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In my first year of rabbinical school, I had the privilege of serving as an apprentice to a found object artist, Jo Milgram. After class, I would go to her studio and stand with her in front of a pile of found objects. Together, she and I would explore them, be inspired by them, and exchange ideas. We would slowly piece together a vision, building on the creativity and the energy of the other.
As our projects took form, it was not clear where one person’s ideas ended and another’s began; they were the result of mutuality, trust, and collaboration. My time with Jo made me realize the potential that individuals have for co-creation, and of the power that relational engagement has to build community, connections, and shared vision. S. Gerson describes such a relational process, “in which both subjects are educators and learners simultaneously. The educational opportunities within this context allow for a joint exploration and co-construction of meaning, to which both subjects contribute as equally desirable partners.”
In my work today, I strive to bring this model to life, both by building one-on-one relationships with congregants and creating opportunities that can bring individuals together to engage in this process of co-creation. A few months ago, for example, I had coffee with a congregant with whom I had never met before and inquired about the areas of Jewish life about which she was most passionate. She talked about her passion around studying the Holocaust, specifically around those “righteous gentiles” who saved the lives of others at a risk to their own, sharing what an impact those stories have on her, as a parent and a Jew, and how she would like to find a way to explore that passion through the synagogue.
She and I floated ideas back and forth around this concept, and together co-created a new initiative at the synagogue. Our process of co-creation led to the formation of one of our synagogue’s first Small Groups, the Upstander Group, in which congregants will come together to learn about upstanders – past and present – and ask big questions about themselves and when they can be upstanders in their lives.
I have been thinking increasingly about the model of relational engagement as a means of co-creation as we approach Rosh HaShanah, the anniversary of the creation of the universe. In Genesis, we see God as an autonomous creator. Humans, however, need partnership and community to be truly effective creators.
Ideally, when two people are in relationship, they are able to be present for one another, to see and be seen by each other, and, consequently, to engage in a process of co-creation, the result of which belongs to no one, but rather is co-owned by each individual. What a powerful image – that the process of creation exists only when people come together and that its result is shared by all.
Although Rosh HaShanah reminds us of God’s creation, the holiday invites us to come together in community and to envision our legacy as co-creators. Rosh HaShanah is a time for us to tap into our most relational mode – to discover our most authentic selves and engage with the other in a process of co-creation.
As Aviva Zornberg writes in The Beginning of Desire: Reflections on Genesis:
“Bereshit, ‘In the beginning,’ describes not the clarities of origin and cause, but the potentialities of purpose…There is no foundation; the beginning of a pathway glimmers… In the future, at some time, in some place, a human being may create the world.”
As we look toward these most sacred days, may we each find the courage to “create the world,” as we encounter the other and begin to co-create.