Religion & Beliefs

The Big Jewcy: Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum – Jewish Engagement Through Empowerment

Rabbi Nussbaum co-founded the Kavana Cooperative in Seattle, WA in 2006. Its mission simply reads, “Kavana is a cooperative that empowers participants to create a meaningful Jewish life and a positive Jewish identity.” Read More

By / June 15, 2011
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After graduating from rabbinical school at JTS and working at a Conservative synagogue for two years, Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum saw something vital missing in the Jewish Community—Kavana.

Kavana, the Hebrew word for intention, is vital to living a meaningful Jewish life. “[Working at a traditional Conservative synagogue] got me thinking about other Jews in my generation — and I became somewhat obsessed with trying to figure out what kind of model would engage people like me in Jewish community in a meaningful way.”

Using those thoughts as a foundation, Rabbi Nussbaum co-founded the Kavana Cooperative in Seattle, WA in 2006. Its mission simply reads, “Kavana is a cooperative that empowers participants to create a meaningful Jewish life and a positive Jewish identity.” A pluralistic community, the Kavana Cooperative helps Jews of all ages and identities find meaning in their Judaism through spirited and musical prayer services, camping trips, and interesting classes such as Kabbalah, Chassidism and Midrash. “What we all have in common is an interest in being ‘producers’ rather than ‘consumers’ of Jewish life.  As a rabbi, I see myself as a facilitator of that process,” explains Nussbaum.

Rachel is a part of a big time for Jewish innovation, with the creation of hundreds of Jewish start-ups and projects. That doesn’t worry Rabbi Nussbaum. She writes, “Even if this explosive growth tapers off, the Jewish community is going to be permanently changed.” All of this work, it seems, is for a bigger purpose. “I hope we’ll be seeing more and more Jews who are meaningfully engaged, more grassroots community organizing, and more Jews using their relationship with Judaism as a catalyst to change the world.”

Just a few generations after the Holocaust, a lot of Jews in this generation can find themselves distant from their Judaism. The Judaism they may have grown up with is now just a distant and boring memory of Bar Mitzvah practice and waiting for the time to pass in Sunday school. Rabbi Nussbaum is aware. “I want people to get over their own shtick (and let’s be honest – this generation of Jews has a LOT of shtick to overcome!) and be able to make thoughtful, intentional choices about how to live their lives, as Jews and as human beings.”

With such a giant goal, one could easily think Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum has a tedious and consuming job. “I love my job!” She says. The Kavana Cooperative is now being used as a model for countless other communities around the country, and is really starting to take off.