By Ellen Braunstein, Special to Chicago Jewish News

Lex Rofeberg is okay with Jews who don’t go to services on the High Holidays. The Strategic Initiatives Coordinator of the Institute for the Next Jewish Future (INJF) and co-host of the ‘Judaism Unbound’ podcast said he is thrilled if people’s holiday involves hiking and meditating on a mountain.

“I think there are so many different ways that people can go about it and my hope is that people will discern the one that works best for them and allows them to contribute to the making of a better world,” said Rofeberg, 28, who works out of Providence, Rhode Island where he graduated from Brown University in Jewish Studies. He is a rabbinical student with the Jewish renewal program ALEPH.

His Chicago-based associate Dan Libenson, INJF president and co-host of the hour-long ‘Judaism Unbound’ podcast, leads alternative study sessions during High Holiday services at Congregation Rodfei Zedek in Hyde Park. He said he is influenced by Marie Kondo, who promotes a system of simplifying and organizing your home by getting rid of physical items that do not bring joy into your life.

“The High Holidays give us this opportunity to think about the year that’s past and about the year we have coming forward,” said Libenson, 49, who has an extensive background in Jewish communal work, including six years as executive director of the University of Chicago Hillel. “It’s an internal process where we make an active decision about what kind of life we are going to live in the year ahead and we put the pieces in place to be able to do that.”

The two men started the podcast four years ago. ‘Judaism Unbound’ supports grassroots efforts by “disaffected but hopeful” American Jews to re-imagine and re-design Jewish life in America for the 21st century, according to its website.

More than 150 people have been interviewed so far on the podcast, people “we think are at the leading edge of creative thinking in the world today,” said Libenson, adding that the podcast is downloaded 30,000 to 40,000 times a month. “The podcast was actually started as the basis for a book we want to write about the Jewish future.

“We are hypothesizing that we live in a time of Jewish history that is as radically destructive to Judaism as was the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The entire geography of Jewish life is very different now than it was even a couple of hundred years ago. We’re looking at a huge change to how do Jews live in the world. We’re trying to be a mechanism to think out loud and consider what direction it could be for that big picture down the line.

“There are Jews in pretty much any community you’ll find that aren’t part of institutional Jewish structures. Then there are Jews who are and so we’re trying to look out and consider why and also think about what it would mean to build forms of Judaism that those people would latch onto more. How could we build some of those forms of Judaism that will better resonate with Jews today?”

What Rofeberg and Libenson find rewarding about running a podcast is that people don’t have to come someplace to have a Jewish experience. “It essentially comes to you,” Libenson said. “I think there’s something very powerful about making it easy for people to have Jewish experiences. It’s been fascinating to hear back from our listeners how close they feel to us and how close they feel to our guests.”

‘Judaism Unbound’ is available wherever you listen to your podcasts. More on the Institute for the Next Jewish Future can be discovered at www.nextjewishfuture.org. Email the leaders at dan@judaismunbound.com or Lex@judaismunbound.com

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