Positive Psychology and Judaism

Please watch this short clip of Benjamin Zander, the conductor of The Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, talk about how our eyes sparkle when we’re living a truly happy and meaningful life.

Do you want your eyes to sparkle? Do you want the eyes of your kids and grandkids and other people that you love to sparkle? Of course you do! That’s why I’m excited to tell you that we’re about to embark on a fantastic journey that will make us happier, make our lives more meaningful and, yes, make our eyes sparkle.

Earlier this year, Ramat Shalom was selected to be one of just ten synagogues in America to enter into a special partnership with Clal (The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership) and The Via Character Institute, a global leader in the science of positive psychology. This partnership is designed to explore and implement innovative ways of supercharging already powerful Jewish traditions with scientifically proven ways of making us happier and our lives more meaningful. This will be the first time that religious institutions have engaged with scientific researchers to examine, in measurable ways, how things like prayer and ritual can enrich our lives. We’re so fortunate to be part of this ground breaking journey.

I started preparing for this journey this summer when Clal and VIA sent me many books and articles to read on positive psychology and character strengths. I just returned from a week of learning in Cincinnati (where VIA is based) with the rabbis at the other synagogues involved in the partnership, the Clal faculty, and VIA’s team of researchers, Dr. Neal Mayerson, Dr. Donna Mayerson and Dr. Ryan Niemic. We were also joined by Pam Saeks who oversees Jewish programming for the Mayerson Foundation, the organization that funds the research being done at VIA.

During our time together in Cincinnati, we dove deep into the science of positive psychology. We also began an in-depth study of High Holiday liturgy, music and practices, analyzing how these components of the Jewish new year can impact our well-being. While I plan to begin incorporating much of what I’ve learned about positive psychology into all aspects of life at Ramat Shalom, the VIA research team will be focusing on our 2017 High Holiday experience, studying specifically the potential that this experience has to transform our lives.

Over the next several months, I’ll be continuing to meet online and in person with the researchers at VIA, the folks at Clal and my colleagues at the other synagogues engaged in this project. Together, we’ll be exploring ways to incorporate what science teaches us about human flourishing into our High Holidays practices. I’ll be sharing what we discuss with Cantor Debbie and the rest of our staff as we work to craft our Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur experience here at Ramat Shalom. And, of course, I’ll be sharing with you the insights that I learn about how we can make our eyes sparkle!

At some point in the future, we’ll be asking you to get more actively involved in the process. The Cantor and I will be looking for folks to help us lead and inspire our congregation as we welcome the new Jewish year in the fall. In addition, VIA researchers will be eager to speak with some of you about the impact that our 2017 High Holiday experience will have on your life and your family’s life.

I encourage you to visit the VIA website to learn more about the work that they do and the role of character in our lives. I also encourage you to take the VIA Character Survey. If you do, I hope you’ll to share your results with me!

If you have any questions about this exciting project, please let me know.

May your eyes sparkle!

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