Rabbi Moishe Steigmann began “The Spark Wisconsin” in 2016 – today called “Own Your Judaism” – from his own home, to give Jews from all backgrounds a voice.
While he began the Wisconsin-based nonprofit for those who were disconnected from Judaism, it has come to include even those who need another connecting point to Jewish life.
Discerning that some Jews don’t feel like their “authentic Jewish self” has a home, Steigmann felt compelled to start the effort.
“Even in rabbinical school, I was questioning my place,” he said. “And I began to think that if I’m struggling to find my place in Judaism, I can only imagine how other people might be struggling too. And I want it to be able to give voice and give space, to be unsure of your place, in a safe environment. And really, to disabuse people of the idea that you’re doing something wrong. There’s no such thing as a bad Jew.”
Steigmann’s Own Your Own Judaism has sponsored weekly Zoom learning; Shabbat and holiday virtual celebrations; and b’nai mitzvah celebrations and other life-cycle events, among other activities. These activities have many times drawn dozens of people, with Steigmann serving as the sole rabbi for the nonprofit, serving as its heart and soul.
Whether he is partnering with other organizations and synagogues or life-coaching, Steigmann’s primary goal is authenticity. “It’s not about conforming Judaism to the world in which you live,” Steigmann said, it is the very opposite. Authenticity, Steigmann said, is about staying true to your own Judaism, not somebody else’s.
Steigmann wants to focus on the original mission of rabbis: teaching. A rabbi’s role emphasizes the “guide on the side” over the “sage on the stage,” Steigmann said. Rabbis are not the leaders of Judaism, Jews are; “Individual Jews are far more capable, educated, knowledgeable, and they just have far greater capacity to direct their Jewish life than they often give themselves credit for.”
Steigmann argues that longstanding evidence supports this idea. Since the destruction of the Second Temple, Jews had to learn how to pray on their own; if we didn’t need a temple to express our Judaism, why should we need a rabbi?
Steigmann does not intend to compete with synagogues, but rather collaborate with them. He sees the rabbinate, of which he is a part, as an indispensable resource to people exploring their own Judaism.
In his everyday work, Steigmann asks the question, “what are you looking for in your Jewish life that you’re not yet finding? And how do we build community around it?” In answering these questions, he hopes to empower people to make their own authentic Jewish choices.
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Own Your Judaism: