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What Liberal Chassidism Means to Me

Lately I saw liberal chassidism mentioned in various places and also read, that I would be founding a new movement within Judaism. Personally, I see my thoughts more as a combination of existing ideas in Judaism that I wish to incorporate in my life.

I grew up in a world, where only one kind of Judaism was legitimate; all the other versions of Judaism were considered either «fake Jews» or as deliberately uprooting the holiness of our beliefs in a horrific way in order to destroy our religion.

When I left that world, I discovered how diverse and colourful Judaism is in reality, how even the so-called traditional Judaism includes many ideas and concepts that were discussed and thought by Jewish thinkers throughout history. Not all of these ideas were accepted or incorporated into the Jewish canon, but they are still Jewish thoughts based on Jewish ideas within the framework of Judaism.

Everything we have today in the Jewish tradition - may it be halacha, philosophy, kabbalah, spirituality, or any idea that has evolved within the Jewish thought process - is something that we inherited and belongs to all of us. We have the right - and the way I see it - the moral obligation to use all these traditions in the way that seems right for us and in the way that is fitted for the 21st century.

As long as we stay within the framework of Jewish thinking, we are part of the greater Jewish nation. This is what unites us Jews all over the world throughout history: the collective belonging to the Jewish ideas and values.

When I take a look around me and ask myself, how do I want my Judaism to look like, I would like to continue to practice the wonderful and lovely parts of chassidic Judaism which I grew up with: the original ideas, that came into this world with the chassidic movement and revolution in the 18th and 19th century.

The search for something more spiritual, the understanding that life has to have a deeper meaning, or that Jewish life has to be more profound than just following some rules that were written down by rabbis hundreds or thousands of years ago. We must have a more intimate connection to our traditions, regardless of what we do or don’t believe in, we have to be able to practice our traditions in a more meaningful way that is not just superficial.

The chassidic masters had a goal to reach the Jewish people on levels and in places where they are. While many felt pushed to the back on the synagogue, they tried to keep Judaism relevant by inviting the “simple Jews” to sit at the table. These had a spark in their eyes and a spiritual fire within them around the higher sides of Judaism. The masters also had well educated students who wanted to deepen their spirituality in Jewish thought and these would sit side by side with all the other people in the community.

We too can achieve this by studying the core ideas in the texts written by the first generations of chassidic masters. This we can achieve by digging deeper into our souls and constantly answering the question to ourselves, what does Judaism mean to me, how do I define my Judaism, how do I practice my Judaism, what impact do I want to have on myself, on my family, on my immediate surroundings, on my community and on all the people living around me in this world.

But at the same time, we must recognize the reality that we are living in the 21st century. The same way Jewish texts and ideas evolved throughout the years, our world has also evolved, new ideas, concepts, and values took over and replaced older kinds of thinking that we no longer perceive as acceptable in the 21st-century. We must keep our Judaism and traditions up-to-date and be able to be proud and practicing our traditions in a way that is suitable for the world we are living in. We cannot be stuck in the 18th century. We cannot be stuck in the fifth century. We have to live and practice in the current day and age - the way Judaism has always been - relatable and a part of the broader world population around us. We need not to justify ourselves, we need not to be apologetic about the way we practice our Judaism, but we should be be proud of the way we chose to celebrate our Judaism.

For me the concept of liberal chassidism just means the mixture of older traditions and thoughts, together with the values of the current day and age. We are not changing anything. We are continuing to do it in the Jewish tradition of continuing to pass on our inheritance to future generations in a way that is fit for our times.

May we all find our inner Jewish spark, that each and every one of us has in our Jewish soul and let that spark ignite into a flame of passion for our traditions and values that we most cherish: to be kind to one another, to help one another in need, to have compassion for all that is around us, to take one step every day to make world a better place, even if it’s just a small step. May we all find our own paths on which we can express our most comfortable way to the highest godly ideas within our texts, values, and traditions.

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