How to practice spiritual resistance — from your not-so-typical millennial rabbi

“When I think of spiritual resistance, I apply the same thought of resistance as fighting back, but with the spirit. That is to say that holding on to and nurturing your humanity makes you a better human being in the world."

When we think of the word ‘resistance,’ we tend to picture armed combat. Perhaps we imagine protests, or in the digital age, maybe even online activism.

Rabbi Avram Mlotek, a New York based Orthodox rabbi, practices a very different form of resistance: the spiritual kind.

The term ‘spiritual resistance’ is usually used when referring to Jews during the Holocaust who actively maintained their humanity and dignity despite Nazi attempts to dehumanize them. 

Rabbi Mlotek, who is the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, says we can use this form of resistance in modern times as a way of fighting back against the current uptick of antisemitism.

“When I think of spiritual resistance, I apply the same thought of resistance as fighting back, but with the spirit. That is to say that holding on to and nurturing your humanity makes you a better human being in the world,” he says.

“You don’t need to respond to every ridiculous tweet, Facebook or Instagram post… But you can channel your energy into healthier ways by living your life as a proud Jew.”

Unpacked spoke with Mlotek — who is also the co-founder of Base Hillel, a home-centered outreach program — about spiritual resistance and its role in the face of antisemitism. Here’s his advice:

Rabbi Avram Mlotek [Courtesy: Base Movement]

Nurture it

Spiritual resistance is something that needs to be cultivated and it doesn’t develop overnight.

“Spirituality isn’t like a button that we can turn on or off, we’re spiritual beings,” says Mlotek. “It’s like muscle memory.”

For someone looking to develop their spirituality, Mlotek suggests going back to the basics of the Jewish tradition.

“The first thing we have to remember is that Judaism is a project of spirituality… Mindfulness, brachot, taking a moment of pause to engage in prayer and reflection,” he explains. “The first prayer that gets recited in the mornings is the Modeh Ani prayer. And the first word of that, even before you say ‘I’ is ‘grateful.’” 

He has a challenge for anyone looking to nurture their spirituality:

“What would it look like if you took one minute out of your day, only 60 seconds, to pause and just sit with yourself in the quiet? Not scroll and just focus on your breath.”

He believes the effects could be profound and powerful. 

After all, he says, it’s something that our ancestors have been doing for thousands of years.

“This is what our people have had to do. They’ve had to turn inward, and focus on themselves in order to survive.” 

Make a Jewish home for yourself

Your home has one of the most important impacts on how you live Jewishly. It’s something Rabbi Mlotek believes so strongly that he founded an organization centred around the idea of creating inclusive ‘home-bases’ for young Jews.

There are many ways to make a home for your Jewish identity and spirituality, but first, Mlotek suggests finding a rabbi and community you connect with.

“The Mishnah instructs us: Aseh lecha rav, make for yourself a rabbi. Find for yourself a teacher and make that relationship,” he explains.  “There’s so many different ways to plug into community, and if the COVID pandemic has taught us anything, it’s shown us just how easy it can be to access communities from so far away.”

That being said, there’s a lot that can be cultivated by simply bringing Jewish customs into your home.

“It’s not all on the rabbi, it’s not all on the community, it’s really on the person,” he says. “I think the epicenter of where Judaism happens is actually at the home and at your home. Wherever you’re living.” 

Be a spiritual activist 

Those who practice spiritual resistance are what he calls ‘spiritual activists.’ 

When asked what exactly that means, Mlotek says a spiritual activist is “someone who refuses to give into despair, and uses spirituality as a way of responding to the pressures of the day.”

“The rabbis say that God doesn’t give us challenges that we can’t overcome,” Mlotek tells me. “Sometimes we might feel more towards the despair side, but it’s important to remember that there’s another edge, there’s another side.”

Just keep singing

The way to uphold the Jewish tradition despite antisemitism is to continue living proudly as Jews.

“It’s the tradition of my parents and my grandparents and my ancestors,” Mlotek explains. “If I’m not going to cultivate it, and nurture it, and believe in it, and study it, and teach it and give it to my kids and future generations, then who will?”

Much like the famous Nemo phrase “just keep swimming,” Mlotek says that in difficult times, the Jewish people must keep singing and creating. 

“Singing can be a form of spiritual resistance, writing poetry is a form of spiritual resistance. There were countless poets and writers who, during World War Two, in times of such unspeakable horror, continued to write and create,” he explains. “In essence, they were holding on to their humanity. Mothers who kept on nurturing their kids, Jews who kept on practicing as Jews. That’s what spiritual resistance means. We’ve just got to keep singing.”

How will you practice spiritual resistance this Shabbat? Let us know on Instagram, Twitter and Tik Tok @JewishUnpacked

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