The Mordecai M. Kaplan Center for Jewish Peoplehood

Mordecai M. Kaplan (1881-1983) was one of the most influential Jewish thinkers of the 20th century. We believe that his thought may be even more important in the 21st century.

Our heartfelt thanks to all who contributed to the matching campaign in memory of Dan Cedarbaum, z”l. We have been overwhelmed with the depth of supporters’ generosity, and have raised sufficient funds to sustain creative activity through 2025. Thank you to all who contributed — a list of donors can be found here.

Webinars

Upcoming Webinars

Sunday, June 26th, 3:00 (Eastern)Role models of Kaplanian lay leadership today. A discussion among rabbis to mark the yahrzeit of Dan Cedarbaum.

A full schedule of upcoming webinars can be found here.

 

Webinar Recordings Available

April 23, 2022: Professor Jan Schwarz, The Remarkable Renaissance of Yiddish in Sweden can be viewed here.

March 13, 2022: Dr. Marcia Falk, "Mah Nishtanta Ha-Haggadah Ha-Zot: An exploration of my new haggadah, Night of Beginnings" can be viewed here.

February 27, 2022: "The Natural and Supernatural, The Human and Divine: A Dialogue about the Golem, Artificial Intelligence and Purim" (Dr. Jeffrey Schein, Dr. Henry Morris, and Rabbi Lawrence Pinsker) can be viewed here.

January 30, 2022: Book-club style discussion of Sasha Sagan's For Small Creatures Such as We: Rituals for Finding Meaning in our Unlikely World with Dr. Tzemah Yoreh, Rabbi Sandy Sasso, and Sarah Brammer-Shlay can be viewed here.

January 9, 2022: "God and Science, Einstein and Kaplan" (Rabbi Michael Cohen and Roger Price) can be viewed here. 

December 12, 2021: "Revisiting From Ideology to Liturgy" (Eric Caplan) on Reconstructionist liturgy can be viewed here.

 

Mel’s Desk

God and Rising Above Despair (October 26, 2021)

Kaplan has been accused of a naive optimism that belongs to a previous era. But the truth is that we desperately need his faith in our ability to overcome the difficulties that life presents to us. We will not survive much less achieve salvation [sheleymut] if we succumb to despair, self-pity and doubt. We must rise above such feelings, and it is when we transcend ourselves in this sense that we grasp the true meaning of the divine in our lives. Kaplan puts it this way: “Every time we rise above corroding doubt, we grow in the awareness that what obtains in the depth of our personality is but an infinitesimal fraction of the creative and redemptive forces in the cosmos that spell God.”

December 16, 1942, Kaplan Diary. Communings of the Spirit, vol 3, 1942-1951. ed. Mel Scult (Wayne State University Press, 2020)

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Marcia Falk introduces her new haggadah, Night of Beginnings

Book cover with flowering branch and text "Night of Beginnings: A Passover Haggadah" in English and Hebrew

The Mordecai M. Kaplan Center for Jewish Peoplehood is proud to have underwritten the production costs of Marcia Falk’s new haggadah, Night of Beginnings. In the essay below—excerpted from the Introduction to that haggadah—Falk presents her goals in writing the haggadah and surveys its unique features.

The intention of Night of Beginnings is to do more than “update” the traditional liturgy, to do more than make it consonant with contemporary thinking and sensibilities. This haggadah is an attempt to go beyond these aims to reveal meanings beneath the surface of the Pesach ritual and to deepen our personal connections to the holiday.

In our times, we have seen a profusion of different kinds of haggadot. And yet, strikingly, one is hard-pressed to find in any haggadah, ancient or modern, a full recounting of the biblical story. It is doubly ironic that, although the word-root of both haggadah and Maggid (the central portion of this haggadah) means “telling,” the standard haggadah does not actually tell the Exodus story—in fact, it does not offer a continuous narrative at all. Instead, it provides tastings—rabbinic anecdotes, comments, and exhortations, punctuated with biblical quotations—that show us how the generations of rabbis who created and redacted the haggadah viewed the purpose and meaning of the Pesach festival and how they wanted us to view and observe it. For many of us, this compilation fails to engage the way that stories do and fails to draw us deeply into our own search for the festival’s meaning.

Click to read the full essay


From our founding Executive Director, Dan Cedarbaum z”l

Why a Kaplan Center?

More than 80 years ago, at the very beginning of the very first issue of The Reconstructionist journal, Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan and his colleagues reprinted an editorial from a 1928 issue of that journal’s predecessor, The S.A.J. Review, succinctly explaining their reasons for the creation of a new movement. “[T]he problem of Jewish life is just th[e] problem of unity,” the editorial stated. “A solution to the problem of Jewish life depends upon finding, or making, a positive ideology which will enable both Orthodox and Reform, both believers and nonbelievers, to meet in common and to work together. It is only by conceiving Judaism as a civilization, and not as a general religious movement embracing many sects, that we will be able to construct such an ideology and reconstruct the Jewish civilization." ...

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Applications are closed for the Dan Cedarbaum Prize in Jewish Education. The two winners will be announced at our June 26th webinar which is also an exploration of Jewish leadership in honor of Dan Cedarbaum's first yahrzeit. 

Education Corner

Jeffrey Schein

Why I Have Always Hated the Aleynu, and Why I Changed My Mind on Feb 26: A Kaplanian Struggle

I have a very vivid picture in my mind. My Bubbie is davening in Suwalki, Poland around 1890. As the Aleynu builds resonance and the phrase, "God has not made us like the other nations of the world" settles over the kahal, Bubbie has opened a window and spits out the window, symbolically pouring out her wrath on non-Jews, the “goyim”. No wonder, Kaplan might add. Every civilization is inclined to play the inversion game and when oppression reaches an extreme, turns the tables on their oppressors (Greater Judaism in the Making, 1960).

I have no idea whether this happened, of course. I only know that the liturgical innovation in Reconstructionist Judaism of replacing these phrases with thankfulness for having received the Torah struck a deep chord in me. We were not chosen. We need not play a zero-sum game of which people God loves best. Nothing accounted more completely for my love affair with Kaplan and Reconstructionist Judaism than his insights about this prayer.

Yet on February 26th, I found a new connection deeper than my ambivalence about the prayer.

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Eric’s Forum

Kaplan and Birmingham (1963)

While working on a project for The Ira and Judith Kaplan Eisenstein Reconstructionist Archives of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (here), I came across a letter to Mordecai Kaplan from Rabbi Everett Gendler, a prominent student of Kaplan’s who is still living, thanking Kaplan for his speech to the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly (RA) convention of 1963 and for his role in “ma[king] it possible for the Rabbinical Assembly to speak as it should have on the Birmingham Situation.”

Gendler, a member of the convention’s program committee, had in the previous year participated in prayer vigils and protests in Albany, Georgia, in support of Civil Rights. He led a group of 19 Conservative rabbis who left the 1963 RA convention to go to Birmingham, Alabama to support Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in their on-going efforts to desegregate the city. (To learn more about Rabbi Gendler, click here.) King’s campaign was front-page news at the time because of the city’s use of attack dogs and high-pressure water cannons on protesters of all ages and its arrest of more than a thousand activists.

The RA delegation to Birmingham, the first to be sent to the South by a major American Jewish religious denomination, has a storied place in the history of American Jews and the Civil Rights movement. Kaplan, however, is never associated with it. I wondered: What is Gendler’s letter referring to? I found the answer in Kaplan’s diaries and in the 1963 volume of the Proceedings of the Rabbinical Assembly. ...

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The Mordecai M. Kaplan Center for Jewish Peoplehood

3601 Park Center Blvd., Apt 307
Minneapolis, MN 55416
Email: eric@kaplancenter.org