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.

Upcoming Webinars

A full schedule of upcoming webinars can be found here.

Sunday, December 12, at 3 pm EST

Revisiting From Ideology to Liturgy, a session with Eric Caplan.

Eric’s book, From Ideology to Liturgy: Reconstructionist Worship and American Liberal Judaism was first published in 2002 (HUC Press). It is being republished in 2022 with a new Preface. In this webinar, you will see material from that Preface. Specifically, Eric will:

  • share new insights from the digitized Kaplan diaries into the formation of the first Reconstructionist liturgies and into Kaplan’s personal approach to prayer and liturgy
  • discuss what the new Conservative (2010, 2016) and Reform (2006, 2015) liturgies reveal about these two movements
  • show similarities and differences between current Reconstructionist, Reform and Conservative liturgies
  • lead a conversation about whether it is important to fashion liturgies that reflect a community’s evolving ideology.

Register in advance for this webinar at this link

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email with the link to join the webinar.

For more information, email Eric (eric@kaplancenter.org).

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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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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On August 4th, 2021, many of us gathered on Zoom for a study session to mark the conclusion of the sheloshim, the first 30 days of mourning, for our friend and colleague, Dan Cedarbaum.


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Please contact us at eric@kaplancenter.org.

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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Education Corner

Jeffrey Schein

In the twinkling of an eye: Five features of the upcoming pandemic transitions

Prelude 

We will soon be going through a transition. Some prefer to call it the movement towards a “new” normal. In our volume L’Dor V’Dor in the Digital Age, we call it more simply pre-pandemic, pandemic and post-pandemic.

When will the transition occur? That, of course, involves prophetic powers well beyond my paygrade. Nor do I have access to any CDC stream of pandemic tracking data not available to the reader of eJewishPhilanthropy. Hopefully, however, the observations below are helpful to our preparations for the transition when it occurs.

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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