, OR), A nationally recognized speaker, lecturer, and commentator, who appears frequently in the media, he has worked with such luminaries as Queen Noor and the Dalai Lama on compassionate leadership, as well as with business and community leaders, corporate and family foundations, and religious and philanthropic institutions to promote leadership development and institutional change. Featured in PBS-TV’s “Frontline: Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero,” he is a blogger for the WashingtonPost/Newsweek.com’s “On Faith” and The Huffington Post.
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. He brings his passion for Judaism and teaching to the upcoming generation of Jewish educators as a long time Adjunct Lecturer in Bible and Jewish Philosophy for the Fingerhut School of Education Master of Arts in Education program at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles.
Rabbi Lev is also an accomplished writer and swimmer. In 2011 he completed the Write a Novel in a Month Challenge as well as swim the San Francisco Bay, from Alcatraz to Fisherman’s Wharf, earning 14th place in a competition of “the world’s fasted open water swimmers.” To commemorate that experience he now gets automatic monthly pulls of Aquaman at his local comic book store.
Shelli Aderman is our Program Coordinator. She comes to Rabbis Without Borders at Clal from a varied and exciting background. A former professional stage manager in theatre, Shelli has worked on Broadway and throughout North America and Canada with The Flaming Idiots, a Vaudevillian, juggling, comedy trio. Within the Jewish community, Shelli has been able to put her stage management training to use as an Administrator for Congregation Tehillah in Riverdale and Emanuel Congregation in Chicago. Also in Chicago, Shelli was the Youth Advisor and Youth Service Leader for Anshe Emet Synagogue while also being the production supervisor for Chicago Jewish Day School’s annual musical. A graduate of Hofstra University and Young Judaea’s Year Course, Shelli is thrilled to be part of CLAL.
Rabbi Helaine Ettinger earned her B.A in English Literature from Princeton University, her rabbinic ordination from HUC-JIR in 1991 and her Masters in Jewish Education from HUC-JIR in 2017. In her rabbinate she has served in small congregations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania as well as serving as the Synagogue Outreach Coordinator for the MetroWest Jewish Health and Healing Center. She currently serves as the rabbi of Philipstown Reform Synagogue in Cold Spring, NY. In addition, she is a volunteer pastoral care visitor at St Barnabas Hospital in Livingston, NJ and a member of Congregation B’nai Israel, a conservative congregation in Millburn, NJ where she also works with the Board on leadership development as part of the (United Synagogue) SULAM project. Her work has been published in The Women’s Torah Commentary, The Women’s Haftarah Commentary both published by Jewish Lights, and she has a chapter about Ne’ilah as a rite of passage in Lawrence A. Hoffman’s next book in the “Prayers of Awe” series. She has taught the Melton Adult Mini-Course in its regular format, in a pilot format for parents of younger children and in a graduate class. She is a Past President of the Women’s Rabbinic Network. She lived for 5 years in Kfar Saba, Israel where she prepared students with special needs to become Bar and Bat Mitzvah. For the last 17 years she has lived in NJ with her husband and three children.