Fellow Omphalos gazers might wonder what I’ve been doing. And not just in the sense of, “Hey I’m wonder what Aharon’s been up to lately.” Well, after two months of productive work on the Open Siddur Project as a fellow with the PresenTense Institute in Jerusalem this summer, I spent a month in Philadelphia before moving to Brooklyn and committing to a year of study as a fellow at Yeshivat Hadar, North America’s first traditional egalitarian yeshiva. (More on Yeshivat Hadar is available via this article at Haddasah Magazine online.)

I’m here for a few reasons, the first of which is to have a dedicated space and time to invest serious energy and intention in religious practice in general, and Judaism in particular. I want to be able to think about, research, and write about Jewish folklore and cosmology. It’s been impossible for me to feel passionate about this without entertaining how to sustain this interest past the present year, and so naturally I’m thinking of rabbinical school or a graduate program in Judaic Studies, or even a general program in religious or folkloric studies where I can find a specialization. Hopefully by the end of this year I’ll have significantly improved my capability with available sources in Hebrew and Aramaic. If I do this, then I think I’ll have the confidence to continue further and also be a more attractive candidate for a graduate or rabbinic program.

The latter still attracts my imagination since I’m interested in bridging the distance between academic and applied Judaic Studies. If my passion can endure even half a year of this work and lifestyle, then I think I’ll be able to pursue rabbinical school applications with a more clear and grounded intention.

In addition, like PresenTense was, Yeshivat Hadar will be something of a nest for the nascent Open Siddur Project, that is still hard at work developing a web application. Hadar is providing a modest if substantial living stipend for fellows, and besides helping me live within public transit distance of the yeshiva, I’m using this stipend to fund my work on the Open Siddur. (Hadar also provides a $2000 grant specifically for funding a community project, like the Open Siddur.)

By Providence, comrade in code, realazthat, lives only three blocks away from me in Brooklyn. Also nearby is my colleague from PresenTense, Russel Neiss (see MediaMidrash), who along with the Open Siddur, shares my passion for book ripping and scanning (public domain material only). We hope to build a working book scanner by the end of the year!

After a year away from Louisiana and urban planning, this may very well be the turning point in a career shift for me. Or not. Considering the investment in a career in planning it seems almost insane to me to give this up. But there is a freedom that comes from being unsettled, from being suspended rather than grounded. I cannot be sustained too long off of the ground, but I cannot remain either where I’ve been standing. And so this will become my sabbatical year.

I would be remiss if I didn’t finish by plugging a party that everyone who cares about egalitarianism in traditional Judaism might want to turn out for. It’s Wednesday night on October 21, 2009. Hope to see you there. Details below.

Mechon Hadar Invitation to Yeshivat Hadar

“Any Torah study without work will ultimate be lost and lead to sin.” (Pirkei Avot 2:2)

“I am abandoning all practical training for my children and I will only teach my children Torah.” (Mishnah Kiddushin 4:14)

Is life about Torah, or is Torah about life? And what’s at stake in the question, anyway?

Please join me in celebrating the opening of Yeshivat Hadar’s full-year program, come join us as we explore the relationship between our commitment to Torah and our work in the world.

Yeshivat Hadar’s Full-Year Celebration:
Wednesday, October 21
7:30 pm — 9:30 pm
The Schafler Forum at Congregation Rodeph Sholom
7 West 83rd Street
New York, NY 10024

RSVP by email: or by phone 212.284.6549

Mechon Hadar is an institute that empowers young Jews to build vibrant Jewish communities through:

  • Yeshivat Hadar: the first full-time egalitarian yeshiva in North America
  • The Minyan Project: resources, networking, and consulting for more than 50 independent minyanim nationwide

Mechon Hadar is grateful to multiple individual supporters and national foundations. For a complete list of foundation supporters, visit supporters

To learn more about Mechon Hadar visit our website:

About Aharon N. Varady

Aharon's Omphalos is the hobbit hole of Aharon Varady, founding director of the Open Siddur Project. He is a community planner and environmental educator working to improve stewardship of the Public Domain, be it the physical and natural commons of urban park systems or the creative and cultural commons of libraries and museums. His advocacy for open-source strategies in the Jewish community has been written about in the Atlantic Magazine, the Yiddish Forverts, Tablet, and Haaretz. He is particularly interested in pedagogies for advancing ecological wisdom, developing creative and emotional intelligence, and realizing effective theurgical praxes . He welcomes your comments, personal messages, and kind words. If you find his work helpful to your own or you'd simply like to support him, please consider donating via his Patreon account.

Leave a Reply