The upcoming scholar-in-residence weekend at Birmingham’s Temple Beth-El will have an interfaith focus, with an invitation to the entire Southside faith community to participate.
Rabbi Irwin Kula is president of CLAL, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. A best-selling author, Kula received the 2008 Walter Cronkite Faith and Freedom Award for his work “toward equality, liberty and a truly inter–religious community.” Fast Company magazine and Religion and Ethics Newsweekly on PBS both named him one of the leaders shaping the American spiritual landscape, and he has been listed in Newsweek for many years as one of America’s “Most Influential Rabbis.”
His book, “Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life” won a “Books for a Better Life” award and was named one of the “Best Spiritual Books of 2006” by Spirituality & Health.
Kula has led a Passover Seder in Bhutan; consulted with government officials in Rwanda; helped build cultural and interfaith bridges in Qatar; and met with leaders as diverse as the Dalai Lama and Queen Noor to discuss compassionate leadership in the 21st century.
In April, there will be a joint venture between Beth-El and Independent Presbyterian Church to host readings, study and discussions of “Yearnings” in preparation for the May 1 weekend.
Kula’s visit will begin with Shabbat evening services at Beth-El on May 1. A pre-service oneg will start at 5:30 p.m., followed by the service at 6 p.m. Beth-El Rabbi Randall Konigsburg is contacting fellow clergy around Southside, inviting them and their congregations to the service.
Kula will speak on “Beyond Tribe and Creed: Religion as a Path to Human Flourishing.” He will discuss the demographic, sociological and technological transformations that are dramatically altering the ways people create their identities, form communities and make meaning. Then he will explore the implications for the products, services and delivery systems, the resources, insights and teachings of religion.
During Beth-El’s usual Shabbat service at 9:30 a.m. on May 2, Kula will present “The Technology of Mitzvot: Is There an App for That?” He will use Innovation Theory and Positive Psychology to discuss understanding the purpose of Jewish practice, and how to become more active in the design of Jewish practices that are more accessible, usable and good enough to enhance Jewish life. A luncheon will follow the service.
That evening, Kula will address two groups. There will be a reception and dinner for the Beth-El Star of David Leadership group, where Kula will speak about “Jewish Leadership in an Age of Transformation.” The end of that program will include a Havdalah service, which will be the start of a program being coordinated by Rabbi Joseph Robinson for the You Belong in Birmingham young adults group. After the intergenerational Havdalah, the You Belong program is tentatively entitled “OMG: Connecting to My/Our God.”
The weekend will conclude on May 3 at Independent Presbyterian Church, with a culmination of the “Yearnings” interfaith discussion groups and Kula giving a talk about the book. Kula notes that a key to happiness is understanding how desires and yearnings work, but desires are never fully realized. “Once we know this our desires and yearnings can become incredible sources of wisdom to help us know ourselves better, live more fearlessly and joyfully, act more ethically and love more passionately.”
The May 3 talk at 10 a.m. will be open to the community.
Information on the interfaith book discussions leading up to the weekend can be found on Beth-El’s website.
Konigsburg said Kula “brings a message of hope and joy not only to people of faith but to those living a secular lifestyle as well. We all have moments where our lives seem to be empty of meaning and we feel disorganized. Rabbi Kula is nationally known for his work to help us find meaning in the messiness of life, and joy in all that we do. This is a message that can be a ‘life-changer’.”
The weekend, which is open to the entire Jewish and general communities, is being supported by the Beth-El Foundation, the Birmingham Jewish Foundation and the Independent Presbyterian Church Focus on Faith Committee.