Welcome Rabbi Gil Steinlauf, Federation’s New Scholar-in-Residence!

Welcome Rabbi Gil Steinlauf, Federation’s New Scholar-in-Residence!

When I was a little kid, I used to make my parents crazy because I liked to break my toys open. Sure, I played with my toys. But I inevitably became more curious about what was inside the toy than in actually playing with it in a conventional sense. I’d venture to guess that kids like this fall into two categories: some become engineers and scientists, and others become clergy and psychotherapists. Obviously, I fell into the latter category. For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by what’s not visible, what’s not on the surface. I have been interested in the underlying truths, histories, values and narratives that make up our lived reality.

Lucky for me, the rabbis of antiquity were also the kind of people who liked to break things open to see what happens. The whole Talmud can be seen as a kind of breaking open of the Torah and the Bible, a kind of tinkering with received teachings—and even with the role of God—all for the sake of going deeper, of finding meanings and connections that previous generations had never dreamed of before. The essence of Judaism is the bold, daring willingness to question, to inquire, and to have the courage to face truths, even if they challenge us. It is this quality of lifting open-mindedness, curiosity and vision to a sacred level that has enabled us to survive, adapt and thrive through the millennia.

I feel so fortunate to arrive here at The Jewish Federation at a moment of change and new initiatives. My official title here is “Scholar-in-Residence,” and I look forward to playing several roles. First, I am here to help frame experiences. At meetings, events, programs and classes, you will often find me contextualizing the experience—grounding it in Jewish values, tradition and practice. Next, I will be here to encourage us all to more fully express our uniquely Jewish ways of questioning, doubting, imagining and acknowledging challenging truths. Through the wisdom and texts of our ancient tradition, we will explore how much power and potential each of us has to take the tradition we have been given and use it to serve the needs of our community in the 21st century.

Federation’s new strategic plan is a blueprint for growth and innovation. I am humbled by this opportunity to teach, learn and vision together with the community as this plan unfolds. It would be my honor to serve as a resource to all of us in the community to have the courage to look deep inside of all things—our institutions, our communities, our families and our own souls—because in this quest, we can find untold insights and possibilities we never knew we had to make great things happen for us and for all our people.

In Pirkei Avot, Ben Bag-Bag taught, “Hafoch bah vehafoch bah, dekula bah,” “Keep turning it around and around, because everything is in it.” He was talking about Torah, but the concept also applies to our institutions, our communities, our families and ourselves.

We must never stop exploring the possibilities that live within us all. When you look inside, you find your heart of hearts, and you can find God there as well. In our Jewish community, we have all the heart, all the passion, all the Torah that we will ever need to change our lives and the world for the better. It will be the greatest of honor for me to help us all to find this within ourselves.