A Commonweal Community Rooted in Jewish Wisdom

by Rachel Plattus and Reb Irwin Keller, Taproot Stewards  

The idea for Taproot arose over a dinner of molé enchiladas in Santa Fé, New Mexico. Adam Horowitz, founder of the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, was expressing his desire to access Jewish teachings, practices, and community to support him in his work as a creative activist and organizer. Irwin Keller, spiritual leader of Congregation Ner Shalom in Cotati, California, responded with ideas about teachings that could be offered. Adam countered with a simple, “Let’s do it.”

Taproot Stewardship Team:
Adam Horowitz, Rabbi Diane Elliot, David Bronstein,
Reb Irwin Keller, Rabbi Eli Herb, Rachel Plattus,
and Devra Newman.

This is the spirit of Taproot. We ask each other to bring our yearnings, our experiences, and our unique gifts to co-create a space for shared learning, spiritual nourishment, and authentic relationship. Taproot is a community rooted in an immersive week of Jewish study, embodied practice, ritual, and heartful discussion. It is designed for activists, artists, and changemakers who wish to tap into their Jewish background as a source of resonance, sustenance, and grounding. In December 2018, we held our second annual five-day retreat where we shared text study, movement, music, and more to create a sacred learning experience for participants to dip into and emerge refreshed, nourished, and supported. This December, we host our third retreat.

The program was initially conceived for people with very limited access to Jewish text and practice. But ultimately, the group that responded to the call was much more diverse than anticipated in terms of their Jewish literacy and practice. There were participants who knew no Hebrew and participants who were fluent. There were those who knew no liturgy and some who were skilled at chanting Torah (Hebrew scripture) and haftarah (selections from the Prophets). Ages ranged from early 20s to 70s, with the bulk of participants in their late 20s and early 30s.



Dear One– 

Help me to remember the foamy waves when I feel rushed. 

Help me to remember the vast stars that fill the night sky when I’ve spent the day between GoogleDocs and my inbox. 

Help me to remember that I know you when I feel despair and hopelessness with every news headline I read. 

May this remembering bring to my consciousness a sense of the vast trajectory of human life on this Earth, of Life’s yearning for beauty, for survival, for cooperation beyond our human affairs, focusing on money, political parties, laws, racism. 

May the memory of your Truth, emblazoned on the wet moss, in the vibration of song, in the sun’s warmth lift me up and give me the courage, strength, and companionship to bring Your world closer to harmony. 

– Participant, Taproot 2018 


Taproot at its finest might have been most clearly on display on Shabbat morning, after two full days together. Our morning service was co-created and held outdoors, with each participant collaborating to design a short ritual, musical offering, or prayer, with Torah and haftarah readings, and an evening havdalah (prayer marking the end of the Sabbath) under the stars. There were also spontaneous bursts of joyous song and playfulness. There were songs in Hebrew and English and Serbian. There was dancing and storytelling and impromptu theater. The magical container that is Commonweal did its work as well.

As with the first year, much of the learning and relationship building happened between the lines—singing in the sauna, on nature walks, during impromptu dance parties, or watching the sun go down from the Bolinas bluffs, feeding the hunger participants expressed for intergenerational wisdom exchange, accessible prayer and contemplation practice, and a supportive space in which to be joyful, vulnerable, and connected.

Taproot is supported by generous funding from Germanacos Foundation, Nathan Cummings Foundation, and Barbara Wiener. Find out more at www.commonweal.org/program/c3/taproot.