WHO WE ARE
The SPARK Fellowship to Ignite Innovation is a program of Clal: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
Rabbi Elan Babchuck
Taj M. Smith
Rabbi Julia Appel
Rabbi Irwin Kula
Taj M. Smith | SPARK Lead Faculty
I'm a theologian, writer, and advocate fascinated by the intersections of faith, justice, and identity. To me, innovation happens when a community holds these three things at the center of what it's trying to build. I see this reflected in the work of Glean Network and am thrilled to be part of this team. I draw inspiration from music and literature. I play guitar and have been refining this skill for over 20 years. Some of my most formative years were spent singing in coffee shops, bars, and on the streets of Santa Cruz, CA. As for books, I'll read anything with a good first sentence, though science fiction, fantasy, and magical realist fiction are my favorites.
Rabbi Elan Babchuck | SPARK Lead Faculty
I’m a rabbi and an entrepreneur, and spend much of my time exploring the rich intersections between these two traditions, and the abundant possibilities therein. I'm committed to leaving behind a world that is more compassionate, connected, and just than the one I found, and - in pursuit of that commitment - I am the Founding Director of Glean Network, an incubator and network for entrepreneurs who are building new models of faith in action, and Director of Innovation at Clal, a think-tank focused on the future of faith in America. I'm blessed to live and learn with my wife, Lizzie Pollock and our two children, Micah and Nessa, in Providence, Rhode
Island. I read broadly and voraciously, cook adventurously, and find sanctuary on the rock climbing walls of New England.
Cyd Weissman | SPARK Faculty
Cyd Weissman, is the Assistant Vice President, Innovation and Impact, at Reconstructing Judaism. Her portfolio includes new design of legacy projects like Ritualwell.org and launching new initiatives like Evolve and Reconstructionist Learning Networks. She teaches social entrepreneurship at The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.
Formally, Cyd was the Director of Innovation in Congregational Learning for Greater New York, The Jewish Education Project, leading the field to create and spread new models of Jewish education. For a decade, she taught Organizational Dynamics, Curricular Design and Assessment, and Accompanying Families on their Spiritual Journey at the New York campus of Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute for Religion.
She and her husband value precious time with their four sons, daughter and son-in laws and grandchildren.The creative process of uncovering need and building anew directs her energies. When she grows up, she hopes to be a writer.
Rabbi Irwin Kula | SPARK Faculty
Rabbi Irwin Kula is a disruptive spiritual innovator and rogue thinker. A 7th generation rabbi he is Co-President of Clal–The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership a do-tank committed to making Jewish a Public Good. A thought leader on the intersection of innovation, religion, and human flourishing, Irwin has worked with leaders from the Dalai Lama to Queen Noor and with organizations, foundations, and businesses in the United States and around the world to inspire people to live with greater passion, purpose, creativity and compassion.
Named one of the leaders shaping the American spiritual landscape, he received the 2008 Walter Cronkite Faith and Freedom Award for his work “toward equality, liberty and a truly inter–religious community” and has been listed in Newsweek for many years as one of America’s “most influential rabbis.” He is the Co-founder and Executive Editor of The Wisdom Daily.
A popular commentator in both new and traditional media, Irwin is the author of the award-winning book, Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life (2006), creator of the acclaimed film, Time for a New God (2004), and the Public TV series Simple Wisdom (2003), and is co-founder with Craig Hatkoff and Clay Christensen of the Disruptor Foundation.
Shelli Aderman | SPARK Program Coordinator
Shelli Aderman comes to Clal from a varied and exciting background, where she started learning to code computers as a child. As an adult, Shelli continued her fascination with all things behind-the-scenes in a career of theatrical stage management and administration. As the Program Administrator for many of Clal’s varied projects, including Glean, Rabbis Without Borders, and Stand and See, she gets to use all of her backstage skills in the support of rabbis.
Within the Jewish community, Shelli has been able to put her stage management training to use as an Administrator for Congregation Tehillah in Riverdale, and Emanuel Congregation in Chicago. Also in Chicago, Shelli was the Youth Advisor and Youth Service Leader for Anshe Emet Synagogue. Shelli also is a Religious School and Youth and Family Educator at Town and Village Synagogue.
A graduate of Hofstra University and Young Judaea’s Year Course, Shelli is thrilled to be part of CLAL. Shelli is happily married to Narda E. Alcorn, with whom they share the joy of parenting Malka and Noah Matan.
Rabbi Julia Appel | SPARK Faculty
Rabbi Julia Appel is Clal's Director of Innovation Training and is known for creating welcoming and diverse Jewish spaces for exploration and empowerment. Ordained by the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College, she is passionate about creating Jewish community that meets the challenges of the 21st century – in which Jewish identity is a choice, not an obligation. She recently founded the start-up Bina Community Circles, a new spiritual project fostering Jewish personal flourishing and communal change through deep relationship-building circles. She served for four years as the Senior Jewish Educator and Campus Rabbi of Hillel at the University of Toronto, during which she led the team through a multi-year innovation redesign, in partnership with the Organizational Design Lab of Hillel International. An executive committee member of the Toronto Board of Rabbis, she regularly speaks on feminism, antisemitism, and innovation and her writing has been featured in such publications as the Canadian Jewish News and the Forward. A native of Boston, she lives in downtown Toronto with her family.