Judaism Unbound Episode 105: The Well - Dan Horwitz


Dan and Lex are joined by Dan Horwitz, Founding Director of The Well, [1] an inclusive Jewish community-building initiative geared towards young adults in Metro Detroit. Their conversation explores the founding and evolution of The Well, the ways it approaches the idea of pluralism, its unique relationship to a nearby Reform synagogue, and more. 

Image Credit: Ron Lieberman Photography

Image Credit: Ron Lieberman Photography

(0:01 - 15:23): To begin the episode, Horwitz explores the origin-story of The Well. [2] He describes his initial desire to create a "liberal, inclusive Chabad," along with the ways that vision evolved. In particular, he discusses the growth of The Well when events shifted from taking place mostly at Horwitz's own home towards a more de-centralized, "empowerment-centric" model. He also delves into some of the particular gatherings offered by The Well, along with the reasoning that went into choosing its organizational name. [3]

(15:24 - 31:12): Horwitz lays out how The Well engages with the concept of pluralism, which differs from the approach of many other Jewish institutions. He also takes a look at the role of Hebrew text, transliteration, and translation in Jewish prayer. He then talks a bit about the geography and history of Metro Detroit, in addition to some of the characteristics of The Well that make it a particularly good fit for the area it inhabits. [4]

(31:13 - 48:13): The conversation turns towards the relationship of The Well to synagogues nearby. Horwitz first lays out some reasons that The Well does not envision becoming a synagogue community in the near future, and, relatedly, how The Well understands "hand-offs" of its members to traditional synagogue institutions. He then takes a look at the population of people attending his organization's programming who are not Jewish themselves, but enjoy participating in The Well's gatherings regardless. [5] [6] To close the episode, Horwitz provides an overview of The Well's unique (or nearly unique) structural relationship to Temple Israel, a nearby Reform congregation. [7]

[1] Learn more about Dan Horwitz by visiting www.RabbiDanH.com. Learn more about The Well at www.MeetYouAtTheWell.org, and read a Detroit News article about its work by clicking here.

[2] In this origin-story, Horwitz mentions elements of his experience at the Western Wall in Jerusalem that were alienating to him, and many others on his trip to Israel. For more on the complex issues that manifest at the Western Wall, click here.

[3] Horwitz highlights CSI: Coffee. Study. Interpret. as a particularly successful initiative. Learn more about it here.

[4] When discussing the role of Hebrew in prayer, Horwitz cites a past Judaism Unbound episode. Listen to it in full by clicking here: Episode 69: Holy Rascals - Rami Shapiro. For more on Detroit's Jewish history, we recommend Metropolitan Jews: Politics, Race, and Religion in Postwar Detroit, by Lila Corwin Berman.

[5] Horwitz alludes to confusion between his organization and another innovative Jewish organization called . Learn more about the latter by clicking here.

[6] When Horwitz refers to drinking the "Kula Kool-Aid," he is referring to the ideas and teachings of Irwin Kula. If you're interested in hearing from Irwin Kula, tune into Episode 53: Death and Rebirth and/or Episode 54: Judaism's Job

[7] One element of The Well's offerings that this episode did not cover is its large-scale events in a wide variety of public spaces. Among those events has been a Tashlich (casting away of sins) service, on Rosh Hashanah, attended by over 1,000 people, a Passover celebration at the Detroit Institute of Arts, and a Game of Thrones-themed Sukkah made out of 2,000+ recycled soda cans in the heart of downtown Detroit.

 

Judaism Unbound Episode 104: The Open Dor Project - George Wielechowski


As we begin an exploration of "spiritual entrepreneurs" who are working to develop new organizations focused on meaning and spirituality in forms other than a typical synagogue, Dan and Lex are joined by George Wielechowski, the founding director of the Open Dor Project. [1] In our conversation, Wielechowski provides a window into his work supporting new spiritual communities around the country, along with the story of his own journey into Judaism. 

(0:01 - 14:26): Wielechowski begins the episode by explaining what The Open Dor Project is, along with what it does to support fledgling forms of Jewish life around the country. He then explores the role that bravery must play for those who he works with, who have taken a wide variety of risks, personally and organizationally, in an effort to inspire folks through Judaism.  [2] [3] Continuing, he provides an overview of the four organizations (and the individuals leading them) that make up Open Dor's first cohort. [4]

(14:27 - 25:49): To examine the question of the pilot cohort's adjacency to existing forms of Jewish institutional life, Wielechowski draws on the analogy of a cantilever bridge. He asserts that some of those he works with are directly adjacent to that which already exists, while others represent a broader shift from normative forms of Jewish life and practice. He then considers a few changes to the Jewish institutional world that could have a particularly positive impact if actualized.

(25:50 - 41:37): Wielechowski looks back at his own life experience, including his upbringing, his decision to become a Jew, and his professional evolution. In doing so, he emphasizes elements of Jewish life that were so beautiful and compelling to him before he became Jewish. To close the episode, he takes a look at an ongoing theme of Judaism Unbound -- the changing role of rabbis and, relatedly, Jewish authority. [5] 

[1] Learn more about the Open Dor Project at www.opendorproject.org. Learn more about George Wielechowski by clicking here. For a related episode, featuring the Director of Moishe House, who spearheaded the creation of Open Dor, see Episode 19: Moishe House - David Cygielman.

[2] Wielechowski references the Jewish Emergent Network, an umbrella of seven emergent spiritual communities around the country. Learn more about JEN and its member organizations by clicking here.

[3] For past Judaism Unbound episodes featuring members of the Jewish Emergent Network, see Episode 23: Hello Mazel - Noa Kushner, Yoav Schlesinger or Episode 29: Lab/Shul - Amichai Lau-Lavie.

[4] Learn about these four organizations by visiting their respective websites, and stay tuned for upcoming episodes over the course of the next four weeks, featuring each of them.    The Well     CoHere     Jewish Studio Project     Because Jewish 

[5] For more on the ways in which Jewish authority is evolving, see Episode 99: Regular Jews.

Judaism Unbound Episode 103: The People's Judaism


It's hard to believe, but Judaism Unbound has been around for two years! Dan and Lex take this episode to look back on major themes from our conversations about American Judaism. Taking on abstract conceptions like "authority" and "creativity," along with practical realities like the internet and funding, Dan and Lex take consider where the project of "unbounding" Judaism is at this moment and where it could be headed in the future. [1]

(0:01 - 16:56): To begin, Dan and Lex reflect on two of their most recent episodes. Continuing a conversation begun by Barbara Thiede in Episode 101, they explore the differences between myth and history, [2] along with how each have played in a role in shaping Judaism as we know it. Re-visiting the three eras of Jewish history proposed by Yitz Greenberg, they expand on the "times of wandering" between the various eras. [3] They also look at what it would take to accelerate the process towards a "third era" of Judaism. [4]

Barbara Thiede Squarespace.png

(16:57 - 34:49): Lex deepens his analogy of "Judaism as a library," expressed in past episodes, and Dan expresses some of the ways in which he both supports and differs from that model. [5] They both then explore the role that art and artists play in Jewish life today, along with how the creative impulse could be an important driver of change for the future of Judaism. The two co-hosts then ask what obstacles are standing in the way of Jewish creativity. Shifting gears, they then examine the digital world, and how it is affecting change in the realms of both information and community.

(34:50 - 51:33): Dan and Lex re-visit the thinking of Clayton Christensen, a foundational influence on Judaism Unbound. In particular, they do so in the case of digital community, arguing that we should discuss the merits of digital Jewish life not only based on what it looks like now, but what it could look like in a decade or a century. [6] They also emphasize the fact that "the Jewish community" needs to be an expansive concept -- it cannot refer just to centralized, legacy Jewish institutions. [7] To close the episode, they take on questions of discrimination, asking how we can create a Jewish world that actively works to combat racism, classism, homophobia, and more. They consider ways to ensure that all have a seat at the proverbial table, and that all individuals have the opportunity to create their own "new tables" as well. [8]

[1] Because this episode looks back on the first years of Judaism Unbound, this might be a good opportunity to check out episodes that you missed in the past! To do so, visit our Find Any Episode page on this site.

[2] Listen in to Episode 101: Not Your Rabbis' Judaism - Barbara Thiede, if you would like to explore the idea of myth further. We also encourage you to look back at Episode 41: History and Memory - Yehuda Kurtzer and/or Episode 83: The Exodus - Richard Elliot Friedman.

[3] Explore Greenberg's framework for the third era by listening to Episode 100: The Third Era - Yitz Greenberg.

[4] For a related conversation about the future of Judaism, see Episode 21: jOS 4.0 - A New Jewish Operating System?

[5] For more on Judaism as a library, see Episode 51: Being Jewish in the Era of Trump.

[6] For more on Clayton Christensen's thinking, along with Benay Lappe's understanding of the "unrecognizable Jewish future," see Episode 3: Exodus - Benay Lappe and Episode 4: Exodus II.

[7] To learn more about Havurah, and the Jewish Catalog, which provide a model for Judaism beyond centralized institutions, see Episode 84: The Jewish Catalog, Then and Now - Riv-Ellen Prell.

[8] For a variety of different discussions comparing "a seat at the table" with "building your own table," see Episode 35: Twice Blessed - Joshua LesserEpisode 56: A Traditionally Radical Yeshiva - Benay Lappe, and Episode 90: Audacious Hospitality - April Baskin.

Judaism Unbound Bonus Episode: Trefa Banquet 2.0 - Alix Wall


Image Credit: Lydia Daniller

Image Credit: Lydia Daniller


Dan and Lex are joined by Alix Wall, an award-winning journalist, founder of The Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals, and organizer of its "Trefa Banquet 2.0." The banquet (Trefa means "not kosher") gathered Jews together for an experience that combined the culinary and the educational. And yes -- pork was on the menu.


Check out these links for more coverage of the Trefa Banquet 2.0:

Organizers of Trefa Banquet 2.0 - Image Credit: Lydia Daniller

Organizers of Trefa Banquet 2.0 - Image Credit: Lydia Daniller


Image Credit: Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati

Image Credit: Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati

For an article by Alix Wall on her relationship to pork, click here!

 

To learn more about the first Trefa Banquet, which occurred in 1883, we recommend:

The Myth of the Trefa Banquet - Lance J. Sussman, American Jewish Archives

The Trefa Banquet and the End of a Dream - Michael Feldberg, MyJewishLearning.com

The Great Food Fight of 1883 - Jenna Weissman Joselit, The Forward

"What Really Happened at the Original Trefa Banquet" - Jonathan Sarna, JTA


Judaism Unbound Episode 102: Studying Happiness - Tal Ben-Shahar


Dan and Lex are joined by Tal Ben-Shahar, a lecturer and writer who specializes in the field of Positive Psychology. He describes what "studying happiness" looks like in practice, identifies some of the field's key findings, and explores how religion, and Judaism in particular, intersect with academic research on meaning, purpose, and human flourishing.

Image Credit: WOBI

Image Credit: WOBI

(0:01 - 15:57): Ben-Shahar begins the episode by providing an overview of his field -- Positive Psychology. [1] Characterizing it as "the study of happiness," he explores some of the behaviors and mindsets that scientists have found to be correlated with happiness, [2] along with some elements of many religions that can contribute to a life of well-being. [3] He then distinguishes between the concepts of pleasure and happiness, emphasizing that the latter is more holistic than we often think it is.

(15:58 - 31:31): Ben-Shahar explores how Positive Psychology can synthesize the pursuit of happiness with the quest to help those for whom happiness is unattainable, due to systems preventing them from fulfilling their basic needs. [4] He also presents a counter-intuitive understanding of the self, which complicates our belief that "selfishness" is inherently good and "selflessness" is inherently bad. [5]

(31:32 - 43:48): Continuing his examination of happiness, Ben-Shahar makes the important point that pursuing happiness in a direct sense -- especially if one senses a pressure by others or society to feel happy -- can actually be a hindrance towards the actual achievement of happiness. To close the episode, he looks at how the idea of unbundling Judaism connects to the other threads of this conversation, and he also calls for Judaism to fully internalize the need for more egalitarian communities in which women are fully empowered as equals. [6]

Image Credit: Tst-Dz.ru

Image Credit: Tst-Dz.ru

[1] Read Tal Ben-Shahar's full bio, and learn more about his work, at TalBenShahar.com. You can purchase any of his books at this link.

[2] Ben-Shahar distinguishes between positive psychology and self-help. Learn more about what differentiates the two by reading this article, written by Katie Small and featured at ThePositivePsychologyPeople.com.

[3] For more on the intersection of religion and positive psychology, see "Happiness and Religion, Happiness as Religion," by Sonja Lyubomirsky.

[4] Learn more about how Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs relates to the field of Positive Psychology by clicking here. For a past Judaism Unbound conversation on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, see Episode 3: Exodus - Benay Lappe.

[5] Hear remarks that Dan alludes to, in which Ben-Shahar speaks about the "Permission to be Human," by clicking the video on the right.

[6] Read more about Ben-Shahar's work by taking a look at this 2007 New York Times article about him, by D.T. Max, entitled "Happiness 101." For another window into Ben-Shahar's thinking, see this article, describing why he left Harvard to return to Israel.

Judaism Unbound Episode 101: Not Your Rabbis' Judaism - Barbara Thiede


Dan and Lex are joined by Barbara Thiede, who is both a Teaching Professor of Religious Studies at UNC-Charlotte and an ordained rabbi who serves as a leader in the Jewish Renewal movement. [1] In their conversation, Thiede questions the myth that rabbis "saved Judaism" in the aftermath of the Second Temple's destruction and pushes us to consider and elevate narratives of Judaism that do not revolve around rabbinic texts and teachings.

(0:01 - 14:46): To begin the episode, Barbara Thiede explains that historians have known for decades that the story of rabbis "saving" Judaism after the destruction of the Second Temple is a mythical narrative -- not a factual one. [2] Terming this story "the Rabbinic myth," she provides examples that demonstrate how Rabbinic Judaism was not at all central to the vast majority of Jews' lives for many hundreds of years (and, in some cases, much longer). As one example, she spotlights one community that embodies many of her important points -- the Jews of Kaifeng, China. [3] 

(14:47 - 31:47): Thiede critiques the tendency to minimize non-Rabbinic forms of Jewish life through a comparison to Christians who attempt to minimize Judaism because Christianity "won." She then provides her take on an ongoing thread of Judaism Unbound, the duality of Elite Judaism and Folk Judaism, [4] along with ways that they interact with one another, and with the cultures in which they are immersed. Thiede then takes a look at contemporary life, honing in on what the role of the rabbi looks like today, and how she (a rabbi herself) balances her ownership of that role with her desire to change what it connotes.

Members of Kaifeng's Jewish community today. Image Credit: The Sino-Judaic Institute

Members of Kaifeng's Jewish community today. Image Credit: The Sino-Judaic Institute

(31:48 - 46:46):  Dan poses a question to both Thiede and Lex (the former an ordained rabbi, and the latter in the process of rabbinic ordination). He asks, given their pre-disposition towards re-defining Judaism as we know it, why they chose to pursue that re-definition from the "inside" (as a rabbi), and not from outside, as Dan has sought to. [5] To close the episode, Thiede examines myths around the concept of "diaspora," which have played an important role in our Jewish past and continue to loom large today.

[1] For Thiede's bio, click here (scroll down the page, as bios on it are listed in alphabetical order).

[2] Read more from Thiede on this matter by checking out a blog post of hers, entitled "On the Rabbinic Narrative and 'Threats' to Judaism."

[3] Learn more about the history of the Jews of Kaifeng by reading Michael Pollak's essay, entitled "Detailed History of Kaifeng Jews." 

The inscription from the grave of Rufina. Image Credit: PhilipHarland.com.

The inscription from the grave of Rufina. Image Credit: PhilipHarland.com.

[4] Thiede mentions a book by Joshua Trachtenberg on this subject, entitled Jewish Magic and Superstition: A Study in Folk Religion. Purchase it by clicking here.

[5] In responding to Dan, Thiede mentions a woman named Rufina, who served as a leader ("Rosh" in Hebrew) of a Jewish community in Smyrna (Asia Minor), during the 2nd Century C.E. Learn more about her in this MyJewishLearning essay, by Ross Kraemer, entitled "Rufina and Her Sisters."

[6] For an in-depth look at the problems inherent to the idea of "diaspora" today, we recommend New Jews: The End of the Jewish Diaspora, by Caryn Aviv and David Shneer. 

Judaism Unbound Episode 100: The Third Era - Yitz Greenberg


In celebration of Judaism Unbound's 100th episode, Dan and Lex are joined by Rabbi Irving ("Yitz") Greenberg, [1] an important thinker whose ideas laid the foundation that Judaism Unbound and many of our previous guests have been building upon, to take a deep dive into his notion that we are living at the dawn of the "Third Era" of Judaism. We explore the theological, philosophical, practical, and political implications of this paradigm. Yitz Greenberg is considered one of the most influential Jewish thinkers of the last half century, and his work has spanned the fields of theology, philosophy, education, activism, and philanthropy.

Image Credit: Elon News Network

Image Credit: Elon News Network

(0:01 - 14:54): To begin the episode, Rabbi Irving ("Yitz") Greenberg presents his paradigm for Jewish history, in which there have been three eras, which roughly correspond to the Biblical, the Rabbinic, and the Contemporary. [2] He discusses the shifting role of God from each of these eras to the next, and correspondingly, the shifting role of human beings that follows. Greenberg emphasizes Judaism's assertion of the infinite value of each human being and the relationship of this assertion to Judaism's description of human beings as images of God, which he characterizes as the central principle of Judaism. [3]

(14:55 - 32:24): In the Third Era, do conversations about belief in God need to change? Greenberg puts forth the idea that the line between theists and atheists may no longer be so important, and that both should unite around the concept of the infinite value of human beings. He also explores the role that Jews have with respect to those who are native to other religious traditions (and those who don't identify with any religion). Greenberg then looks at tradition components of Judaism like Shabbat and Jewish learning, asking what new manifestations of them may look like as we move forward in the Third Era.

(32:25 - 53:45): Greenberg lays out some of the ways in which his theological beliefs interact with politics. [4] Highlighting issues in the realm of health care, both contemporary and from decades past, he explains how belief in the infinite value of human beings must be applied in ways that will maximize human dignity as much as one possibly can. He then takes a look at the question of authority, a key concept that may be shifting its connotations in the Third Era. To close the episode, Greenberg provides a brief coda on the Jewish holidays, looking back at his book The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays[5]

[1] The best place to go if looking for more resources from Yitz Greenberg is www.RabbiIrvingGreenberg.com, which features lectures of his in audio and video form, along with many of his books and articles. For a full bio of Greenberg, click here

[2] For more from Greenberg on the Third Era in particular, listen to this lecture.

[3] Listen to more of Greenberg's remarks on human beings as images of God by clicking here.

[4] One important moment where Greenberg's theological ideas interacted with his political activism occurred when he gave testimony on the Vietnam War before the Senate's Committee on Foreign Relations in 1970. You can read the remarks he gave by clicking here, on pages 8-13.

[5] Purchase The Jewish Way by clicking here.

 

 

Judaism Unbound Episode 99: Regular Jews


Many Jewish institutions present the perspective that Jewish leadership requires mastery of a certain set of ideas and practices, discouraging anyone lacking that mastery (implicitly and explicitly) from creating the Judaisms that they wish to see in the world. In this episode, Dan and Lex push back against that idea, making the case for "regular Jews" to become creators of our Jewish present and future. 

(0:01 - 15:38): To begin the episode, Dan and Lex reflect on recent episodes in our series on innovations led by "regular Jews," [1] which included discoveries both expected and unexpected about why Jews working professionally outside of Jewish life have so much to bring to the present and future of Judaism. The discussion highlights the anthropological idea of "emic" and "etic" perspectives, which helps illuminate the ways in which both "insiders" and "outsiders" have important knowledge and skills to bring to the table. [2]

(15:39 - 34:22): The two co-hosts consider how "regular Jews" are told, directly and indirectly, that their ideas and skills are less valuable to Jewish communities than those of "insiders." Using the example of Rabbi Akiva, who many recognize as a late-comer to Jewish textual knowledge, they argue that regular Jews can become leaders of Jewish life because they become "Jewishly knowledgeable" or "Jewishly involved" later in life -- not in spite of that fact. [3] They go on to highlight enthusiasm and lack of limitations around politics as advantages to coming to Jewish life as more of an outsider.

(34:23 - 47:07): Dan and Lex ask what it is that gets in the way of "regular Jews" creating new communities and initiatives. They encourage listeners to take any Jewish ideas they have and try to make them reality, and they also solicit feedback regarding what obstacles are currently making that more challenging than it should be. [4] To close, Dan calls back to our ongoing theme of "unbundling" -- providing a reminder that Judaism need not necessarily be understood as one united system, so innovators need not feel the pressure to create "the whole widget," and perhaps the digital age, and search in particular, will reduce this pressure even more because it will be easier for Jews to build their own Jewish lives from a wide variety of "modules" that are out there. [5] 

[3] Learn more about Rabbi Akiva by reading this MyJewishLearning article, entitled "Who Was Rabbi Akiva?"

[4] In this conversation, Dan and Lex allude to the Bronfman Fellowship's Alumni Venture Fund. Learn more about it by clicking here

[5] To explore the topic of unbundling in more detail, check out Episode 25: Unbundling Judaism.

Judaism Unbound Episode 98: The Future of Torah - Brett Lockspeiser


Dan and Lex are joined by Brett Lockspeiser, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Sefaria. In the episode, they explore the beginnings, evolution, and future of Sefaria, a digital library of Jewish texts that describes its work as "the Future of Torah."

Image Credit: The Contemporary Jewish Museum

Image Credit: The Contemporary Jewish Museum

(0:01 - 17:59): To begin the episode, Lockspeiser outlines what Sefaria is. [1] First, he discusses the range of texts that have thus far been added to the Sefaria library. Continuing, he highlights some of Sefaria's other features, including how it assists users in forging connections between related texts and visualizing those connections through images. [2] He also explains how Sefaria has evolved over time, as it relates to its mechanisms of adding translation. [3]

(18:00 - 37:07): Lockspeiser explores the origins of Sefaria. He tells the story of his own immersion in Jewish text, which helped him realize both that he deeply connected to text study and that he did not identify as an Orthodox Jew. He also examines the ways in which skills and knowledge that he and his co-founder (Joshua Foer) gained from other fields outside of organized Jewish life would prove crucial to the success of Sefaria. [4] [5] He then looks at the phenomenon of resistance to new forms of technology, which can come into play in Sefaria's work, identifying moments in history where innovations like writing or calculators have seemed threatening, but where ultimately their introduction proved to have a positive impact. [6]

(37:08 - 55:24): Lockspeiser wrestles with a question that has no easy answer -- how do we define the limits of what is, and is not, a "Jewish text?" He then discusses the traditional Jewish technology known as a "source sheet," and explains how Sefaria has empowered educators (and others) to create contemporary, digital versions of that technology in ways that are already reaching thousands of people around the world. [7] To close the episode, Lockspeiser highlights the importance of increased access to Jewish text, and he cites Sefaria's recent Hackathon event as one moment that embodies the immense potential for new forms of Jewish text study and engagement. [8]

Image Credit: Sefaria

Image Credit: Sefaria

[1]  Explore Sefaria's library and all the features mentioned in this episode by clicking here.

[2] Check out visual representations of the connections Sefaria has collected between the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and the Talmud by clicking here.

[3] Lockspeiser discusses the ways in which Sefaria has successfully partnered with existing publishers to release their work for free through their site. Read a blog post that provides a window into that process, announcing the publication of Adin Steinsaltz's Talmud translation, by clicking here.

Image Credit: TechCabal

Image Credit: TechCabal

[4] The founders of Sefaria, Lockspeiser and Joshua Foer, met through the Bronfman Youth Fellowships (now the Bronfman Fellowship). Learn more about it by visiting the Bronfman Fellowship website.

[5] Learn more about the journey Lockspeiser describes, from "naive optimism," through "informed pessimism," to (hopefully) "informed optimism," by clicking here.

[6] For more on the ways that Jews, in particular, have resisted the introduction of new technology but eventually opted to embrace change, check out Lex's ELI Talk.

[7] For one of Sefaria's most viral source sheets, see "Is One Permitted to Punch a White Supremacist in the Face?" compiled by Joshua Bolton.

[8] Dive deeper into the hackathon that Sefaria hosted by reading this Times of Israel article, entitled "With ‘cholent’ and prayers, Haredim bring tech to study of ancient texts."

Judaism Unbound Episode 97: "Bad Jews" - Jenna Reback


In our continuing series on "regular Jews" creating important new initiatives, Dan and Lex are joined by Jenna Reback[1] a television writer based in Los Angeles who has created a weekly podcast entitled Bad Jew Weekly[2] Reback talks us through her goal of helping people who have thought of themselves as "bad Jews" on their journey toward becoming "bad-ass Jews." The conversation covers a range of important issues in the Jewish world today, from how to fully welcome converts to the interplay between national and international politics and Jewish institutions.

(0:01 - 13:24): To begin the episode, Jenna Reback explains what her podcast (Bad Jew Weekly) is about and why she created it. She then discusses her own Jewish upbringing as a child of a Southern Jewish dad and a mom who was a Jew-by-choice, [3] and how her own personal story contributed to her eventual creation of a podcast geared towards Jews who feel marginalized from Jewish life and/or insufficiently knowledgeable about Judaism. 

(13:25 - 29:21): Reback, along with the co-hosts, explores the immense success that those who are not rabbis (and not Jewish professionals at all) can have in creating Jewish content and even in educating people about Judaism. To flesh out how that can look in practice, Reback comments on how her skills as a television writer translate into her interpretations of Jewish texts, which she highlights on her podcast. She also comments on the ways that her distance from professional Jewish life gives her the freedom to speak about (and act) on controversial political issues without the pressures and tensions that institutional leaders may need to navigate. 

(29:22 - 44:05): Returning to a theme that has come up on Judaism Unbound in the past, Reback, with Dan and Lex, dives into the question of modern-day prophets. [4] In what ways does Bad Jew Weekly represent a kind of prophetic voice, calling out to Jewish leaders and institutions to change elements of their philosophies and priorities? To close the episode, Reback comments on how Bad Jew Weekly has affected people's lives already, along with how she hopes to amplify its impact in the future. [5]

[1] Hear more from Jenna Reback by checking out this interview of her at the 2016 Writers' Guild Festival.

[2] Learn more about Bad Jew Weekly by clicking here, and subscribe to it on iTunes by clicking here.

[3] To listen to an episode of Bad Jew Weekly where Reback's mom (Kathy Reback) is the featured guest, click here.

[4] For more on the role of prophets in contemporary Judaism, see Episode 49: The Prophetic Voice - Shai Held and/or Episode 81: Diaspora Boy - Eli Valley.

[5] Listen in to Dan and Lex's guest appearance on Bad Jew Weekly by clicking here.

Judaism Unbound Bonus Episode Hanukkah Night 8...Unbound


This Hanukkah, Dan and Lex are bringing you fresh ideas to enrich your Hanukkah experience every night of the holiday. In this episode, hear what traditions they propose for the 8th night.

 
Image Credit: OneGreenPlanet.org

Image Credit: OneGreenPlanet.org

 
 

Click the image above to check out our Eat track of Hanukkah Unbound, mentioned in this episode, which offers a bunch of delicious Hanukkah foods that you can make, from all around the world, beyond just potato latkes.

 

Judaism Unbound Bonus Episode Hanukkah Night 7...Unbound


This Hanukkah, Dan and Lex are bringing you fresh ideas to enrich your Hanukkah experience every night of the holiday. In this episode, hear what tradition they propose for the 7th night.

 

Click the image above to learn more about our chemistry menorah, mentioned in this episode! And check out all the other creative ideas for lighting your Menorah through our Light Track of Hanukkah Unbound.

 

Judaism Unbound Bonus Episode: Hanukkah Night 5...Unbound


This Hanukkah, Dan and Lex are bringing you fresh ideas to enrich your Hanukkah experience every night of the holiday. In this episode, hear what tradition they propose for the 5th night.

 

Click the image above to learn more about our Listen and Learn track of Hanukkah Unbound, consisting of six 45-minute Hanukkah podcast episodes that will help you re-imagine the Festival of Lights!

 

Judaism Unbound Bonus Episode: Hanukkah Night 4...Unbound


This Hanukkah, Dan and Lex are bringing you fresh ideas to enrich your Hanukkah experience every night of the holiday. In this episode, hear what traditions they propose for the 4th night.

Image Credit: Rugrats

Image Credit: Rugrats

 

Click the image above to check out our Read/Watch track of Hanukkah Unbound, mentioned in this episode, which features a wide variety of books, TV specials, and movies that could play a role in your Hanukkah observance.

 

Judaism Unbound Episode 96: ModernTribe - Amy Kritzer, Jennie Rivlin Roberts


Dan and Lex are joined by Amy Kritzer and Jennie Rivlin Roberts, the President and Founder (respectively) of ModernTribe, "a Judaica store for people with innovative minds, spirits, and style." In our continuing exploration of innovation by "regular Jews," we explore what it looks like to run a successful business and try to help to re-invigorate contemporary Judaism at the same time.

(0:01 - 18:02): To begin the episode, Jennie Rivlin Roberts tells the origin story of ModernTribe. [1] She discusses the early success of her No Limit Texas Dreidel product, [2] and how she was able to successfully channel that success towards the growth of her business more broadly. She and Amy Kritzer then explore other products, like No Limit Texas Dreidel, that have taken national or international trends and found a way to create Jewish products related to them, [3] along with some of the critiques they have received as a result of those popular products. They discuss the significance of the 2013 phenomenon of "Thanksgivukkah" that took over the Jewish world and the role that the "Menurkey" played in that moment. [4]

(18:03 - 33:24): Kritzer discusses the developments that led to her food blog, entitled What Jew Wanna Eat ("your source for home-cooked Jewish goodness!"), [5] along with her cookbook Sweet Noshings: New Twists on Traditional Jewish Desserts[6] Next, she looks at some of the less-popular holidays (in terms of observance and product purchases) on the Jewish calendar, and how ModernTribe goes about elevating products associated with them. Kritzer and Rivlin Roberts also talk about "Chrismukkah," a hotly debated topic in many Jewish communities, and how ModernTribe has looked to affect the conversation about interfaith families through its products that traverse the lines that we draw between religions (and their respective holidays). [7]

(33:25 - 46:49): Rivlin Roberts and Kritzer look at how their work selling Jewish products relates to broader questions about changing the Jewish world and society more broadly. Jewishly, they discuss their hope to shift gift-giving for B Mitzvahs (Bar, Bat, B'nei Mitzvahs) towards a focus on Judaica, and away from one revolving around money. In a broader question, they explore the lines that they have drawn with respect to Donald Trump -- highlighting their refusal, when asked, to sell yarmulkes with his name on them.

[1] Check out ModernTribe for yourself by clicking here. You may just find a late Hanukkah gift for someone you love!

[2] Learn more about No Limit Texas Dreidel by visiting its website. To purchase it for yourself or a friend, click here.

[3] One product that Kritzer cites, that takes a popular trend and makes it Jewish, is the Dreidel Fidget Spinner. Check it out by clicking here!

[4] Learn more about the Menurkey, and the 10-year-old boy (now 14) who invented it (when Thanksgiving and Hanukkah coincided in 2013), by clicking here!

[5] To check out What Jew Wanna Eat, and all of its yummy recipes, click here!

[6] Purchase a copy of Sweet Noshings by clicking here!

[7] Watch The OC's Chrismukkah episode (Season 1: Episode 13 - The Best Chrismukkah Ever), which helped amplify much of the Chrismukkah merchandise mentioned by Rivlin Roberts and Kritzer, by clicking here (costs $1.99 to view on Youtube).

Judaism Unbound Bonus Episode: Hanukkah Night 3...Unbound


This Hanukkah, Dan and Lex are bringing you fresh ideas to enrich your Hanukkah experience every night of the holiday. In this episode, hear what tradition they propose for the 3rd night.

 
Image Credit: The Kiddush Club of Rodfei Tzedek

Image Credit: The Kiddush Club of Rodfei Tzedek

 
 

Click the image above to learn more about our cocktail menorah, made up of nine drinks that will help you make your way through Hanukkah (one for each night, plus a shamash/helper)!

 

Judaism Unbound Episode 95: Doing Jewish For Yourself - Fredric Price


Dan and Lex are joined by Fredric Price, the founder of Fig Tree Books and a facilitator of multiple discussion groups focused on Jewish topics [1], in the first episode of our series looking at what "regular Jews" (non-professionals) have built. We learn about Fig Tree Books and the various discussion groups Fred runs, and our conversation ranges across a wide variety of topics, including the advantages of connecting to Judaism later in life, how one's professional life can inform Jewish projects, and an extremely broad (and perhaps unanswerable) question -- what is Jewish literature?

Image Credit: Alison Sheehy

Image Credit: Alison Sheehy

(0:01 - 14:12): To begin the episode, Fredric Price provides a brief overview of Fig Tree Books, [2] the company he founded that publishes literature related to the American Jewish experience. He then looks back at his own upbringing, and his entry into Jewish learning late in life. Specifically, he examines the ways in which his lack of Jewish learning as a child may have had both advantages and disadvantages as he became, in an informal sense, a Jewish leader as an adult. He expands, in particular, on his dissatisfaction with the Jewish offerings at his synagogue, which led him to found a Jewish book discussion group outside of it. [3] The group he put together, called the Shavua Tov Boys Breakfast Club, has met regularly for over eight years and discussed over 100 Jewish books in the process. [4]

(14:13 - 31:38): Price talks about how his group chooses the books that they read, emphasizing the ways that the learning they do together builds cumulatively over time, through what he terms "hyperlinks." He looks back to the earlier question of his late entry to Jewish learning, exploring in greater depth how his lack of Jewish knowledge early in life, counter-intuitively, may have made him an ideal candidate to lead a group like the Shavua Tov Club. He then discusses the origins of another group he titled, entitled Sicha (meaning "conversation" in Hebrew), which gathers to discuss a wide variety of important issues through a Jewish lens. [5]

(31:41 - 49:22):  Self-identifying as a "drug guy," (one of the greatest moments in Judaism Unbound's history!), Price maps out how his background as an executive of pharmaceutical companies that specialize in rare genetic diseases has played an important role in his Jewish projects. [6] He then clarifies why the name Fig Tree Books is an ideal one for a company specializing in the American Jewish experience. [7] To close, he offers his take on what it is that separates Jewish literature from literature more generally, along with what may separate Jewish authors from authors who are Jewish. [8]

[1] Access a bio of Fredric Price by clicking here.

[2] Learn more about Fig Tree Books by visiting its website, FigTreeBooks.net.

[3] Price cites a speech by Eric Yoffie, former President of the Union for Reform Judaism, as particularly influential in his own Jewish journey. Access an article about this speech by clicking here.

[4] Access the full list of books used by his Shavua Tov group by clicking here.

[5] Access a list of all topics used in his Sicha discussion group by clicking here.

[6] In discussing the narrow focus of Fig Tree Books, he cites the most recent book published by his company -- My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wandering Jew, by Abigail Pogrebin. Purchase the book from Fig Tree's website by clicking here. Hear more from Pogrebin by listening in to her appearance on Holidays Unbound Episode 1: Introductions, in which she discusses her book.

[7] Learn more about the name "Fig Tree Books" through the "About Our Name" section of the Fig Tree website. Access the full text of George Washington's letter to the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, which the name alludes to, by clicking here.

[8] If you'd like to explore the topic of Jewish literature in more detail we would recommend Hana Wirth-Nesher's book What is Jewish Literature? , which you can purchase here. For a shorter piece, we recommend "What Is This Thing We Call Jewish Literature?," a 2010 article written by Gerald Sorin for The Forward.