Rabbi Yossi and the cyber-shul

What does a rabbi do when he leaves the pulpit and America after 20-plus years?

Cyber rabbi Jonathan Magidovitch (photo credit: SHANA MAGIDOVITCH)
Cyber rabbi Jonathan Magidovitch
(photo credit: SHANA MAGIDOVITCH)
In the argot of journalism, “full disclosure” usually means that you’re revealing a bit more than you might desire, especially regarding your sources and relationships therewith. It can get uncomfortable if you’re too close.
Sometimes, however, full disclosure can be rather the opposite. Rabbi Jonathan Magidovitch (in Israel, Yosef Meged) is a friend of several years. He’s doing some very interesting, perhaps even pioneering, things in two very different areas.
After numerous discussions, I suggested I might do a column on his activities and named as my price yet another Friday night encounter with his wife’s superb cooking, plus a bourbon or two. He agreed, and now I must earn my feed.
Rabbi Magidovitch entered life as the son of an Israeli transplanted to the United States. (His grandfather, Yehuda, served as the first city engineer/architect of Tel Aviv.) Magidovitch received his BA and his first MA in English and educational research from the University of Virginia. He taught for a year in rural South Carolina, then attended Hebrew Union College- Jewish Institute of Religion.
During seminary, he spent two-and-a-half years learning the practical arts of psychological counseling as a trainee at the walk-in clinic of the University of Cincinnati’s psychology department. He received his rabbinic ordination in 1975 and subsequently served 23 years as senior rabbi of B’nai Torah in Highland Park, a suburb of Chicago.
In 2011 he made aliya with his wife, Shana, an American he’d met while studying in Israel, and their two sons. Shana’s a gracious lady, alternately witty and challenging, whose essential good nature was proven (again) when she was bitten by a strange cat and had to endure both rabies shots and being teased as the “rabid rebbetzin.” Their elder son is now in the army; the younger studies music at the University of Haifa.
So what does a rabbi do when he leaves the pulpit and America after 20-plus years? First, he gets his Hebrew up to slangy Israeli standards; then, he starts a business and a cyber-shul.
Yosef Meged Consulting offers “consulting/ coaching” for “individuals, families and businesses.”
Much of the work is done via Skype with clients in the US, plus trips there every couple months.
The approach is eclectic-plus. While most secular counselors/therapists avoid specifically religious approaches, he practices “faith-based counseling.”
After getting a sense of the client and his/her problems and needs, he applies some sort of spiritual motif, be it a biblical text or tradition (not always Jewish) or something more intellectual. This becomes the framework which he shares with the client, to provide the beginnings of a new perspective and a language not dependent on diagnostic or other vocabularies. It may also involve drugs or other medical treatment, in consultation with psychiatrists.
His process works for CEOs facing business crises, which are often entwined with or caused by personal problems; with families squabbling over inheritance; or individuals with specific life issues such as marital problems or chronic physical or emotional pain.
The key here is often to bring together business and personal problems via a trans-denominational spiritual approach.
One example: The founder/CEO of a family business had the habit of paying blood relatives twice the salary of married-ins or non-family. As he quoted, “Blood is thicker than water.” Magidovitch responded, “Remember the Ten Plagues of the Passover Seder? Plague No. 1 was turning the Nile’s water into blood.”
The import: That CEO was pitting his executives against each other; his business would have worked better if he saw what each person had actually contributed and paid accordingly. For Christians, Magidovitch cites Jesus turning water to wine at Cana and wine to blood at the Last Supper.
Message: Family is what you make it – in business as well as in personal life.
The other venture is the “Congregation in the Cloud” cyber-shul. Kehillat Ohel Moed has a rabbi, a board, over 500 members worldwide and a variety of offerings including education, a blog, a Facebook community and links to resources. What it doesn’t have is a mortgage, congregants more interested in who’s-wearing-what than in the service and a hectic social calendar.
Ohel Moed doesn’t replace regular congregations.
It provides a different, perhaps more gentle community connection. It’s also one of the few places where Jews meet freely without fretting about Orthodox, Conservative, whatever.
There are no dues.
In one sense, it’s all very new. But in another, it’s the rediscovery of something very old. “Rational” societies expect people to compartmentalize their emotions, activities and lives. When the compartmentalization becomes too severe, when the compartments flood into each other, you end up with a lot of conflicted, perhaps dysfunctional people.
More traditional societies may have been oppressive, but they at least understood how things needed to fit together.
A lesson we all might all recover, one way or another.
The writer is an American oleh.
You can reach Rabbi Jonathan Magidovitch at yosefmeged18@gmail.com. To learn more, visit www.yosefmeged.com; www.ohelmoed.com; www.yosefmeged.wordpress.com.