Judaism Unbound Episode 126: Open Hillel - Rachel Sandalow-Ash, Eva Ackerman

Dan and Lex are joined by Rachel Sandalow-Ash and Eva Ackerman, two organizers with Open Hillel, [1] an organization that works for pluralism and open discourse around Israel-Palestine, in Jewish spaces on college campuses.

(0:01 - 15:23): To begin the episode, Sandalow-Ash looks back on the history of Hillel International, beginning in the early 20th century. [2] She explores its evolutions over time, along a wide variety of axes, including its relationship to Israel-Palestine. Nearing the present-day, she highlights its introduction of the Standards of Partnership for Campus Israel Activities in 2010, [3] along with the beginnings of Open Hillel, which arose in response to them. Ackerman discusses her own entry into work with Open Hillel, emphasizing the ways in which the Standards of Partnership, in addition to restricting programming around Israel, foster a culture where many other forms of social justice activism are stigmatized as well. 

(15:24 - 28:56): Sandalow-Ash looks back at a few key moments in the history of Open Hillel, which was founded in 2012. In doing so, she cites Open Hillel's national civil rights tour, which featured the voices of a number of Jewish veterans of civil rights movements in the 1960s. [4] Lex talks about why that tour became particularly illuminating for his activism in Jewish life. Ackerman expands the conversation by asking how we conceptualize the Jewishness and Judaism of such activists, questioning the tendency to emphasize forms of Jewish life that they are not involved in, as opposed to the justice work that often does relate to elements of Jewish history and identity. She also looks at how college students can (and do) work for positive change within existing Hillel structures, along with ways in which students can create lively forms of Jewish campus life outside of Hillel. 

(28:57 - 40:27): The metaphor of college campuses as "battlegrounds" arises, and Sandalow-Ash states why she believes such metaphors are problematic. Ackerman argues that political litmus tests around Zionism in Jewish spaces contribute to a culture in which many Jews who really would love to take part in Jewish campus life do not feel that they can authentically do so. To close, Sandalow-Ash and Ackerman look at the question of "safe spaces" -- as they relate to Jews, to college campuses, and more generally. [5]

[1] Learn more about Open Hillel by visiting www.OpenHillel.org. For a timeline of significant events in its history, click here.

[2] For an in-depth look at the history of Hillel International, and its relationship to Israel, see this 2014 piece in the New Republic, written by John Judis.

[3] You can familiarize yourself with Hillel's Standards of Partnership for Campus Israel Activities at this link.

[4] For more on Open Hillel's national civil rights tour, see this 2015 article in The Forward, entitled "Shame on Hillel for Shunning Civil Rights Veterans," written by four Jewish civil rights veterans who spoke as part of the tour.

[5] For a piece exploring a moment of Open Hillel's history that garnered a great deal of publicity, see "Members of Jewish Student Group Test Permissible Discussion on Israel," published in December 2013 in The New York Times.

Judaism Unbound Episode 125: Complementary Zions - Zachary Schaffer

In our ongoing exploration of the relationship of American Jews and Israel, Dan and Lex are joined by educator and activist Zach Schaffer, whose work focuses on helping Jewish federations and similar organizations talk across ideological, generational, and religious divides. Schaffer describes his approach to Israel education, engagement, and advocacy, encourages dialogue across ideological differences, and suggests that the framing of "pro-Israel" and "anti-Israel" is unhelpful to the project of engagement and relationship-building with Israel.

(0:01 - 13:27): To begin the episode, Schaffer outlines key differences in how different generations of American Jews experience and conceptualize the role of Israel in their lives. He also looks at the concepts of Israel education, Israel advocacy, and Israel engagement, exploring how they are both inter-related and distinct from one another. [1] Schaffer then looks in particular at the relationship between American Jews and Israel, asking whether it may be useful to re-think Zionism so that Israel and America are understood to be "complementary Zions."

(13:28 - 29:46): Schaffer then provides his thoughts on the issue of Jewish communal red-lines. Why do Jewish institutions create boundaries on permissible discourse around Israel? How might it still be possible, with those red lines in place, for individuals to bridge disagreements and find common ground through productive conversations? In approaching this subject, Schaffer critiques the tendency that people have (along the entire spectrum of opinion) to caricature those who have contrasting ideas.

(29:47 - 48:58): Through a brief moment of Jewish textual interpretation, Schaffer explores the concept of the Jewish diaspora. [2] He uses chapter 12 of Genesis, [3] when God tells Abram both "to be a blessing" and that he "will be a great nation," and argues that the first half of that statement proves most meaningful for Jews in diaspora, while the second half plays a more important role for Jews in Israel. [4] He suggests that the use of the term "pro-Israel," implicitly contrasted with "anti-Israel," makes it harder to educate, advocate for, or engage with Israel. [5] To close the episode, Schaffer suggests that people of all ideologies come together to support organizations that create contexts for co-existence among Israelis and Palestinians. [6] 

 Image Credit: Shlomo Shva Collection

Image Credit: Shlomo Shva Collection

[1] As one example of the kinds of sources he did not engage with in formative Jewish educational contexts, Schaffer cites Theodor Herzl's The Jewish State (Der Judenstaat). You can read a full English translation of it, in pdf form, at this link.

[2] For a fuller exploration of the terminology and conception of diaspora, see New Jews: The End of the Jewish Diaspora, written by Caryn Aviv and David Schneer.

[3] Dive deeper into the text that Schaffer cites, from Genesis 12, by viewing that chapter (and related commentaries) on Sefaria

[4] Schaffer critiques a tendency of some, who emphasize Israeli technological achievements and inventions as a reason to be "pro-Israel." He includes the cherry tomato as one example of an invention that has been cited to a great degree. For an article that similarly critiques this kind of advocacy, see "Israel is losing support among millennials and minorities, study finds," authored by Ben Sales in JTA.

[5] Towards the close of the episode, Schaffer mentions Grace Paley's idea that Jews should be a "splinter in the toe of civilizations, a victim to aggravate the conscience." To learn more about Paley's conception, see "A Splinter in the Toe: Mothering and Democracy in Grace Paley's Fiction," by Kremena Todorova.

Judaism Unbound Episode 124: IfNotNow - Ilana Levinson, Jill Raney

Dan and Lex are joined by Ilana Levinson and Jill Raney, two members of IfNotNow, a national campaign led by young Jews, working to end American-Jewish support for the Israeli occupation and promote freedom and dignity for all Palestinians and Israelis. [1] Their conversation looks at a wide variety of issues, ranging from fear and trauma in American-Jewish life, to the idea that no Jew should be deemed "not Jewish enough" to express their viewpoints on Israel and Palestine.

(0:01 - 14:24): To begin the episode, Raney and Levinson talk through IfNotNow's institutional structure. They emphasize the decentralized nature of the organization, and how that distinguishes it from many other institutions (Jewish and otherwise). Levinson tells IfNotNow's origin story, reflecting in particular on the summer of 2014, when it arose as a voice for young Jews who opposed violent Israeli action towards Palestinians in Gaza. [2] Raney then outlines a few key components of many IfNotNow actions, including song, Jewish ritual, and civil disobedience. [3] 

(14:25 - 27:11): The two guests reflect on the role that genuine forms of fear and trauma, resulting from Jewish communal memory and experience, play in many people's understandings of Israel. Raney looks back on their own Jewish life, which has manifested largely outside of Jewish institutions, and asserts that all Jews should be recognized as "Jewish enough" to voice their authentic opinions on Israel and Palestine, regardless of their institutional affiliations or lack thereof. Levinson reflects on her journey from the founder of an Israel-advocacy group in high school to an outspoken opponent of Israel's Occupation of Palestinians. [4] She distinguishes between Israel education, which was sparse in her upbringing, and advocacy training, which was prevalent.

(27:12 - 39:56): Raney discusses some of the ways, distinct from conversations about Israel, that have caused her to feel other-ed in some Jewish communities. They tie the fears and traumas associated with Israel to communal discourse and apprehension around intermarriage. [5] To close the episode, the co-hosts and guests wrestle with antisemitism that is present in the world today, and explore ways in which we can work towards ending it.

[1] Learn more about IfNotNow's work by visiting IfNotNowMovement.org, and explore the principles in which its work is grounded by clicking here.

[2] For more on the origins of IfNotNow, see this July 2014 Huffington Post piece, written by Antonia Blumberg, entitled "Jewish Group Delivers Mourner's Kaddish For Gaza Victims."

[3] Gain a sense of what IfNotNow's actions look like by viewing the video on the left of this screen.

[4] Hear more about Levinson's story by viewing this video, which was part of IfNotNow's #YouNeverToldMe campaign.

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Judaism Unbound BREAKING NEWS: A State of Moral Emergency - Stosh Cotler


Stosh Cotler, CEO of Bend the Arc Jewish Action, joins Dan and Lex for an urgent conversation on the family separation crisis at the US borders. Cotler calls on American Jews to speak out against those who would callously separate children from their families, and she connects these recent events to the broader context of Donald Trump's administration and to Jewish values and historical experiences. 

[1] Sign on to Bend The Arc's Declaration of a State of Moral Emergency at www.bendthearc.us/moral_emergency.

[2] Learn more about the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, and connect to one or more of its 57 member organizations, at https://www.jewishsocialjustice.org.

[3] Get more information about how you can start a "Moral Minyan," working towards justice through a Jewish lens, by clicking here.

[4] See an update from Bend The Arc, sent on 6/21/2018, below.

Judaism Unbound Episode 123: The Religion of Israel

Looking back at the first part of our series on American Jews and Israel, Dan and Lex discuss various topics, including the past, present, and potential meanings of Zionism and the "red lines" that some Jewish institutions have established, which put certain ideas (such as advocacy for boycotts of Israel) and people outside of their "big tents." Dan and Lex explore whether many American Jews relate to Israel in a fashion that is very analogous to "religious." [1]


(0:01 - 16:53): To begin the episode, Dan and Lex argue that the relationship that many Jews have with Israel may best be characterized as "religious" and not merely "political." [2] They compare conversations across difference, in Jewish communal spaces, to "interfaith" dialogue. In other words, despite the fact that all participants in many Israel discussions are Jewish, their emotional connections to Israel resemble deeply held religious sentiments. Continuing, the two co-hosts explore the concept of Jewish communal "red lines" as they relate to Zionism. Brought up by many guests in previous weeks, Dan and Lex share their critiques of policies that restrict certain political viewpoints from being expressed in many Jewish institutions.

(16:54 - 34:12): Dan and Lex reflect on an ongoing theme of their recent episodes: the wide-ranging connotations and rapidly-changing definitions of the word "Zionism" over the course of the 20th century. Lex also looks back on Yehuda Kurtzer's "B'nei B'rak Test," [3] which challenges Jews to consider whether they genuinely feel like they are part of a shared project with whose ideologies diametrically oppose theirs in most measurable ways. He then applies it to questions of Zionism and Anti-Zionism. The two co-hosts also question the "all-or-nothing" framing of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, counter-intuitively embraced by many of its staunchest supporters and its loudest opponents. They call for a deeper exploration of the various "Bs, Ds, and Ss," which often differ substantially from one another in form and function, instead of approaching them all as if they are a unified "package deal." [4]

(34:13 - 49:43): Michael Steinhardt, a prominent philanthropist and co-founder of Birthright Israel, makes his way into the conversation. In particular, Dan cites the headlines Steinhardt made recently when publicly giving pro-Palestine activists the middle-finger and asks what the gesture illustrates about the divides in American-Jewish life on this issue. [5] To close the episode, Dan and Lex ask whether the relationship between Israeli and American Judaisms, in 2018, is most comparable to a relationship between two siblings or, alternatively, if it most closely resembles the kind of distant relationship that characterizes 3rd or 4th cousins. [6]

[1] This episode is the 7th in an ongoing series on the relationship between American Judaism and Israel. For earlier episodes, click the following links: Episode 117: Israel and American Jews Today - Peter BeinartEpisode 118: Trouble in the Tribe - Dov WaxmanEpisode 119: The Histories of Zionisms - Noam PiankoEpisode 120: A Less Toxic Conversation - Melissa WeintraubEpisode 121: Homecoming and Arrival - Yehuda KurtzerEpisode 122: Let's Talk About Israel - Sharon Kleinbaum

[2] Dan contrasts the lack of controversy around circumcision to the heated debates that accompany the issue of Israel. In doing so, he cites a film which proved contentious -- but for reasons that surprised him. For more information on the film he cites (directed by Eli Ungar-Sargon and entitled Cut: Slicing Through the Myths of Circumcision), click here.

[3] Explore Kurtzer's idea of the B'nei B'rak Test in greater detail by listening to his first appearance on Judaism Unbound, entitled Episode 41: History and Memory - Yehuda Kurtzer.

[4] Learn more about the BDS movement through this article from MyJewishLearning.com, which describes BDS from the perspective of both its advocates and its opponents. 

[5] For an article on Michael Steinhardt's gesture, click here.

[6] Familiarize yourself with polling around the distancing of Israeli and American Jews (and analysis of those numbers) through this article, entitled "Israelis Balk at Input from U.S. Jews: Survey."

Judaism Unbound Episode 122: Let's Talk About Israel - Sharon Kleinbaum

To get a sense of the Israel conversation from the point of view of a congregational rabbi, Dan and Lex are joined by Sharon Kleinbaum, Spiritual Leader of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST), in New York City. In their conversation, they discuss topics including the varied and evolving perspectives on Israel in Jewish-and-LGBTQ spaces, the consequences of institutional red-lines around Israel discourse, and the importance of interfaith bridge-building. [1]

 Image Credit: Harold Levine

Image Credit: Harold Levine

(0:01 - 17:40): To begin the episode, Kleinbaum outlines some of the challenges and opportunities that face rabbis who are looking to open up conversations about Israel and Palestine; [2] she looks back on the last few decades, on the ground in Israel and Palestine and through the lens of her own congregation's history. [3] Kleinbaum also reflects on the phenomenon that Queer-identifying Jews are disproportionately involved in activist movements related to Israel and Palestine. [4]

(17:41 - 30:35): Kleinbaum looks at the role that fear plays in cementing the beliefs that many people hold about Israel. She then tells the story of her congregation's ongoing relationship with New York City's Muslim community, [5] along with why it has been so important for bridging a variety of entrenched divides. Turning to Jewish institutional life, she calls on leaders to embrace an ambitious kind of pluralism, such that communities open themselves up to hearing from those with perspectives completely opposed to their own strongly held beliefs. Kleinbaum offers her take on the phenomenon called "pinkwashing," a topic that is especially controversial within LGBTQ communities (Jewish and otherwise). [6]

(30:36 - 43:16): Kleinbaum analyzes the role that institutional red lines play with respect to permissible discourse about Israel, Palestine, and Zionism in Jewish institutional spaces. [6] She also calls on progressives to hold onto the hope that they can help build a more just Israeli society in the future, imploring them not to walk away from Israel out of frustration with it. To close the episode, Kleinbaum compares and contrasts the diversity of opinion about God that is accepted in many Jewish spaces with the narrower spectrum of opinions that are tolerated around Israel and Zionism.

[1] Learn more about Sharon Kleinbaum by reading her bio. Learn more about Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, which she leads, by visiting CBST.org.

[2] Kleinbaum cites controversy within her own synagogue, as an example of how Israel can play a divisive role in Jewish communities. To learn more about a situation she describes, where a small number of members of her congregation left the synagogue (and many others joined) due to the issue of Israel and Palestine, click here.

 Image Credit: The Daily Beast

Image Credit: The Daily Beast

[3] For a detailed look at the history of CBST, from its founding in 1973 through the present, click here.

[4] Explore the intersection of Israel-Palestine activism and LGBTQ identity further through this 2015 piece, written by Emily Unger and featured in Tikkun.

[5] For more on the work CBST does building bridges with New York City Muslims, click here.

[6] There are a wide variety of Jewish approaches to the idea of pinkwashing. Engage with two prominent viewpoints, radically different from one another, by reading "Israel and Pinkwashing," written by Sarah Schulman for the New York Times, and "Response to Common Inaccuracy: Israel is Pinkwashing," from the Anti-Defamation League.

Judaism Unbound Episode 121: Homecoming and Arrival - Yehuda Kurtzer

Dan and Lex are joined by Yehuda Kurtzer, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America[1] for the 5th episode in Judaism Unbound's series on the relationship of American Jews and Israel. In their conversation, Kurtzer questions ideas of Judaism as a "family," puts forth a case for why American Jews should care about Israel in the first place, and provides ideas for new frameworks of Israel education.

 Image Credit: Peninsula Jewish Community Center

Image Credit: Peninsula Jewish Community Center

(0:01 - 12:41): To begin the episode, Kurtzer chronicles the ways in which Israel, once uniquely suited to serve as a "unifier" across different strands of American-Jewish life, has now become one of the most divisive topics of all. [2] Relatedly, he questions whether the idea of the Jewish people as a worldwide "family" really holds water, arguing that we may be better served by other metaphors for 21st century Judaism. [3] He then explores how his conceptions of "history and memory" relate to Israel in contemporary Jewish life. Carrying that question forward to the topic of the Holocaust, Kurtzer lays out three paradigmatic "lessons" that different groups of Jews take from it -- "don't be a victim," "don't be a perpetrator," and "don't be a bystander" -- examining the ramifications of each. [4]

(12:42 - 30:00): For many American Jews, the question isn't "what should I think about Israel," but rather "should I think about Israel at all?" Kurtzer provides his answer to that question through an argument that may be a bit surprising. His argument is not that Israel is uniquely moral or good, but rather that it is "interesting." For anyone with a desire to think deeply about the intersection of Judaism and power, or those fascinated by the collision of Jewish fantasy and reality, Israel constitutes one of the broader "data sets" in human history. Kurtzer goes on to explore the role of Israel in Jewish educational contexts, questioning whether "love" of Israel really is a pre-requisite to intensive study about it. [5]

(30:01 - 47:24): Kurtzer and Dan debate whether the projects of American Judaism and Israeli Judaism should be understood as autonomous, entirely inter-related, or something in-between those two poles. [6] Kurtzer outlines how Israel can actually be approached in American-Jewish life not only as an end in and of itself, but also as an entryway into broader philosophical and political questions that are relevant to contemporary Jews. To close the episode, the conversation shifts gears to the issue of social media. Kurtzer, whose Facebook page has become an important location for Jewish communal discourse, underscores some strengths and weaknesses of discussions that occur about Judaism in online fora. [7] 

 Image Credit: Shalom Hartman Institute of North America

Image Credit: Shalom Hartman Institute of North America

[1] Learn more about Yehuda Kurtzer by reading his bio, accessible at this link. Listen to his previous appearance on Judaism Unbound by checking out Episode 41: HIstory and Memory.

[2] Learn more about this shift by listening to Episode 118: Trouble in the Tribe - Dov Waxman.

[3] For more on the metaphor of the nation-as-family, we recommend the work of George Lakoff, including his books Metaphors We Live By and Don't Think of an Elephant.

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[4] Explore these three lessons in more detail by reading "A last lesson from the Holocaust: 'thou shalt not be a perpetrator, victim or a bystander,'" written by David Cesarani in 2002.

[5] For a piece that argues for a re-conceptualization of Israel education, see "Israel Education for Knowledge, Connection, and Stance," written by Jonah Hassenfeld and featured in eJewish Philanthropy

[6] Read a 2017 piece by Kurtzer related to this issue here.

[7] For a 2018 article about Kurtzer, and his commitment to pluralism, click here.


Judaism Unbound Episode 120: A Less Toxic Conversation - Melissa Weintraub

Dan and Lex are joined by Melissa Weintraub, Founder and Co-Executive Director of Resetting the Table[1] In their conversation they examine ways in which conversations about Israel in Jewish communal life can often become toxic, along with ideas for how to shift that trend moving forward.

(0:01 - 15:53): To begin the episode, Weintraub looks back on the origins of Resetting the Table (RTT), and reflects on societal dynamics that make its work so important. In doing so, she cites a few key studies that inform her work. [2] She then provides an overview of RTT's key audiences, highlighting ways in which her organization facilitates conversations about Israel and Palestine in particular, along with broader discussions around American politics more generally. [3] She also presents a powerful metaphor, relating challenges around distinguishing safety from danger, to auto-immune disorders that fail to discern between that which is harmful and that which is healthy. 

(15:54 - 33:50): Weintraub address a common criticism of dialogue work -- that conversation can become a substitute for concrete action. As she explores that topic, she applies John Paul Lederach's duality of "critical yeast" and "critical mass," demonstrating why dialogue could be understood as an important element of long-term, "critical yeast"-oriented work. [4] She then looks back at her own life, describing her journey into the work of conflict mediation, along with the role that Jewish teachings have played in that journey. She also emphasizes why, in her organizational experience, trained facilitation is a core element of success, while also providing a few helpful ideas for those who would like to help their community create more constructive contexts for conversation about Israel and Palestine. She continues by examining the tension between moral clarity and inclusivity which can arise in many communal contexts, within the Jewish world and outside of it. [5]

(33:51 -- 50:14): An ongoing topic of conversation on Judaism Unbound revolves around forms of Judaism that might resonate deeply with Jews who currently are un-involved in Jewish institutional life. Weintraub explores how her work does often connect with people who are not deeply immersed in Jewish communal organizations, but also why RTT's main focus is on those working within Jewish institutional contexts. She also discusses the increasing role that agitation plays in community organizing strategies, emphasizing that there are moments where it is warranted, but questioning whether it should be seen as a first resort. [6] To close the episode, she explores a topic that has been hotly debated in recent years: the role that "red lines" play in defining the boundaries of discourse about Israel and Palestine.

[1] For Melissa Weintraub's full bio, click here. To learn more about Resetting the Table, visit its Facebook page.

[2] See the following studies for more detailed exploration of how American Jews relate to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: "Israel in the Age of Eminem," by Frank Luntz, "Mapping Israel Education: An Overview of Trends and Issues in North America," by Karen Gerber and Aliza Mazor, "Defining Israel Education," by Bethamie Horowitz, "Shifting Social Networks: Studying the Jewish Growth of Adults in their Twenties and Thirties," by Beth Cousens, and "Safe and on the Sidelines," by Ari Y. Kelman.

[3] Dan cites the excommunication of Baruch Spinoza, comparing communal boundaries around God-belief in the past to analogous boundaries around Israel today. To learn more about Baruch Spinoza's excommunication, click here.

[4] Learn more about Lederach's framework of "critical yeast" and "critical mass" by clicking here.

[5] Lex cites a study about standardized test-taking, that indicated that attempting to argue why each answer could be correct actually led to more accurate responses in test-takers. For a related study, on why changing answers from one's "first instinct" may be beneficial -- despite commonplace assumptions to the contrary -- click here.

[6] In Weintraub's exploration of the role that agitation can play in community organizing, she mentions a campaign called #YouNeverToldMe. For more information about it, click here.

Judaism Unbound Episode 119: The Histories of Zionisms - Noam Pianko

To help us better understand and think about the role that Israel might play in the future of American Jews, Dan and Lex are joined by Professor Noam Pianko of the University of Washington, author of the books Zionism and the Roads Not Taken and Jewish Peoplehood: An American Innovation[1] The conversation explores the origins and evolution of Zionism,  its many early variations, the changing nature of American Zionism, and the ever-shifting place of Israel in the minds of American Jews.

 Image Credit: Stroum Center for Jewish Studies

Image Credit: Stroum Center for Jewish Studies

(0:01 - 17:30): To begin the episode, Noam Pianko looks back on Zionism's origins in the 19th century, exploring the relationship of early Zionism to broader questions of nationalism, emancipation, loyalty, and fear. He also provides an extensive look at how Zionism manifested in forms that did not focus on the creation of a political nation-state. [2] He examines the broader context of Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century, and how this context explained the forms of Zionism that emerged there. Pivoting to America, Pianko presents the contrasting figures of Israel Zangwill (leading proponent of the idea of an American melting pot) and Horace Kallen (a prominent theorist behind the idea of cultural pluralism) to demonstrate the very different context of Jewish life here. [3] 

(17:31 - 31:56): Continuing forward through history, Pianko describes how this context changes in the mid-20th century, as the Holocaust and the founding of the State of Israel drastically changed philosophies of Zionism, such that the idea of statehood became far more central to Zionism than it had been previously. Pianko elaborates on how, even after Israel was established as a Jewish state, American-Jewish institutional support for it was not unconditional. [4] He then considers 1967's Six Day War, arguing that its role in turning the tide of American-Jewish opinions about Zionism may have been over-emphasized by some scholars and Jewish institutional leaders. Pianko's claim is that radical activism and opposition to the Vietnam War may have had a bigger impact on the place of Israel in the hearts and minds of American Jews than is commonly understood. [5] 

Zionism and the Roads Not Taken.jpg

(31:57 - 43:58): Pianko looks at the 1970s, highlighting the beginnings of a split among Zionists between "progressive Zionism" and "Israelism." [6] Fast forwarding to our contemporary moment, he asks how and in what ways the Trump administration is contributing to further polarization around Israel and Palestine. To close the episode, Pianko looks at the word "Zionism" itself. He asks whether or not the term, which was initially quite expansive (including ideologies of Jewish nationalism independent from a political nation-state), can be rehabilitated, or if the conflation of Zionism and "Israelism" means that we now need new and more precise language.

 Arthur Waskow, presenting at Breira's only conference in 1977. Image Credit: Tablet Magazine

Arthur Waskow, presenting at Breira's only conference in 1977. Image Credit: Tablet Magazine

[1] Learn more about Noam Pianko by clicking hereZionism and the Roads Not Taken and Jewish Peoplehood: An American Innovation are both available on Amazon at this link.

[2] One of the leading Zionists who did not envision Jewish political sovereignty through a state was Ahad Ha'am (Asher Ginzberg). Learn more about him and his philosophy of Cultural Zionism by clicking here.

[3] We recommend reading Zangwill's 1908 play, entitled The Melting Pot, for a sense of Zangwill's understanding of how the phrase "melting pot" encapsulated American life. We recommend pairing it with an excerpt from Kallen's 1915 work "Democracy Versus the Melting Pot," accessible by clicking here.

[4] Pianko quotes a 1950 address by Jacob Blaustein to emphasize the point that support for Israel by American-Jewish institutions was conditional. For the full address given by Blaustein, entitled "The Voice of Reason," click here.

[5] For a look into the political schisms within Jewish life in the mid-late 20th century, including around Israel and the Vietnam War, see Torn at the Roots: The Crisis of Jewish Liberalism in Postwar America, by Michael Staub.

[6] A key organization cited by Pianko is Breira, which arose in the 1970s, made up of Jews committed to a two-state solution. Learn more about its rise and fall by clicking here.


Judaism Unbound Episode 118: Trouble in the Tribe - Dov Waxman

Dan and Lex are joined by Dov Waxman, Professor of Political Science, International Affairs, and Israel Studies at Northeastern University [1] and author of the book Trouble in the Tribe: The American Jewish Conflict Over IsraelThe conversation explores the debates, tensions, and divides over Israel and Palestine within the American Jewish community, and we discuss why a topic that once unified American Jews now divides them. [2]

(0:01 - 13:25): To begin the episode, Dov Waxman explains how Zionism, for many Jews, served as an answer to the question of how secular individuals could maintain a connection to Judaism, largely independent of religion. He questions the widespread assumption held by many, whereby American Judaism has always stood ardently behind Zionism, looking back at eras of American Jewish history where Zionists were the minority. He also explores how that context shifted, such that political Zionism eventually came to be seen as a consensus belief in American Judaism, and how growing numbers of young American Jews are challenging that consensus today. [3]

(13:26 - 30:18): In order to gain a better sense of the climate of "red-lining and blacklisting" of non-Zionists by Jewish communal institutions, Waxman puts forth the example of Judith Butler, a groundbreaking gender theorist. [4] Despite the fact that she identifies her Jewish identity as an important element of her life, Butler has been barred from many Jewish institutions because of her outspoken criticism of Zionism and support for the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. Waxman also draws a distinction between the small groups that are on the front-lines of these Jewish communal debates and a larger group of American Jews, for whom Israel is not a primary issue in their lives. Waxman also provides a window into one of the hottest topics in Jewish communal discourse: the role of Israel and Palestine on American college campuses. [5] [6]

(30:19 - 49:34): Waxman underscores the importance of recognizing legitimate Jewish fears and anxieties as they relate to Israel. He also describes how many institutions amplify those fears through their fundraising strategies. He then examines changing relationships to religion, within Judaism but also in American society more broadly, and asks whether our intense debates about Israel and Palestine may actually, at their core, revolve around broader questions of what Judaism is and should be. To close the episode, Waxman provides his perspective on how Donald Trump's election has affected political polarization in American Judaism and what its ramifications may be for the relationship of American Jews and Israel.

[1] Learn more about Dov Waxman by checking out his bio, accessible by clicking here.

[2] Purchase a copy of Trouble in the Tribe, recently released in paperback form, by clicking here.

[3] For an article by Waxman on young American Jews' orientation to Israel, see "Young American Jews and Israel: Beyond Birthright and BDS," published in Indiana University Press's Israel Studies journal.

[4] Learn more about decisions to bar Butler (and others) from Jewish institutional spaces by reading this 2014 article in The Forward.

[5] For a study that dives deep into the perspectives of American-Jewish college students with respect to Israel, see Ari Y. Kelman's "Safe and On the Sidelines."  Hear from Kelman in his guest appearance on Judaism Unbound by checking out Episode 74: Beyond Jewish Identity - Ari Y. Kelman.

[6] Waxman mentions three organizations -- J Street U, IfNotNow, and Jewish Voice for Peace -- as key players among young American Jews whose approach to Israel and Palestine differs from those of many institutions of the Jewish establishment. Learn more about them by visiting their websites: J Street UIfNotNowJewish Voice for Peace

Judaism Unbound Episode 117: Israel and American Jews Today - Peter Beinart

As we launch a new series considering the role that Israel might or might not play in the future of American Judaism, Dan and Lex are joined by writer and commentator Peter Beinart, a Professor of Journalism and Political Science at the City University of New York. [1] Beinart is also a contributing editor for The Atlantic and a senior columnist for The Forward. His 2010 article in The New York Review of Books predicted a widening gap between Israel and young American Jews, and his framing has shaped the American Jewish community's discussion ever since. In this episode, we explore generational differences in Jewish life, denominational differences within generations, and the ever-present tension between universalism and particularism. 

 Image Credit: Liu Institute for Global Issues

Image Credit: Liu Institute for Global Issues

(0:01 - 14:48): To begin the episode, Beinart looks back on a landmark article he published in The New York Review of Books in 2010, entitled "The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment," [2] reflecting on and expanding his discussion of whether and how young Jews reconcile or do not reconcile Liberalism and Zionism. Carrying that frame forward, Beinart explores more broadly the generational differences in American-Jewish life, especially as they relate to Israel, particularism, and universalism. 

(14:49 - 27:31): Beinart outlines how polarization around Israel connects to broader forms of polarization between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews. He then looks at the broader American political landscape, [3] marked by growth of self-identified radicals, a group that challenges the traditional framing of Liberal vs. Conservative that has held sway in recent American discourse. Beinart looks at how that phenomenon relates to nationalism (including Zionism -- as a form of nationalism), and has an impact on how millennials contextualize the question of Israel and Palestine. [4]

(27:32 - 44:11): Looking back on the late 1800s and early 1900s, Beinart broadens the conversation about what Zionism is. He shines a light on forms of Zionism that were not focused on building a political nation-state, including Ahad Ha'am's cultural Zionism. [5] He then looks at how ideas of church-state separation are starkly different in the Israeli and American contexts. In particular, Beinart explores the ways in which many American-Jewish institutions, and individual Jews, are willing to question Israel's shortcomings surrounding religious pluralism in ways that they do not generally criticize its treatment of Palestinians. To close the episode, Beinart revisits the issue of universalism and particularism, asking how the tension between the two may be something that unifies Jews across generational lines. [6]

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[1] Click here to access Peter Beinart's bio, and click here to order a copy of The Crisis of Zionism.

[2] Read "The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment", featured in The New York Review of Booksby clicking here.  For a follow-up piece that Beinart wrote in the same publication three years later, see "The American Jewish Cocoon."

[3] For articles by Beinart on a wide variety of American and international political topics, see his author pages on The Atlantic and The Forward websites. For a piece he wrote regarding recent events in Gaza, see "American Jews Have Abandoned Gaza -- And The Truth."

[4] For an article about the evolving relationship of many millennials to the idea of nationalism, see this piece in HuffPost South Africa, entitled "Millennials: 'We're Global Citizens. Nationalism's Outdated.'"

[5] Learn more about Ahad Ha'am's philosophy of cultural Zionism by clicking here.

[6] For a May 2018 interview of Beinart by Lara Friedman, of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, click here. For a variety of other video interviews featuring Beinart, click here. Listen to his podcast, co-hosted by Daniel Gordis and entitled Fault Lines, by clicking here.


Judaism Unbound Episode 116: Passion

Dan and Lex look back at their recent episodes, featuring guests that are part of Clal's Glean Incubator for spiritual innovators. They reflect on the ways in which fundamentalist practitioners of religion (Judaism and Christianity most prominently) have channeled their zeal and passion into the work they do with great success, and they focus on passion as the potential key to analogous successes in the landscape of Jewish innovation. [1]

(0:01 - 14:45): To begin the episode, Dan and Lex discuss Chabad, a Hasidic, Orthodox stream of Judaism that came up in multiple recent conversations with Judaism Unbound guests. They ask how and why Chabad has succeeded (by certain measures) at reaching a large population of Non-Orthodox Jews, despite immense differences regarding how they and their target audience understand theology, politics, gender, and more. [2] Also mentioning Evangelical Christian communities, they highlight the passionate zeal that these communities possess as a major part of why they have been able to spread their respective work effectively.

(14:46 - 31:33): Continuing on this thread, they look at why fundamentalist communities tend to be more "warm and welcoming" than other religious settings (they also poke a bit of fun at the over-used phrase "warm and welcoming"). They also explore the role that professionalization has played in the contemporary Jewish world, creating a situation where Jewish programming is facilitated almost exclusively by those who have advanced degrees in a Jewish field. [3] Relatedly, they consider questions of specialization in the training of institutional Jewish leaders. They identify examples in education, medicine, [4] and sports that help demonstrate the benefits of building specialized skills, and ask whether the synagogue landscape (and Jewish landscape more broadly) could shift in ways such that rabbis are not understood as Jewish "generalists." 

(31:34 - 45:47): Returning to the theme of this episode, Dan and Lex identify ways in which Judaism Unbound's recent guests so clearly feel deeply, zealously passionate about the work that they're doing. They argue that this fervor is a crucial element of why they are able to succeed. They also reflect on their conversation with Geoffrey Mitelman of Sinai & Synapses in particular, arguing that other "Sinai &..." organizations could arise blending Judaism with other realms of Jewish experience like theatre ("Sinai & Stages"), athletics ("Sinai & Sports"), and many others. [5] To close, Dan re-visits the frame of Judaism as a language presented by Mitelman, suggesting that the frame of language can help us understand that Judaism is always in the midst of processes of change. [6]

[2] See "Unpacking Chabad: Their Ten Core Elements for Success," by Steven Windmueller, for a piece from a Non-Orthodox perspective that maps out some of the reasons that Chabad has had such a large impact over the past few decades.

[3] For more on the divide between "professional Jews" and the "Jews in the Pews" see Episode 86: We're The Jews We've Been Waiting For.

[4] Dan cites in particular a Canadian institution specializing in hernia repair. Read the New Yorker article that he mentions, discussing their work, and exploring specialization more broadly, by clicking here.

[5] The Union for Reform Judaism has a growing network of camps, called "6 Points Academy," that are perhaps the best example of a Jewish institution looking to blend Judaism with a diversity of elements of human experiences in a deep and meaningful way. Learn more about their camps (thus far focusing on Judaism and Sports, Science, and the Arts respectively), by clicking here.

[6] For more from Dan and Lex on Judaism as a language, see Episode 40: What Should Stay and What Should Go.

Judaism Unbound Episode 115: Beloved - Sara Luria, Isaac Luria

Dan and Lex are joined by Sara and Isaac Luria, founders of Beloved, a home-based spiritual community in Brooklyn. [1] Their conversation covers a wide variety of topics, all revolving around their work to infuse the world with deeper forms of community, love, and justice.

 Image Credit: Sara and Isaac Luria

Image Credit: Sara and Isaac Luria

(0:01 - 19:00): To begin the episode, Sara Luria tells Beloved's origin story, emphasizing the role that shock after Donald Trump's election played in it. [2] Specifically, it helped spur her and her husband into action, as they took steps to create a spiritual community based out of their own home. [3] They decided that this spiritual home would center the ideas of love and "belovedness" -- in a world that needs more of both. Both guests also express their amusement at the idea that creating Judaism in a home environment constitutes "innovation," and they reflect on what that reflects about 20th century trends toward the institutionalization and professionalization of many elements of life that were previously home-based.

(19:01 - 33:57): Both Lurias look inward, exploring what it is about their own journeys and stories that planted the seed for them to create Beloved, both as individuals and jointly as a couple. As they do so, they draw wisdom from a perhaps unexpected place: the Christian landscape of mega-churches. [4] They explore how they, more so than Jewish institutional models, are where they look for inspiration, regarding how to create an institution that embeds a welcoming spirit into its DNA.  They also consider how their organization balances its goal to specifically reach and engage Jews, while also being a space that is open to people of other religious backgrounds.

(33:58 - 50:14): Because Beloved emerged partially as a result of Donald Trump's election, ideals of social justice are at its core. Sara and Isaac Luria look at how justice manifests in their work, highlighting a new and growing field called Healing Justice in the process. [5] Sara Luria then calls for a "collective Mikvah for our Jewish experience," which would help us transition, by "letting go of what isn't working anymore" in order to "be present to what is" and "move forward into what will be." For the last question of the episode, Isaac Luria flips into the role of interviewer, asking his wife to explore how Beloved's work has affected the lives of their children. [6]

 Image Credit: Amy Sara Clark, Jewish Week

Image Credit: Amy Sara Clark, Jewish Week

[1] Learn more about Sara and Isaac Luria by checking out their bios. Explore the work that Beloved is doing by visiting BelovedBK.org.

[2] Luria expands on the spiritual challenges posed by Donald Trump in this 2016 piece, featured in Lilith Magazine.

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[3] The Lurias cite Robyn Henderson-Espinoza's ideas on togetherness and community. Learn more about their work by visiting iRobyn.com

[4] In discussing the mega-church world, the Lurias cite the book How to Build a Small Groups Ministry. It is available for purchase at this link.

[5] For a podcast that features voices from the new and growing field of Healing Justice, visit www.healingjustice.org

[6] Recently, past Judaism Unbound guests Casper ter Kuile and Angie Thurston published a report that examines the contemporary landscape of religious organizations looking to "nurture the Care of Souls." Both Sara and Isaac Luria are cited in the report, which can be accessed by clicking here.

[7] For an article that profiles Beloved's work, see this February 2018 article in The New York Jewish Week, entitled "Reform-Led Chabad-Style House Opens in Brooklyn."

Judaism Unbound Episode 114: Sinai and Synapses - Geoffrey Mitelman

Dan and Lex are joined by Geoffrey Mitelman, the Founding Director of Sinai & Synapses. Together they discuss the realms of science & religion, perceived by many as entirely separate, and the ways in which Mitelman blends them together every day of his professional life. 

 Image Credit: Eli Talks

Image Credit: Eli Talks

(0:01 - 12:25): To begin the episode, Mitelman provides an overview of the work that Sinai & Synapses does. [1] Honing in on scientific and Jewish takes on the concept of memory, he shows how it is possible not only to treat science and religion as entirely separate realms, but also to blend teachings from both. [2] [3]He then shines a light on two of his organization's central initiatives, Scientists In Synagogues and the Sinai & Synapses Interfaith Fellowship. [4]

(12:30 - 27:57): Mitelman puts forth four common orientations toward science and religion, which he terms the "conflict," "concert," "contrast," and "contact" models respectively, [5] explaining why Sinai & Synapses advocates for the "contact" framework. [6] He then distinguishes between the ideas of religion and God, which are often treated as synonymous. Continuing, he gives a take on a question that many have asked over the years: why it is that so many Jews seem to work professionally in scientific fields. 

(28:02 - 46:56): Re-visiting the question of memory, and also bringing up the topic of compassion, Mitelman provides additional examples regarding how Jewish and scientific examinations of a topic can  be blended with one another to fuel new and creative forms of meaning-making. Shifting gears, he argues that Judaism (and other religions) might be effectively understood as analogous to languages. He also looks back at his upbringing and early professional life, exploring what factors led him to care about questions of science and religion in the first place. To close the episode, he looks at one of the strongest characteristics of the scientific process: failure. He emphasizes why the process of experimentation necessitates failure, and that failing should therefore not be seen as a tragedy, but part of the path towards success. [7]

[1] Learn more about Sinai & Synapses by visiting SinaiAndSynapses.org. Read Geoffrey Mitelman's full bio by clicking here.

[2] For more on the distinction between episodic and semantic memory, which Mitelman highlights, click here.

[3] For Stephen Jay Gould's ideas on non-overlapping magisteria, which Mitelman critiques, click here.

[4] Learn more about Scientists in Synagogues by clicking here. Explore the Sinai & Synapses' Fellowship here.

[5] For a full piece by Mitelman that lays out these four models, see "Science + Religion = Better World."  

[6] View Mitelman's ELI Talk on these four ways to relate to science and religion by clicking the video link on the right.

[7] In discussing failure, he cites Stuart Firestein's Failure: Why Science is So Successful, which is available on Amazon at this link.



Judaism Unbound Episode 113: Embrace the Weird - Miriam Terlinchamp

Dan and Lex are joined by Miriam Terlinchamp, the spiritual leader of Temple Sholom in Cincinnati. In their conversation, they explore the radical re-visioning process of her congregation, which included selling their building, using the proceeds to experiment with new ways of "doing synagogue," embracing social justice as a core Jewish commitment, and investing 10% of their budget in communications, including fostering a vibrant culture of digital video production. We also discuss JustLove, a "multifaith movement provoking love and action," founded by Terlinchamp.

(0:01 - 17:42):  Terlinchamp begins the episode by telling the story of Temple Sholom, the congregation that she leads in Cincinnati. [1] She looks back at the past few years of the synagogue's history, which have included the sale of their building, a complex re-visioning process, and 10% growth of their membership multiple years in a row. Relatedly, she discusses Temple Sholom's video campaigns, [2] which have played an important role, both in helping the congregation think differently about itself, and in marketing what the congregation does to the broader world. [3]

(17:43 - 33:32): In a surprising statement, Terlinchamp, an ordained rabbi, says that she doesn't like organized religion! She explains how it is that, despite that feeling (or perhaps because of it), she has found her calling as a congregational leader. [4] She also looks back at her own life's journey, considering how it led her down the path she has walked. She names a pervasive issue in Jewish life: a lack of self-esteem, whereby congregations wonder why anyone would want to be part of them, and Jews wonder why anyone would choose to become Jewish. She then talks through the demographic shifts that have happened in her congregation, as they have re-conceptualized their vision and purpose.

(33:33 - 52:25): One of Temple Sholom's notable shifts has been its increased emphasis on justice work. [5] Terlinchamp reflects on her passion for activism, along with her congregation's staunch commitment to improving the world. She highlights why this shift has been so deeply important to her, along with some of the challenges that have arisen through it, on a psychological and congregational level. [6] To close the episode, she considers why it is often easier for many Jews to think, and to intellectualize, than it is to feel deeply.

Check out these first videos that Terlinchamp made with her congregation, calling on the community to think creatively and sell their building. Then continue below for more shownote!

[1] Learn more about Miriam Terlinchamp by clicking here. Learn more about Temple Sholom by visiting its website.

[2] We've linked to some of our favorite videos below, but see all of Temple Sholom videos at their public Vimeo channel, accessible here.

[3] Terlinchamp cites "The Way We've Always Done It Demon" video as a particularly important moment for the congregation. View it by clicking the video link on the left.

[4] For an article about transdenominational Judaism, a concept that Terlinchamp alludes to, see "Judaism is Increasingly Transdenominational -- And That's a Good Thing," by Jason Miller.

[5] Read some of Terlinchamp's written work, calling for justice, in the pages of the Cincinnati Enquirer, where she is a regular contributor. In particular, we recommend "The call for all faithful people to act as allies" and "Jail no one simply because he is poor."

[6] Terlinchamp mentions her founding of Just Love: A New Way to Belong, an initiative designed by clergy of multiple religious traditions in Cincinnati, to help people expand their reach and affect change. Follow their work on Facebook at this link.

And if you can't get enough of these videos, click below for a couple of Temple Sholom's most viral ones yet, entitled "The Little Table" and "Judaism No Longer Boring."

Judaism Unbound Episode 112: The Flourishing Synagogue - Aaron Bisno, Harlan Stone

As we continue to dig into various approaches to "spiritual innovation," Dan and Lex are joined by Aaron Bisno and Harlan Stone, rabbi and president, respectively, of Rodef Shalom Congregation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, [1] a synagogue that is over 150 years old and doing very well by conventional synagogue measures, which is nevertheless intensely interested in innovation and experimentation. Our conversation digs into the how a contemporary American synagogue is working to re-imagine itself around the goal of increasing human flourishing.

 Image Credit: Southwest PA Says No More

Image Credit: Southwest PA Says No More

 Image Credit: DmcLaw.com

Image Credit: DmcLaw.com

(0:01 - 15:02): To begin the episode, Aaron Bisno, senior rabbi of the Rodef Shalom Congregation, and Harlan Stone, the synagogue's president, look back on their initial connection to Clal, an organization that has had a major impact on their vision for the synagogue's future. [2] They also explore how and why they have committed to broad changes to their congregation, in mindset and programming, despite the fact that it had been a quite successful legacy institution by almost every traditional metric. [3] In examining all of these questions, they cite the frame of "human flourishing," which comes from the wold of positive psychology and which they are working to embed into all aspects of Rodef Shalom's work.

(15:03 - 32:43): Bisno expands on the idea of human flourishing, looking at how it can help answer the ongoing question of "why be Jewish?" [4] He and Stone discuss why congregational metrics of success need to move beyond the size of membership rolls and the quantity of people attending services. They cite their "Weeks of Jewish Flourishing" initiative, between Passover and Shavuot, which will expose members of the synagogue and the wider community to channels of accessing Jewish wisdom beyond typical synagogue services. 

(32:44 - 46:35): Bisno and Stone explore the dynamics of their work as it relates to their context in a mid-sized Jewish community. They explore how, in a congregation of any size and with any amount of resources, ideological and cultural shifts could still be possible. They explore their decision to merge their (Reform) religious school with that of a nearby Conservative congregation, emphasizing how that change has already made a substantial positive difference. To close the episode, the two guests explore the urgency implied by the name "Rodef Shalom" (To pursue/chase after peace), and the pressing need to show Judaism's enduring value to those who do not connect to its current manifestatons. 

[1] For Aaron Bisno's bio, click here. For Harlan Stone's, click here

[2] Rodef Shalom is hosting an event on April 10th, entitled "How Can Jewish Wisdom & Practice Deepen Human Flourishing?" It will feature Dan Libenson of Judaism Unbound, Irwin Kula of Clal, and a variety of other guests. Learn more about it by clicking here.

[3] Bisno alludes to the need for "courageous conversations" early in the episode. For a piece where he expands on that thought, click here.

[4] Tools for Elul is one initiative mentioned by Stone and Bisno. For an example of what it looks like in practice, click here.

[5] For more on the spirit of collaboration that Rodef Shalom seeks to foster in Pittsburgh and beyond, see this article in the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle.  

Judaism Unbound Episode 111: Unaffiliated Affiliation - Debbie Bravo

Dan and Lex are joined by Debbie Bravo, spiritual leader of Makom NY: A New Kind of Jewish Community, located in Nassau County, Long Island. [1] They discuss how and why Makom NY's outside-the-box model has succeeded in engaging many of Long Island's Jews who have not otherwise connected to institutional Jewish life in the area.

 Image Credit: Jewish Journal

Image Credit: Jewish Journal

(0:01 - 17:40): To begin the episode, Bravo introduces Makom NY. [2] She explains the qualities it shares with traditional congregational communities, along with attributes that differentiate it from those synagogue models. She then looks at the counter-intuitive combination of Chabad and the Reform movement, two institutional settings that have influenced Makom NY in a deep way. [3] She also explores the question of how one can be grounded in a denominational home-base, while still creating a context for inter-denominational pluralism. Continuing, she opens up a conversation around synagogue closures, asserting that such moments need not only be an end-point -- they can constitute the rise of something new as well.

(17:41 - 30:03): Dan and Lex offer some thoughts on synagogue closures as well. Lex draws on the 90s pop hit "Closing Time," and its famous line "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end," while Dan asks whether Judaism could apply its modalities of grief and mourning, when people die, to the realm of institutions, when they close their doors. [4] Bravo also takes a look at the balance between top-down, staff-driven programming, and bottom-up, congregant-driven programming. She then envisions a broader Jewish institutional future, where communities with non-traditional models like Makom NY would materialize all around the country.

 Image Credit: MakomNy.org

Image Credit: MakomNy.org

(30:04 - 45:41): Bravo identifies two key constituencies that she works with -- families with children younger than B Mitzvah age, along with families that she terms "Jewish empty-nesters" (with no children who are younger than B Mitzvah age). She compares and contrasts the ways in which programming is most likely to engage those two groups. She identifies a few concrete examples of Makom NY programming that helps to elucidate ways in which it differs from many other Jewish settings, including elements of its High Holiday observances that are distinctive when compared to what one might encounter in other Jewish settings. To close the episode, Bravo talks through Makom NY's relationship to nearby organizations that initially perceived it as a "competitor" or a "threat" to their institutions. [5]

[1] Learn more about Debbie Bravo at RabbiBravo.com.

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[2] Check out Makom NY's website by clicking here.

[3] For a piece exploring Chabad's strengths, and why they might be applicable in Non-Orthodox contexts, click here.

[4] For more on the idea of death and burial, as applied to Jewish institutions, see Episode 53: Death and Rebirth - Irwin Kula Part I.

[5] Bravo wrote a piece in eJewish Philanthropy that cites the importance of avoiding the perception of "competition" to traditional institutions. Read it by clicking here.

Judaism Unbound Episode 110: Glean - Elan Babchuck

Dan and Lex are joined by Elan Babchuck, Director of Innovation at Clal and founder of the Glean Incubator, a program that combines coaching and a course in entrepreneurship aimed at helping new spiritual initiatives develop compelling strategies for launch and sustainability. In their conversation, they compare and contrast the challenges of Jewish legacy institutions with those of Jewish start-ups, re-examine the metrics used to measure success in Jewish life, and ask how lessons from community organizing can apply to 21st century Judaism. In the weeks that follow, we will profile organizations that were part of last year's pilot cohort of the Glean Incubator.

(0:01 - 16:52): To begin the episode, Babchuck gives us an overview of how Clal's Glean Incubator came to be. [1] He then connects his work with his own story, beginning with his childhood in the Boston area and continuing through rabbinical school and business school. In telling his story, Babchuk emphasizes the loss of his father at an early age, along with a traumatic car accident that caused him extensive injuries. He explores how those experiences shaped him into the person he is today, as a rabbi and innovator. [2]

(16:53 - 29:45): Babchuck looks back at his time as a congregational rabbi. In particular, he questions whether rabbinical schools should still, in 2018, be treating the pulpit as the default position for students upon ordination. He goes on to consider the metrics that congregations tend to use in measuring their success. What does it reflect about Jewish life when our primary or exclusive metric is, for lack of a better term, "butts in seats?" [3] Babchuk then presents a framework first proposed by Vijay Govindarajan, called the "Three Box Solution," and explains how "box two" -- what we are going to stop doing -- can and must play an important role in helping Jewish institutions re-think their models. [4]

(29:46 - 48:52): In order to further understand the work that Glean does, Babchuck digs deeper into the distinctly different worlds of legacy institutions and new Jewish start-ups. He asks each group to consider the challenges of the other and empathize as they navigate these challenges. He also lays out a few particular strengths of many of the individuals who make up the Glean incubator, along with the problem of loneliness for those working in the field of spiritual entrepreneurship. [5] Babchuck then underscores the importance, as a spiritual leader, of deeply understanding the constituents that one serves. In doing so, he examines how simply showing up in a neighborhood coffee shop on a regular basis can have a major impact on a community. To close, he tells a cute but also profound story about his son Micah, that helps encapsulate many important issues in contemporary Jewish life. [6]

[1] Learn more about Elan Babchuck by checking out his full bio. Learn more about the Glean incubator by visiting its website.

[2] Engage further with Elan Babchuck's philosophy through the articles that he has written for The Wisdom Daily. All of his posts on that site can be found here

[3] Babchuck mentions Emergent Strategy, by Adrienne Maree Brown as a book that has greatly influenced his philosophy. You can purchase it by clicking here.

[4] Learn more about the three box solution by visiting www.3boxsolution.com.

[5] For a deeper dive into the question of loneliness, watch the video on the right, from the On Being Studios, featuring Babchuck in conversation with past Judaism Unbound guests Angie Thurston and Casper ter Kuile.

[6] This episode relates to many of Clal's ideas that we have engaged with other members of its leadership. For episodes featuring Clal leaders, past and present, see Episode 53: Death and Rebirth - Irwin Kula Part I, Episode 54: Judaism's Job - Irwin Kula Part II, Episode 68: Rabbis Without Borders - Rebecca Sirbu, and Episode 100: The Third Era - Yitz Greenberg.

Judaism Unbound Bonus Episode: Dan Discusses The Orchard on "History in the Bible"

Dan returns to History in the Bible, hosted by Garry Stevens. This time they discuss best-selling Israeli author Yochi Brandes' novel “The Orchard”. Dan translated the book into English. The novel centers on Rabbi Akiva, the man who forged rabbinic Judaism after the fall of the Temple. Along the way they encounter a host of other rabbis and Paul of Tarsus. They also ponder the difficulties of translation and working out what actually happened in history.

This episode was initially released as an episode of Stevens's podcast, The History in the Bible. We thank Garry for permitting us to re-release an episode of his show on our own feed, and encourage our listeners to subscribe to The History in the Bible on iTunes by visiting http://apple.co/2bM6D3C