Kula, Irwin 1957-

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Kula, Irwin 1957-


Born November 29, 1957, in New York, NY; son of Morton and Charlotte Helen Kula; married Dana Beth Kurzweil, August 29, 1982; children: Gabriella, Talia. Education: Columbia University, B.A., 1978; Jewish Theological Seminary, B.A., 1978, M.H.L. and ordained to ministry, 1982. Hobbies and other interests: Basketball, music, and art.


Office—CLAL: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, 440 Park Ave. S., New York, NY 10016. E-mail—[email protected]; [email protected]


Rabbi, writer, educator, television host, consultant, and public speaker. Congregation of the Old City, Jerusalem, Israel, rabbi, 1980-81; Congregation B'nai Amoona, St. Louis, MO, rabbi, 1982-88; CLAL: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership (formerly Center for Learning and Leadership), New York, NY, director of education, beginning 1988, copresident then president, 2002—; Wexner Heritage Foundation, New York, NY, faculty member, beginning 1988. Also host of thirteen-week television special Simple Wisdom with Irwin Kula, Public Broadcasting Service, 2003. Work-related activities include Jewish Federation, St. Louis, board of directors, 1986-88; Rabbinic Cabinet, United Jewish Appeal, New York, NY, executive board member, 1986-88; Bronfman Foundation, consultant, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 1991; Center for Jewish Living, Chicago, IL, founder and consultant, 1993. Has appeared on numerous television and radio programs.


"Books for a Better Life" award, and selected by Spirituality and Health magazine as one of ten best spiritual books of 2006, for Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life.


(With David M. Elcott) Renewing the Covenant in the Face of Unbearable Pain, National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership (New York, NY), 1995.

(Editor, with Vanessa L. Ochs) The Book of Jewish Sacred Practices: CLAL's Guide to Everyday & Holiday Rituals & Blessings, Jewish Lights Publishing (Woodstock, VT), 2001.

(With Linda Loewenthal) Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2006.

Also author of film documentary Time for a New God, 2004.


Irwin Kula is a rabbi who has worked for many years with the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership (CLAL), eventually becoming president of the leadership training institute, think tank, and resource center. He is also a provocative religious leader and spiritual iconoclast who hosted the thirteen-week special Simple Wisdom with Irwin Kula, broadcast on the Public Broadcasting Service in 2003. Kula teaches and lectures throughout the United States and serves as a consultant to corporate and family foundations, federations, and synagogues on issues of Jewish identity and institutional change. He has long drawn on the insights of ancient Jewish tradition to discuss how modern people can meet the challenges of modern-day life and live more fully. Writing on JUF.org, Rabbi Jack Riemer commented on Kula, noting: "He has gone out into the secular culture—television programs, movies, the self-help movement—and has brought the Jewish tradition to the attention of untold numbers of people who would never find their way into a synagogue."

Among Kula's many television appearances was an interview on the Public Broadcasting Service's show Frontline following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. In the interview printed on the Frontline Web site, the author discusses the darker side of religions in general and how the terrorist attacks led him to question traditional Jewish scholarship. "September 11 happened at a moment in which I was asking some very basic questions about where Judaism was going, where the Jewish people were going, and having this feeling that somehow so much of what was going on in Jewish life was a narrowing," Kula noted in the interview. "So much of Jewish life and so much of Jewish identity was being created off of a dismissal or an objectifying of the other. ‘We're "not-this." We're against intermarriage, we're against Palestinians.’ Whatever ‘it’ was, it's against something." The author went on to say: "The real Torah, the real wisdom, the real experience behind religion, is about love. It is about connection. And it is no more complicated than that."

Kula is the coauthor or coeditor of books focusing on the Jewish religion and teachings about coping. He is the editor, with Vanessa L. Ochs, of The Book of Jewish Sacred Practices: CLAL's Guide to Everyday & Holiday Rituals & Blessings. Drawing from both traditional and contemporary sources, the book provides a comprehensive look at Jewish traditions that focus on sanctifying almost every aspect of life. The book includes meditations, blessing, Jewish teachings, and rituals for more than one hundred everyday events and holidays. Among the topics included in the book are sacred practices for lighting Shabbat candles, blessing parents, building a sukkah, making a shiva call, moving into a home, visiting the sick, and even quitting smoking and running a marathon. Contributors include scholars and rabbis from all Jewish denominations. "Readers who want to create significance out of ordinary as well as remarkable moments will find an invaluable resource in this guidebook," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor.

Kula is also the author, with Linda Loewenthal, of Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life. In the book Kula and Loewenthal discuss the yearnings people have for love, happiness, truth, discovering a purpose, and many of the other aspects of life that people pursue in search of fulfillment. Based on teachings in the Torah, the book draws from Jewish wisdom to discuss how to deal with the ambiguities and uncertainties of life.

In a review of Yearnings on the Spirituality & Practice Web site, Frederic Brussat and Mary Ann Brussat commented that the author "mixes in ancient stories from the scriptures and the writings of Jewish sages as well as anecdotes from the lives of contemporaries who find themselves caught in a tangle of hopes, dreams, and desires." Noting that "Kula does not provide easy answers," Tikkun contributor Jo Ellen Green Kaiser wrote that he "marries the Socratic emphasis of ethical Judaism to our newfound desire for faith, asking us to embrace the unknowable, to have faith in the questions rather than the answers."



Library Journal, October 1, 2006, Graham Christian, review of Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life, p. 78.

Publishers Weekly, November 12, 2001, review of The Book of Jewish Sacred Practices: CLAL's Guide to Everyday & Holiday Rituals & Blessings, p. 55.

Tikkun, January-February, 2007, Jo Ellen Green Kaiser, review of Yearnings, p. 73.


Aitz Hayim Center for Jewish Living Web site,http://www.aitzhayim.org/ (February 1, 2008), profile of author.

CLAL: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership Web site,http://www.clal.org/ (February 1, 2008), brief profile of author.

Frontline Web site,http://www-c.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/ (February 1, 2008), "Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero," interview with author.

Irwin Kula Home Page,http://yearnings.irwinkula.com (February 1, 2008).

Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago Web site,http://www.juf.org/ November 28, 2007), Rabbi Jack Riemer, "Rabbi Irwin Kula Tackles Life's Dilemmas in ‘Yearnings.’"

Simple Wisdom with Irwin Kula Web site,http://www.simple-wisdom.com (February 1, 2008), profile of author.

Spirituality & Practice,http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/ (February 1, 2008), Frederic Brussat and Mary Ann Brussat, review of Yearnings.

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Kula, Irwin 1957-

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