Rabbi David Jaffe was a young organizer working with the homeless community in San Francisco. The work was rewarding and heartbreaking at the same time. For every victory changing a city policy or helping someone into a job there were numerous defeats. David felt completely committed to working for social change but wondered how he could possibly have the internal resources to face so much suffering over the long haul. He looked around and noticed that the people who stayed in social justice work the longest seemed to have powerful personal spiritual practice, particularly the Franciscan nuns who were a fixture in the city’s shelters. Thus began a decades long search for the spiritual resources in his own Jewish tradition to support a lifetime commitment to social change.
Inspired by the Jewish wisdom traditions of Mussar (applied Jewish ethics) and Chassidut (applied Jewish mysticism) and others experimenting with how to integrate their spiritual lives and their justice work, Rabbi David Jaffe wrote Changing the World from the Inside Out to articulate a Jewish path of personal and social change. The Inside Out Wisdom and Action Project builds on these teachings and seeks to support change makers to access deep Jewish wisdom to make their work more spiritually grounded, nourishing and sustainable.
Our broken world is in desperate need of ancient wisdom and bold action, grounded in personal integrity. Developing these qualities takes time, patience, and persistence. It also demands teachers who can model a life of activism coupled with spiritual practice, and who coach people in exploring their own hearts and minds. I endorse this project with all my heart... The Inside Out Wisdom and Action Project promises to bring wholeness to people who seek hope for humanity's future.
-- Rabbi Barbara Penzner
Our world is full of instability and many of us are fighting hard to try to make it more whole. To do that work, we must show up as grounded and nourished selves, able to connect to something bigger.
We need tools that will help us lead from our hearts to make transformational change. Jewish spiritual wisdom offers these powerful tools. The IOWA Project's work is to make those tools and practices accessible to the social justice leaders of today.
The Inside-Out change method supports social justice leaders to explore Jewish spiritual wisdom and develop Jewish spiritual practices. It helps people making social change integrate deep spiritual wisdom into their justice work in order to lead from a place that is more visionary, creative, sustainable, and grounded. We're helping people build bridges between their spiritual lives and their activist lives.
The IOWA Project Staff Team
Rabbi David Jaffe
Rabbi David Jaffe is the founder of the Kirva Institute and leads the Inside Out Wisdom and Action Project. He is the author of Changing the World from the Inside Out: A Jewish Approach to Personal and Social Change, which won the National Jewish Book Award for Contemporary Jewish life.
His teaching, writing, organizing and consulting explore the intersection of moral and spiritual development and ethical action in the world. He teaches Mussar (applied Jewish ethics) and Jewish spiritual wisdom widely throughout North America with organizational and social change leaders, educators and spiritual seekers of all ages.
David was a founding board member of Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps and helped start the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, an IAF affiliate. He has a masters in social work from Columbia University and private rabbinic ordination from Israel. He is a senior faculty member with the Mussar Institute, a visiting research fellow at Boston University and adjunct faculty at the Hebrew College Rabbinical School. David serves on the Board of Directors of the Brockton Interfaith Community and lives in Sharon, MA with his partner, Janette and two teenage boys.
Dan was born and grew up with his three siblings in Boston Massachusetts and was raised in Greater Boston's Jewish Community. He studied history and religion at Wesleyan University, and received a Master's in Education from Queens College.
Dan taught for three years
in the New York City public school system, focusing on social movements. He returned to Boston in 2007 to begin the Jewish Organizing Initiative (JOIN) where he received community organizing training and began his career as a youth organizer at Dorchester Bay Youth Force.
During his ten years as the Youth Force Director, Dan co-founded the Youth Jobs Coalition. Most recently, he has been interested in how to connect his spiritual path and his organizing work. Dan is currently exploring this and other key questions through his work at both the IOWA Project and Episcopal
Sam is the Communications and Development Director at the Inside Out Wisdom and Action Project, based on the other side of the country in Los Angeles. She is a storyteller, designer, artist, and organizer, inspired by art's transformative ability to influence social movements and drive change.
Sam began organizing in 2016 with IfNotNow, and has continued using art as a tool within many Jewish organizing spaces. She has worked to develop communications strategies for various grassroots campaigns, allowing them to reach more folks with an impactful message.
Spiritual activist and community orgnizer Yehudah Webster works to animate and integrate anti-racist behaviors and culture in communities, supporting the collective organizing, advocacy and direct service efforts to dismantle racism systemically. As the Program Director and Faculty at Inside Out Wisdom and Action Project, Yehudah equips communities with the daily concrete spiritual tools of Mussar to subvert racism within ourselves and others through facilitating workshops, consulting with organizations, and building a community of anti-racist practice. He has presented in a wide variety of settings, including staff developments for organizations, college campuses, communal institutions, and youth group programs. Yehudah is a graduate of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice’s Grace Paley Organizing Fellowship, Bend the Arc’s Selah Leadership Program, and Inside Out Wisdom and Action Project’s Ovdim Fellowship.
IOWA Teachers and Guest Faculty
Rabbi Lauren Tuchman
Rabbi Lauren Tuchman is a sought after speaker, spiritual leader and educator. Ordained by The Jewish Theological Seminary in 2018, she is, as far as she is aware, the first blind woman in the world to enter the rabbinate. She provides consulting to individuals and organizations across the Jewish community on a variety of matters pertinent to disability access and inclusion. She has taught in numerous synagogues and other organizations across North America. She was named to the New York Jewish Week’s 36 To Watch for her innovative leadership concerning inclusion of Jews with disabilities in all aspects of Jewish life. In 2017, she delivered an ELI Talk entitled We All Were at Sinai: The Transformative Power of Inclusive Torah.
In addition to her work in the disability inclusion space, Rabbi Tuchman passionately believes in the power of spiritual and contemplative practice as a path of transformational personal and collective change for the Jewish world and beyond. She has trained and continues to teach Mussar with Rabbi David Jaffe and the Inside Out Wisdom and Action Project. She has contributed to the Mussar Institute’s weekly Torah commentary and Elul programming. She is an alum of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality’s Clergy Leadership Program. In 2022, she completed Flourish: an immersive in mindfulness practices under the direction of expert mindfulness teacher, Yael Shy. She is a SVARA fellow and continues to be a regular teacher of Mishnah and Talmud.
Rabbi Mimi Micner
Rabbi Mimi Micner is the Rabbi of Temple Beth Torah in Holliston, Massachusetts. As a Rabbi she is committed to the work of social justice, deep Jewish spiritual practice, compassionate care, and social healing. Before becoming a Rabbi she was a community organizer and a JOIN for Justice Organizing Fellow, where she organized early childhood educators and then college students through J Street U. While she was an organizer, her spiritual curiosity blossomed, and she became interested in the integration of spiritual life and social justice. This took her to Rabbinical School, where she did work with college students at Tufts at Brown; with Keshet in Boston; and with the IOWA Project. She was ordained from the Hebrew College Rabbinical School in 2020. She lives with her partner Talie in Watertown, Massachusetts.
Rabbi Toba Spitzer
RABBI TOBA SPITZER is a popular teacher of courses on Judaism and economic justice, Reconstructionist Judaism, new approaches to thinking about God, and the practice of integrating Jewish spiritual and ethical teachings into daily life. She served as President of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association from 2007-2009, and was the first LGBTQ rabbi to head a national rabbinic organization. A longtime activist for Israeli- Palestinian peace and social justice causes in the U.S., she has also received the honor of being included in Newsweek’s Top 50 Rabbis in America list and The Forward’s list of 50 Female Rabbis Who Are Making A Difference. Since her ordination from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1997, Rabbi Spitzer has been the spiritual leader of Congregation Dorshei Tzedek in Newton, MA. She has a life goal of bowling in all 50 states (34 down so far!).
The Kirva Institute was founded by Rabbi David Jaffe, and is the formal organization name for The IOWA Project. Under the Kirva Institute, Rabbi David Jaffe released his book, Changing the World From the Inside Out, going on to start The IOWA Project.
Kirva is the Hebrew word for closeness. The Kirva Institute is dedicated to bringing people into closer, healthier relationships with others, themselves and God for the sake of the repair of the world. Through consultation, practice groups and curriculum development Kirva engages people in processes that deepen self-awareness while strengthening connections with others and God.