Why By The Rivers?

- Rabbi Alan Shavit-Lonstein

In announcing this new venture, we have had many questions. Our most frequent is Why?  Why another organization? Why is it called By The Rivers? Why create it now? What do you hope to achieve?  

All good questions. Allow me to answer them. 


By The Rivers is a multi-faith learning and lifecycle center that will work to connect individuals more deeply to their religious tradition and spiritual selves. We recognize that religious institutions do not function in the same way as they did for our parents and grandparents. Modern technology has increased our ability to connect with others, but this does not automatically mean meaningful connections. 

We provide unique learning opportunities, taught by clergy and master teachers from many faiths, to help you learn about your tradition, as well as others. Our goal is not a particular belief or membership in a group; but helping you develop the skills to ask deep and important questions. We are here to help you connect.  

In addition, our clergy affiliates can help you celebrate joyous events, and mark important transitions in your life. We facilitate creative, meaningful, and authentic ceremonies. In addition, our staff can provide premarital, relationship, and spiritual counseling.  We are here to celebrate and support you.  

We are Not

We are not about proselytizing or recruiting. Our clergy and teachers are here to help you explore, not to convince you to join them. There is no group to join or membership to pay.  

Why Now? 


The world is changing. According to the most recent Pew Research Study, titled “America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” between the years 2007 and 2014, the number of mainline Christians, Catholics and Jews has decreased, while the unaffiliated as a group has grown from 16.1% to 22.8%. Among Millenials, the number is 35%. These unaffiliated, also known as “Nones,” are comprised of atheists, agnostics and individuals who consider themselves spiritual, but who do not wish to join or to return to a religious institution. Many have grown tired of the “plop, pray and pay” routine. In addition to the growing number of of people who say they are unaffiliated, there is also an increase in interfaith couples and marriages. In addition, 40% of all marriages in the U.S. are interfaith. Many unaffiliated show a strong desire to understand other faiths and cultures within their own family, community and worldwide. 

By The Rivers wants to present a new paradigm, life cycle events and learning, without the need to join a religious institution. We meet you where you are, in a supportive, welcoming environment. Services and classes are a la carte. No proselytizing. We have clergy from all faiths to help you with a life cycle event and who teach classes on a wide variety of subjects. 

Why The Name? 

By The Rivers is deeply rooted in the Twin Cites, and the rivers that surround us. It brings to mind the image of water; as a life-giving force and as a symbol of spiritual wisdom. It also represents the spiritual journey and the inevitable, ever changing nature of our lives. It shows us surprises around every bend, and challenges our understanding of history and the environment. The dynamic nature of flowing water and the hidden possibilities of the depths to be explored inspires our work with the Center.  

Teachers from some of our recent classes

Ramona Kitto Stately, Member Santee Sioux Nation, Artist, Dakota Educator

  • Ramona Kitto Stately is an enrolled member of the Santee Sioux Nation. She has a BA in Dakota Art and Culture. She also coordinated and directed the Success for the Future Indian Education Program ISD279 Osseo Area School District since 2004.  She is an artist who makes Plains style moccasins and believes that this is not only a traditional shoe covering, but a representation of the path we choose to walk in this life. “As indigenous people today, we have to walk in two worlds and be successful in both.  If we use our native identity and traditional values as a foundation, we can walk forward into the future with confidence and success.” It is a healing journey for all Minnesotans. 

Ken Keiyu FordLay TeacherClouds in Water Zen Center

  • Long curious about the contemplative aspect of religious practice, an aspect not well supported in the protestant sphere of his upbringing, Ken acquired a strong interest in Zen Buddhist practice early in his college years. A mentor among his professors along with the writing of Alan Watts, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi and other pioneers, supported the effort. Coming to Minnesota in the 1970s for work in his professional field of city planning, Ken found an opportunity to study with the Japanese Zen master Dainin Katagiri; his spiritual roots sank deeply in the contemplative ground of Zen. He has done residential practice at Tassajara monastery and Green Gulch Farm Zen Center in California. Ken is a lay teacher at Clouds in Water Zen Center in St. Paul, does volunteer work for the Nonviolent Peaceforce, and participates in interfaith dialogue. 

Camille J. Gage, musician, artist and activist

  • Her current project is I AM WATER, a long-term socially engaged artwork that addresses our relationship to the Earth’s freshwater. She is also on the national coordinating committee for the Nibi Walk project, an ongoing series of indigenous-led, extended ceremonies to pray for our water. Walks have occurred along the Mississippi, Ohio, and St. Louis, Chippewa, James, and Cuyahoga Rivers.  Every step is taken in prayer and gratitude for water, our life giving force. 

Rev. Dr. John Marboe,  Pastor, Humanities Professor and Laborer

  • John Marboe holds advanced degrees in mythological studies and theology but regards himself as a lifelong student of mythological and biblical reflection. An ordained ELCA minister, freelance writer, and convener of interfaith dialogues, John grounds himself by conducting funerals for persons without a church and by hauling trash for a St. Paul garbage company. He blogs at Reverend  Doctor Garbageman.

Rabbi Sharon Stiefel, Mayim Rabim Congregation and Sholom Johnson Hospice 

  • Rabbi Sharon Stiefel received her rabbinic ordination from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) in 1990. She is also a Licensed Graduate Social Worker with a Masters in Social Work from the University of Pennsylvania.  In addition to her part-time position at Mayim Rabim, Rabbi Stiefel also serves as the Rabbi/Spiritual Counselor for Sholom Johnson Hospice at Sholom. Rabbi Stiefel spent 18 years of her rabbinate serving students on campus – 13 years as the Associate Director at the University of Minnesota Hillel and before that in similar positions at the University of Pennsylvania and Grinnell College.  More recently, Rabbi Stiefel was Jewish Education Director at the St Paul Jewish Community Center and the interim Rabbi at Shir Tikvah Congregation. While with the St. Paul JCC, her course on spiritual autobiography was recognized with the national Jewish Community Centers Association Exemplary Award.  In June 2015, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree by the RRC in honor of her 25 years of service in the rabbinate.

Affiliated Clergy




Rabbi Alan Shavit-Lonstein is the founding Director of By The Rivers. He strives to make learning accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds.

He is Rabbi in Residence at the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning and a staff member at Hineni: A Center for Adult Jewish Learning and Contemplative Practices, and a member of the Interfaith Family Network

He is originally from South Africa, and immigrated with his family to the United States as a young child. He grew up in Golden Valley, MN. He graduated with a BA in Peace Studies and History from Washington University in Saint Louis. After graduation he worked for the Fellowship of Reconciliation in Nyack NY., an organization dedicated to peace. He lived in Israel where he attended Machon Pardes, an egalitarian yeshiva, and graduated from the Jewish Theological Seminary NY. in 2000 with rabbinic ordination and an M.A. in Jewish Education. 

For two years, Rabbi Shavit-Lonstein was rabbi of the Tri-City Jewish Center, in the Quad Cities of Illinois and Iowa. He was then the rabbi at Temple of Aaron, St. Paul MN from 2002 to 2014. He currently works as a Genius at the Apple Store in Ridgedale mall, repairing relationships and iPhones.

Rabbi Shavit-Lonstein enjoys running, and has completed several marathons, in addition, he is an avid SciFi fan. He and his wife Becky are blessed with three children, Noah, Naveh and Naomi.