Equally important was Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Holocaust refugee and scion of Hasidic royalty, who began his academic career in America with a life-saving but difficult wartime stint at HUC. In 1946, he moved to the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the intellectual center for Conservative Judaism. There he still found himself marginalized for his Hasidic interests and customs, yet he surrounded himself with a small circle of devoted students (and eventual congregational rabbis) drawn to his mystically flavored phenomenology. As the 1960s began, Heschel was achieving increasing recognition as a theologian of stature with the publication of his books God in Search of Man and The Prophets. With that fame came an interest in his Hasidic roots and their role in his teachings. His social activism in the 60s and 70s further endeared him to many young Jews.
These future "Neo-Hasids" focused on selected attractive aspects of traditional Hasidism while rejecting those Hasidic teachings they found incompatible with their modern egaliterian commitments, such as Hasidism's negative attitudes toward women, sexuality, and non-Jews. A few of these devotees, like Waskow and Lerner, became writers of note and "public square" intellectuals in the Jewish community and in the Jewish Renewal movement. Others, such as Green and Lawrence Fine, became leading scholars in the Jewish academic world, bringing an appreciation of Hasidism and an interest in adapting its ideas and customs to contemporary mores and life. Through books like Tormented Master, The Language of Truth and Your Word Is Fire, Green (and others) made Hasidism both more accessible and compelling for Jews seeking personal spirituality amidst the outwardly focused and sometimes spiritually dry world of the formal American Jewish community. Among the liberal movements, the Reform community remained resistant to this trend for a longer period, but a few rabbis, such as Herbert Weiner and Lawrence Kushner, also started "translating" Hasidism into a Reform idiom, expanding its influence.
This overlapping if amorphous interest in Hasidism among academics, seekers, religious functionaries, intellectuals, "alternative" rabbis and teachers, has led to the coining of the term "Neo-Hasidism (NH)."
A few formalized groups and institutions, such as P'nai Or congregation in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Elat Chayyim Retreat Center in Falls Village, CT, are heavily influenced by NH. NH also enjoyed a period of pre-eminence at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Seminary (RRC) during Arthur Green's tenure there as dean.
In 2004 a conference on Neo-Hasidism was held in NYC, organized by Rabbi Natan Margalit. At that conference there was a call by Arthur Green and others to "solidify" and in some way institutionalize the movement and its teachings so that it may survive the eventual passing of its first generation of luminaries. To some degree this has been achieved through the establishment of Green's post-denominational rabbinical school at Boston Hebrew College. Neo-Hasidism continues to develop in projects like NeoHasid.org on the internet and in egalitarian minyanim (prayer groups) that define themselves in terms of Hasidism like the Shtibl minyan in Los Angeles.
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