February 21, 2023

Press Release: Center for Rabbinic Innovation Announces Plans for Growth and New Name: “Atra”


Center for Rabbinic Innovation Announces Plans for Growth and New Name: “Atra”

As more people turn to rabbis for spiritual leadership, new funding positions Atra to help more rabbis engage people in meaningful Jewish life


As demand for spiritual leadership increases across the country, the newly rebranded Atra: Center for Rabbinic Innovation today shared an ambitious plan to help more rabbis engage people in meaningful, supportive ways through Jewish learning and other inspiring experiences. Research shows that people often prioritize personal relationships with rabbis who can understand and help them address needs and challenges in their lives. 

Launched over six years ago as the Center for Rabbinic Innovation–a small, incubated program in the Office of Innovation–Atra trains and supports rabbinic leaders from all backgrounds to adapt their practice for the real world, to pursue career growth, and to drive their visionary leadership. Atra’s new strategic plan, which calls for program expansion, establishing a field of rabbinic training, new research, and a stronger national network among rabbis, is supported by recent grants from Crown Family Philanthropies and the Jim Joseph Foundation. Those new grants, along with other donor contributions, total more than $2 million toward the $6 million strategic plan. The Jim Joseph Foundation also funded Atra to conduct the first study in a generation on the relationship of 18-44 year old American Jews with rabbis, which will be released in mid-March. 

The new name, Atra, invokes the ancient Aramaic phrase “mara d’atra,” with “atra” referring to the place or community a rabbi serves. While that once was limited to a synagogue or a beit midrash in a specific place, today’s Jews and those who love them can be found living and expressing their Judaism in places that ancient rabbis never would have expected. 

“At Atra, we prepare rabbis to serve our people in every place they are, in every way that they need spiritual leaders,” says Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein, Executive Director of Atra. “Over the last few years, we’ve seen the demand rise for rabbis who combine a deep knowledge of Torah with the ability to build Jewish communities centered on personal relationships. We need to develop a large cadre of rabbis who can harness this skillset to meet the needs of Jewish communities now and in the future.” 

Atra supports rabbis and spiritual leaders across denominations and in environments ranging from long-standing synagogues and schools to more emergent communities and projects. It provides cohort-based learning and support for visionary, innovative rabbis with outstanding potential, and broader training for clergy who need tools to adapt their practice to contemporary needs. Based on research, Atra develops and implements continuing education to support rabbis. Taken together, and now on a much larger scale, these efforts will develop an increasing number of rabbinic leaders who can lead, teach, connect and inspire the Jewish people. 

“Atra gave me concrete skills that speak to my strengths, and empower not just leaders, but the communities we build,”  says Rabbi Isaiah Rothstein, Rabbinic Scholar and Public Affairs Advisor at JFNA, who was an Atra Rabbinic Fellow in 2020.

“The pandemic provoked a hunger for spiritual leadership, and rabbis needed to adapt their practice and serve beyond their walls,” adds Lisa Messinger, chair of Atra’s advisory board. “Suddenly all clergy needed the skills we teach our rabbinic entrepreneurs. We quadrupled our programming during the height of the pandemic, and now we are prepared to expand further.” 

Over the next three years, Atra will focus on four key priorities:

  • Defining Excellent and Effective Rabbinic Leadership through a comprehensive research agenda
  • Expanding Programs and Resources, such as Fellowship for Rabbinic Entrepreneurs, Troubleshooting the Chagim, and Rabbinic (re)Design Lab, and launch new initiatives to fill gaps in the field
  • Strengthening Atra’s Network to recognize excellence, connect rabbis with peers to share and brainstorm with, and to serve as a support system
  • Developing Critical Infrastructure so Atra can grow its own long-term operating structure.

Over the next few months, Atra will release the report from their research study demonstrating the impact that rabbis have on young Jews’ lives. The organization also will launch a new website at atrarabbis.org to grow its network and make its programs and resources more accessible.

Adds Abigail Pogrebin, a strategic advisor to Atra, “Just as society evolves, a rabbi’s expertise is never static but is constantly looking for enrichment — innovation, challenge, fresh collaboration. Rabbis are absolutely essential for the Jewish community of the future, central to its vitality and flourishing. Atra will ensure that rabbis are trained and supported to meet the ever-evolving realities of this moment and the changing needs of individual Jews and their families.”

Read our Strategic Plan here.