Larry Schwartz, President, Board of Directors
Ten years ago a friend invited me to participate in one of the Institute's first spiritual learning groups for lay people. Twelve of us met for 10 months to explore Judaism in a way I had never experienced.
That year changed my life. Prior to the Institute, Judaism was mostly what I did on Shabbat and holidays. But after immersion in new texts and practices, with fellow seekers and inspiring teachers, I started to integrate my emerging Jewish perspective into my entire life. I could no longer live as a person with separate selves.
The effect was most dramatic in my business life. I owned a family-run shoe company that developed the British Knight and Lugz shoe brands. We worked all over the world, in various cultures, and formed relationships with hip hop artists as endorsers. Gradually, regardless of the decision - whether about finances, endorsements or a new line of shoes - I pushed us to give as much weight to ethics and values as the cost-benefit analysis.
What I discovered about Judaism and myself through the Institute empowered me to take this risk. And in the process, our decisions gained more clarity and my business life became more fulfilling because of my Jewish spiritual development.
By learning to express my evolving Jewish self, I discovered that some of the most unlikely people were seekers, too. We found each other. Together, we advanced our Jewish interests and passions - for ourselves and others. The result? I started alternative services at my syngogue. I began reading Torah in a new way - chanting simultaneously in Hebrew and English. Two friends and I started the Jewish Meditation Center of Montclair, New Jersey, in a local yoga studio.
I now know that I don't have to be alone on this Jewish journey. And neither do you.