Visiting rabbi to engage both teens and adults

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg will speak to teen and adult groups during her visit to B’nai Amoona  Jan. 10-11.


Feminist, author, activist and mother Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg serves the community through every job she does. She has directed the Tufts and Northwestern universities’ Hillel houses and she has written numerous books. More recently, she took on the challenge of becoming education director of the organization Ask Big Questions.

Congregation B’nai Amoona will welcome Ruttenberg Jan. 10-11 to speak about “provocative” topics, as she refers to them, to teens and parents alike. The congregation’s Sisterhood is bringing her in as part of its Torah Fund/Sisterhood weekend.

Newsweek and The Daily Beast named her one of 10 “rabbis to watch,” one of the top 50 most influential women rabbis, and one of the 36 most influential leaders under 36 years-old. She has written for newspapers including The New York Times and The San Francisco Chronicle and has been a featured teacher and lecturer nationwide, spreading her philosophies and wisdom.

“Show up to experience the right now, that’s the only thing that’s happening, ever,” Ruttenberg said. “Listen to your intuition — that’s the voice of God speaking through you.  Be kind.”

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Her initiative, Ask Big Questions (ABQ), embodies those values. By demanding students think deeply about topics that dominate their lives, Ruttenberg intends to transform their experiences on the college campus.

“A few [questions] that I think are particularly juicy for teenagers include: Who represents you?  For whom are you responsible?  When do you take a stand?  How do we grow? What will your legacy be?” Ruttenberg said.

Social media has sent these questions roaring throughout the Internet. Nineteen year-old Morgan Baskin, who just campaigned for mayor of Toronto, wrote a response to “Who represents you?” that resonated with Ruttenberg.

“It is interesting to me that we do this, label young people as the representative of their generation,” Baskin wrote. “I can do many things alone but I will neither change the face of politics nor save the world, alone.”

College students opened up to Ruttenberg through ABQ, but her experiences on campus had no less effect on her. She particularly enjoyed “taking unengaged students on a retreat to a Jewish organic farm [and] teaching ongoing classes on Jewish sexual ethics” during her time at Tufts and Northwestern.

Holly Elfanbaum, B’nai Amoona Sisterhood President, said the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism raises funds each year with the Torah Fund Campaign to support the four seminaries dedicated to perpetuating Conservative/Masorti Judaism: the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, N.Y.; the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles, Calif.; the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem; and the Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano in Buenos Aires.

Torah Fund’s teammate this year, Sisterhood Shabbat, recognizes the Sisterhood’s influence and hard work at B’nai Amoona. Another annual event, these two typically host separate occasions, but chose to work together this year to bring Ruttenberg to speak at the synagogue.

“Sisterhood Shabbat…is a service designated for the women of Sisterhood to take especial pride in leading services, and chanting Torah and Haftarah, to honor [Sisterhood’s work, including] education, financial support to our Congregation and the community, as well as social events for our members,” Elfanbaum said.

At 9 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 10, Ruttenberg will speak about Judaism and leadership. That evening, adults are invited to her sermon “The Passionate Torah: Sex and Judaism.” The weekend will wrap up with a program from 11 a.m. to noon Sunday, Jan. 11 on Jewish parenting.

Until then, Ruttenberg advises, “there are lots of ways to become an educated person and to have a happy life.