About 100 Jews will practice meditation and recite confidence-building affirmations, often-criticized staples of the New Age movement, on the Upper West Side next week.
And it will all be under reliable Jewish supervision.
A conference at the JCC in Manhattan on June 22 will incorporate a wide variety of spiritual practices when it introduces mussar, a popular component of Orthodox thought, to a largely non-Orthodox audience.
The conference, "How to do Mussar: An exploratory and interactive forum," will offer an eclectic approach to the practice, says Alan Morinis, forum moderator. In the Orthodox world, says Morinis, the approach to learning mussar is a review of traditional texts. But the forum will emphasize ethical dilemmas in participants’ lives.
Mussar, which Morinis defines as "making the heart understand what the mind knows," is largely unknown outside of Orthodox circles.
Growing out of the work of Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, a 19th-century scholar in Lithuania, mussar emphasizes spiritual growth through self-examination and improvement of character traits. From the Hebrew for "tradition," mussar is usually translated as "ethics" or "rebuke."
"There is a big difference between New Age self-help and this [forum]," says Morinis, a Vancouver writer and teacher. He calls the gathering "a renewed commitment" to the movement’s Jewish roots, rather than a "revision" of its principles.
Participants in the non-denominational forum (including Rabbi Yechiel Perr of Far Rockaway and Rabbi Yosef Bechhofer of Monsey) will stress how participants can adapt a century-old approach to personal growth to contemporary society, says Susie Kessler, director of the JCC’s Makom Program, which is hosting the forum. (It will be held June 22, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., at the JCC in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave. $50 in advance, $60 at the door, includes a kosher lunch. Contact Susie Kessler at 646 505-5726; firstname.lastname@example.org.)
"What mussar offers is a way to work on one’s way of being in the world," Kessler says.
"It very much fits with what we want to do … to promote growth and change in the community." The Makom Program sponsors what it calls the only "dedicated space for meditation" at a Jewish community center in the United States.