Judaism Unbound Bonus Episode: 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 Bonus Episode 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 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.


Bonus Episode: The Hebrew Hammer vs. Hitler - Adam Goldberg, Jonathan Kesselman


Dan and Lex are joined by the star (Adam Goldberg) and director (Jonathan Kesselman) behind The Hebrew Hammer, the 2003 Hanukkah film that became a cult hit. Goldberg and Kesselman reflect on their first collaboration and look forward to the upcoming sequel, to be entitled The Hebrew Hammer vs. Hitler. Click here to help make this sequel a reality on Indiegogo!


Check out this hilarious promo for The Hebrew Hammer vs. Hitler! And support their crowdfunding effort on Indiegogo


Judaism Unbound Episode 94: Reform Reflections

In the final episode of our series exploring Reform Judaism as a concept and as a movement,  [1] Dan and Lex reflect on the interviews that were part of the series [2] and consider whether the Reform movement could become an incubator of new ways of living Jewish life, even if those new ways did not look like traditional synagogue offerings, and whether Reform Judaism could become a "big tent" that could include those Jews and organizations that see themselves as non-denomination or post-denominational.

(0:01 - 16:44): To begin the episode, Dan presents the hypothesis, discussed a bit during recent episodes, that the Reform movement may be one of the best-positioned institutions to incubate new forms of Judaism on a large scale, due both to its size and its open-minded ideology. [3] Dan and Lex look in particular at synagogues, asking how synagogues can play a role in that incubation, along with questioning whether synagogues will be the most central location of Jewish practice in the future. They also compare and contrast manifestations of Jewish life that occur in large cities to those that occur in smaller Jewish communities.

(16:45 - 29:45): Repeatedly, the idea of social justice came up with our guests from the Reform Movement, as they emphasized it as one of Reform's greatest strengths. On a national level, the Reform Movement has created a wide variety of initiatives -- and even organizations like the Religious Action Center -- devoted to repairing the world. How could that spirit fully imbue local Reform institutions (like it has at Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn), such that people know that social justice work need not be less central to Jewish life than prayer services? In another thread, Dan and Lex compare synagogues to, of all things, carrots.

(29:46 - 44:43): Lex puts forth a challenge to the Reform movement to reconsider its current policy banning individuals in interfaith relationships from becoming rabbis, cantors, or educators under its auspices. [4] Dan expands, focusing in on the message this sends to Jews in interfaith relationships: that while they may be welcome to participate in Reform spaces, their families still represent something less than what is considered ideal. [5] To close the episode, Dan looks back at the ways in which Congregation Beth Elohim brought the group Brooklyn Jews inside, put its leadership in charge of the entire synagogue, and kept Brooklyn Jews going as its own organizations, analogizing this story to the relationship between Disney and Pixar. [6]

Dan and Lex Facebook.png
URJ Biennial 2017.jpg

[1] URJ Biennial 2017 is December 6-10 in Boston. Learn more about all who will be presenting there and check out the full schedule by visiting its website. One speaker is our very own Dan Libenson, who will be presenting from 1:00-3:30 on Saturday, December 9th.

[2] Listen in to our previous episodes as part of this block on the Reform Movement: Episode 87: Reforming Judaism - Daniel Freelander I    Episode 88: Reform or Revolution - Daniel Freelander II     Episode 89: Reform Judaism Today and Tomorrow - Rick Jacobs     Episode 90: Audacious Hospitality - April Baskin     Episode 91: Is This The Fast That I Have Chosen? - Jonah Pesner     Episode 92: Reinventing Synagogue - Matt Gewirtz, Ben Spratt, Blair Albom     Episode 93: Community of Communities - Rachel Timoner

[3] For more on the Union for Reform Judaism as an institution, visit URJ.org, which features information about a wide variety of organizations and departments that call the Reform movement home.

[4] To learn more about this Reform movement policy, we recommend this 2013 piece featured in The Forward. To hear more about other institutions that have wrestled with similar debates, see this 2015 piece in The New Republic about the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College's policy (later in 2015 their ban was eliminated). The New Republic piece includes quotes from our co-host Lex Rofeberg (Lex Rofes when the article was published).

[5] Jew Too, a podcast highlighting the stories of Jews with loved ones of other religious traditions (parents, partners, and others), featured personal narratives from two intermarried rabbinical students in one of their episodes (one was Sandra Lawson, a past guest on Judaism Unbound). Listen in to this episode of Jew Too by clicking here.

[6] For more on the history of the Disney/Pixar relationship over the years, we recommend this article from Animation Alley and this book by Pixar founder Ed Catmull.

Judaism Unbound Episode 93: Community of Communities - Rachel Timoner

Dan and Lex are joined by Rachel Timoner, Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth Elohim (CBE) in Brooklyn, New York. [1] As the final interview in our exploration of Reform Judaism, we learn how a synagogue can be built out of a wide variety of micro-communities yet still constitute one organization. Our conversation also looks at political organizing through a Jewish lens, the value and values of the Reform movement today, and the possibilities that arise when those once on the outside are able to become leaders.

If you would like to download this episode as an mp3 file, click here

Image Credit: CentralSynagogue.org

Image Credit: CentralSynagogue.org

(0:01 - 13:58): Rachel Timoner begins the episode by mapping out a wide variety of micro-communities, each with its own independent identity, but which together form the Congregation Beth Elohim community. These range from Altshul, [2] a traditional and egalitarian minyan, to Brooklyn Jews, [3] a group focused on younger Jews, to Get Organized Brooklyn, [4] a group of synagogue members and non-mebers devoted to fighting for social justice with respect to local, state, and national issues.

(13:59 - 30:22): CBE has become a leader among synagogues when it comes to social justice work. Timoner outlines how CBE has created a context where its members (and others in the community) understand that it is a space not just for worship and study, but for organizing as well. She also explains why, for her, political work is an imperative from the lens of Jewish tradition. Lex then asks her about a feature in the Forward called "Rabbis' Roundtable," [5] in which Timoner has been featured. Timoner explores the relationship between rabbinic leadership and lay-people.

(30:23 - 46:31): Timoner gives her thoughts on the role that Jewish denominations play, stating that she does not envision a future where denominations dissolve or merge into one another. She also explains why she is proud to be part of the Reform movement, identifying its engagement with social justice and relationship to Jewish law (halakhah) as two characteristics that are among its great strengths. To close the episode, Timoner gives her take on how Queer identity can blend with Jewish identity in a way that is conducive to successful Jewish leadership. [6]

[1] Learn more about Congregation Beth Elohim by checking out their website, accessible by clicking here. Access Rachel Timoner's bio here, and purchase her book, Breath of Life: God as Spirit in Judaism, at this link.

[2] Visit Altshul's website by clicking here.

[3] Access Brooklyn Jews's website here.

[4] Learn more about Get Organized Brooklyn through this Huffington Post article, written by Ellen Freudenheim. Check out the Get Organized Brooklyn website by clicking here.

[5] For all of Timoner's responses to the questions asked for the Rabbis' Roundtable series, click here. For all of her responses alongside those of a wide variety of other rabbis, click here.

[6] If you'd like to explore the intersection of Queer and Jewish identity further, hear from some of our past Judaism Unbound guests who provide their thoughts and experiences on that topic: Episode 56: A Traditionally Radical Yeshiva - Benay Lappe     Episode 36: What Jewish Looks Like Today - Benay Lappe      Episode 35: Twice Blessed - Joshua Lesser

Judaism Unbound Bonus Episode: The Jewish Comics Anthology - Steven Bergson, Andy Stanleigh

Dan and Lex are joined by Steven Bergson and Andy Stanleigh, Editor and Publisher, respectively, of The Jewish Comics Anthology, Volume 1They are in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for SCI: The Jewish Comics Anthology, Volume 2. We discuss the project, the intersection of Judaism, Hebrew culture, comics, and science fiction, and Steve and Andy provide a sneak preview of what will be included in this upcoming collection of Jewish sci-fi comics. To support their Kickstarter campaign and help take this book from idea to reality, click here!

If you would like to download this file as an mp3 file, click here.

Image Credit: Alternate History Comics

Image Credit: Alternate History Comics

Click the image above to visit the Kickstarter page for The Jewish Comics Anthology: Volume 2. And scroll through all the resources below if you're interested in immersing yourself further in the world of Jewish comics and Jewish Sci-fi!

[1] Order Volume 1 of the Jewish Comics Anthology by clicking the image below!

Image Credit: Alternate History Comics

Image Credit: Alternate History Comics

[2] Check out some of the beautiful images that will be featured as part of the yet-to-be-released Volume 2!

Image 1: Jake Allen, Frank Reynoso, Image 2: Adam Gorham, Image 3Weshoyot Alvitre Image 4: Shane Kirshenblatt

[3] Take a look at some of the Jewish graphic novels and science fiction works that were discussed in this episode by clicking the images below.


[4] Check out more Jewish Sci-fi by exploring these books!

[5] To learn about the historic relationship between Jews and comic books, check out either of these works.

[6] For another Judaism Unbound episode featuring guests who utilized Kickstarter on a project designed to contribute the Jewish world, see Episode 23: Hello Mazel - Noa Kushner, Yoav Schlesinger.


Judaism Unbound Episode 92: Reinventing Synagogue - Matt Gewirtz, Ben Spratt, Blair Albom

Dan and Lex are joined by three guests, Matt Gewirtz, Ben Spratt, and Blair Albom, [1] who have helped to shape Tribe, a Jewish organization co-founded by a partnership of two Reform synagogues that is devoted to meaning-making and community-building in New York City, serving (and led by) Millennials. [2] Matthew Gewirtz is Senior Rabbi of Congregation B'nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, NJ, and Ben Spratt is Associate Rabbi of Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Manhattan; this episode is part of our series exploring Reform Judaism.

If you would like to download this episode as an mp3 file, click here.

Image Credit: NyTribe.com

Image Credit: NyTribe.com

(0:01 - 15:09): To begin the episode, Blair Albom, a founding board member, provides an outline of what Tribe is and what its programming looks like. Ben Spratt tells the story of how Tribe came to be, and Matt Gewirtz analyzes the broader context of American Judaism (and societal changes in America more broadly) that demonstrated the need for his congregation to co-create the organization that would become Tribe. [3]

(15:10 - 34:13): Gewirtz explains why the end-goal of Tribe is not for attendees of its events to join his synagogue, but rather for them to connect to Judaism more broadly. The conversation then turns to the name "Tribe," as the guests and co-hosts explore what the term connotes for Jews today, along with the related concept of tribalism. [4] In doing so, they explore the ways that identity manifests differently today from how it has in past generations. [5] Shifting gears, Gewirtz considers the challenging relationship between religion and money.

(34:14 - 50:01): Albom outlines why there are elements of synagogue services that may feel less compelling today than they did for Jews in the past, along with the ways in which newly-considered forms of Jewish ritual (including via cell phone apps!) may prove more meaningful. Spratt explores how the synagogue might transform, and how the rabbinic role might transform, such that Jewish life would place greater value on experience, where members (or non-members) feel "needed, necessary, and seen." [6] To close the episode, all three guests reflect on our contemporary moment and provide their thoughts on the ways in which Jewish institutions should respond to it.

Tribe Gewirtz Spratt Albom Facebook.png

[1] Access bios for each of our three guests at these links: Matthew Gewirtz    Ben Spratt    Blair Albom

[2] Learn more about Tribe by visiting its website.

[3] Gewirtz invokes a variety of themes discussed by Irwin Kula on his Judaism Unbound appearance. Listen to his two-part episode by clicking the following links: Episode 53: Death and Rebirth - Irwin Kula     Episode 54: Judaism's Job - Irwin Kula

[4] Lex compares and contrasts the name "Tribe" with a Jewish organization in Providence that has a similar name -- "Thrive." Check out Thrive's website by clicking here.

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[5] Gewirtz mentions the problematic nature of the statement "You don't look Jewish." For more on this, see Episode 33: JewAsian.

[6] Spratt discusses Apple's strategic choice to focus their brick-and-mortar stores on building an experience for their customers as an example for Jewish organizations to follow. Learn more about this by checking out this RetailDive article on that decision.


Judaism Unbound Episode 91: Is This The Fast That I Have Chosen? - Jonah Pesner

Jonah Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center (RAC) of Reform Judaism, joins Dan and Lex for a conversation about social justice, Judaism, and the many ways that the two intertwine. They discuss the RAC's origins during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, its evolution, and the work it does today to bring about a world built on justice and equality. [1]

If you would like to download this episode as an mp3 file, click here

Image Credit: Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Image Credit: Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

(0:01 - 19:29): To begin the episode, Rabbi Jonah Pesner tells the story of the origin of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, [2] along with its important role in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. He also discusses how the organization grew and evolved over the following decades, during the tenure of Rabbi David Saperstein as the RAC's director, [3] emphasizing initiatives such as the Eisendrath Legislative Assistants program, the Machon Kaplan summer internships, and the L'Taken Seminars for high school students. [4] Pesner then looks back on his own childhood and how it formed his commitment to political activism, Judaism, and the ways they overlap.

(19:30 - 41:47): Pesner explores elements of the RAC's work that take place through the Reform Movement's network of synagogues, as well as elements that are organized outside of the realm of synagogue life. He and the co-hosts also consider the dangers that arise when social justice is understood as a means towards Jewish engagement, and not, instead, as a form of Jewish practice in and of itself. Next, he looks specifically at the issues that the RAC is currently working on, ranging from mass incarceration, to transgender rights, to economic inequality, to Islamophobia. [5]

(41:48 - 56:58): The conversation turns to particular texts from Jewish tradition that can serve as ancient anchors for contemporary justice work. Pesner cites the idea that "We were slaves in Egypt," which helps Jews understand why it is important to stand with refugees, along with chapter 58 of Isaiah, where the title quote of this episode can be found. [6] To close, the co-hosts and Pesner complicate matters a bit by examining situations, past and present, in which Jews have not always been on the side of justice and equality. [7]

Image Credit: Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Image Credit: Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

[1] Check out Jonah Pesner's full bio by clicking here. Read a recent piece he wrote, on responding to the white supremacist march and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, by clicking here.

[2] Learn more about the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism at their website, www.rac.org.

[3] The bio of David Saperstein, Pesner's predecessor at the RAC, can be found here.

[4] Learn more about all three of these programs, along with a number of others offered by the RAC, by clicking here.

[5] Learn more about the Reflect, Relate, Reform initiative through this 2016 URJ.org blog post by Joy Friedman.

James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman, three activists killed during Mississippi Freedom Summer Image Credit: Jewish Week

James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman, three activists killed during Mississippi Freedom Summer Image Credit: Jewish Week

[6] Hear Dan and Lex's take on Isaiah 58, the Haftarah Reading for Yom Kippur's morning service, by listening to Bonus Episode: Yom Kippur Unbound - Morning Haftarah Reading.

[7] One historical event that reflects division among American Jews was 1964's Mississippi Freedom Summer. A disproportionately high number of Jews participated in that fight for civil rights, but many rabbis and Jewish communities in the South stood firmly against their movement. Learn more about that important moment, along with Jewish responses to it, by reading the books featured at this link.

Judaism Unbound Episode 90: Audacious Hospitality - April Baskin

April Baskin, Vice President of Audacious Hospitality for the Union for Reform Judaism, joins Dan and Lex for an in-depth look at ideas of welcoming, empowerment, inclusion, and hospitality in contemporary Judaism. [1] We discuss how the Reform movement is working to create communities that better reflect the full diversity of the Jewish people, and the ways in which historically marginalized Jews, in particular, have so much to add Judaism, now and in the future.

If you'd like to download this episode as an mp3 file, click here.

Image Credit: New York Jewish Week

Image Credit: New York Jewish Week

(0:01 - 18:14): To begin the episode, Baskin explains what it takes for congregations to become "audaciously hospitable." [2] First, she identifies the gap between congregations' perceptions of how welcoming they are and the experiences of those who feel unwelcome in the same spaces. She discusses three primary contexts for audacious hospitality work: "threshold moments" when individuals experience a particular community for the first time; outreach that occurs outside of the walls of a community (sometimes online); and efforts to make congregational policies more inclusive. [3]

(18:15 - 40:27): Baskin explores the different ways that hospitality work manifests with respect to two different groups: those who have historically been denied access and equal status in Jewish communities, and those who, while never denied access, feel uncomfortable in many Jewish spaces for other reasons. She also outlines six principles of audacious hospitality that the Union for Reform Judaism utilizes. [4] She then takes a look in particular at the ways in which issues of class can prove particularly challenging (or "spicy!") for congregations working to become more inclusive. 

(40:28 - 58:21): Baskin describes the beauty of her experience sharing a space with other Jews of Color, despite the fact that for some it may have felt exclusive. [5] She thinks more broadly about the value of affinity groups -- spaces specifically for some Jews but not all -- and argues that there may be room to deepen our investment in creating those environments. She then looks at the issue of intermarriage, along with the ways that the URJ's JewV'Nation Fellowship has worked on issues affecting interfaith families. [6] To close, she calls for a Jewish renaissance through the incorporation of all of the Jews into Jewish life who have, for more generations, been left unwelcome and unempowered.

[1] Access a full bio of April Baskin by clicking here. Learn more about the Union for Reform Judaism, which she serves as Vice President of Audacious Hospitality, by clicking here.

[2] Explore the section of the URJ website devoted to Audacious Hospitality by clicking here.

[3] Watch a panel on audacious hospitality, featuring Baskin, alongside actor Michael Douglas, Jodi Kantor of the New York Times, and restaurateur Danny Meyer, by clicking the video on the left.

[4] Access the full Audacious Hospitality toolkit, created by the URJ, by clicking here.

[5] Baskin speaks in particular about how empowered she felt when she learned about the work and leadership of Yavilah McCoy. Learn more about McCoy by clicking here.

[6] If you'd like to explore topics related to intermarriage in more depth, listen to Judaism Unbound's three-part series, entitled Intermarriage: The New Normal. Access any of the episodes that were part of that series by clicking the following links: Episode 15: Men, Women, and Intermarriage - Keren McGinityEpisode 16: Intermarriage and the Future - Paul GolinEpisode 17: Intermarriage - A Fact of 21st Century Judaism. You can also listen to Episode 73: Being Both - Susan Katz Miller, which was not part of that series but touches on a variety of important and related topics.

Judaism Unbound Episode 89: Reform Judaism Today and Tomorrow - Rick Jacobs

Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, joins Dan and Lex for a conversation about what the Reform Movement looks like today and how its leadership is thinking about its future. The discussion explores the role of congregations in Jewish life, opportunities for growth and innovation in the Reform Movement, the principle of "audacious hospitality," and the changes that are on the horizon as we enter an age of digital technologies. [1]

If you'd like to download this episode, click here

Image Credit: UU World Magazine

Image Credit: UU World Magazine

(0:01 - 20:12): To begin the episode, Rabbi Rick Jacobs identifies the transitional moment in which not only Reform Judaism, but religion more generally, finds itself today. He then expresses the Reform Movement's commitment to both congregational life [2] and other forms of Judaism outside of synagogues. [3] Jacobs emphasizes the ongoing need for innovation in Judaism, both within synagogues and beyond their walls.

(20:13 - 41:42): Jacobs applies the lens of sustaining and disruptive innovation to Reform Judaism. In particular, he identifies how the ways that congregational leaders think can be conducive to Jewish innovation or present barriers. [4] He takes a look at the shifting role of Jewish denominations, questioning whether "denomination" is the best word to describe the movement he leads. Jacobs talks about the 23 congregations that have newly affiliated with the Reform movement, a phenomenon that can be overlooked in communal conversations about the shrinking, merging, or closing of congregations. 

(41:43 - 1:05:29): One of the defining phrases of Jacobs's tenure as President of the Union for Reform Judaism has been "audacious hospitality." Jacobs introduces this phrase and explains why it is crucial to contemporary Jewish life. [5] He also explores shifts that are occurring within Reform Judaism (and Judaism more broadly) due to the increased capabilities of digital technology. [6] To close the episode, Jacobs provides his insights on the central role of social justice to Judaism, reflecting on what that means for the intersection of Judaism and politics. [7]

[1] To access Rick Jacobs's full bio, click here. Visit the website of The Union for Reform Judaism by clicking here.

[2] Jacobs reflects on his organization's change in name from Union of American Hebrew Congregations to The Union for Reform Judaism. For more on the founding of the UAHC, and its evolution into the URJ, listen to Episode 87: Reforming Judaism and Episode 88: Reform or Revolution? which both feature Daniel Freelander, President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism.

[3] In particular, Jacobs highlights Reform summer camps as an important development within the movement and beyond the scope of congregational life. Learn more about the founding and growth of the URJ's summer camps by reading A Place of Our Own: The Rise of Reform Jewish CampingAnd for some information on innovations in the Reform Jewish camping world, start here.

On the Other Hand Podcast.jpg

[4] Jacobs identifies the Riverway Project of Temple Israel of Boston as an example of innovative thinking that reconceptualizes past models of membership and belonging. Learn more about it by clicking here.

[5] Toward the beginning of this part of the conversation, Jacobs lifts up the legacy of Alexander Schindler, a predecessor of his as President of the URJ. To learn more about him, and the work he did to move the URJ toward increased acceptance of interfaith families, we recommend "A Patrilineal Jew Mourns a Great Rabbi," an article written by Susan Katz Miller, a past guest on Judaism Unbound. 

[6] Podcasts are, of course, part of the story of these new digital forms of Judaism. You can listen (and subscribe) to Jacobs's podcast, entitled On the Other Hand, by clicking here.

[7] For a piece by Jacobs that examines how one can imbue Jewish ritual with a commitment to social justice, see "How to Talk Politics at your Family Seder Without Killing Each Other." 

Judaism Unbound Episode 88: Reform or Revolution? - Daniel Freelander II

Daniel Freelander, President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, joins Dan and Lex for the second segment in a two-part conversation about the history of Reform Judaism. [1] In today's episode, Freelander walks us through Reform Judaism's journey from the mid-20th century to the present, and we discuss where Reform, and Judaism in general, may be headed in the future.

To play the episode, click the arrow button above. To download, hover over the player, click share (on the right), and then choose download by clicking the cloud. 
Image Credit: Leo Baeck Centre for Progressive Judaism

Image Credit: Leo Baeck Centre for Progressive Judaism

(0:01 - 15:13): Daniel Freelander begins the episode by discussing the important developments in American Reform Judaism in the 1930s and 40s. [2] Among these shifts were an increased emphasis on Hebrew, increased participation and leadership by women, and the movement of many communities from urban centers to suburban areas. [3] The Reform movement's shifts helped it to double in size from around 300 congregations in the early 1930s to 600 in the early 1960s. In the 1970s and 80s, Reform ordained its first female rabbis, embraced patrilineal descent, and began to move towards greater acceptance of Gay and Lesbian Jews. Over the course of the 20th century, the Reform movement also shifts drastically from opposition to Zionism as the norm at the turn of the 20th century to an embrace of Zionism as predominant by the late 20th century.

Sally Priesand, the first female rabbi ordained in the United States.  Image Credit: Erte Studio, Maspeth, New York.

Sally Priesand, the first female rabbi ordained in the United States.  Image Credit: Erte Studio, Maspeth, New York.

(15:14 - 31:43): The conversation shifts to a focus on Judaism today. In particular, Freedlander gives his take on the conversation thread this podcast has confronted a number of times, regarding the capacity of Jewish institutions to change. In particular, he explores the extent to which existing institutions can catalyze large-scale change from the top-down, or whether new institutions (or non-institutions) may be best situated to do so from the bottom-up. [4] He addresses the different roles that rabbis, others working professionally in Jewish life, and lay-leaders can each play in creating the changes that are needed. He and the co-hosts then take a look at the role that music has played (and can continue to play) in instigating or accelerating cultural or religious shifts. [5] In particular, Freelander asserts that Reform Jews have largely moved from a musical aesthetic geared towards instilling awe to one centered on creating intimacy and community.

(31:44 - 46:08): Freelander speaks to the various ways in which Reconstructionist Judaism and Jewish Renewal have influenced Reform. He also explores the advantages and disadvantages of such a wide variety of institutional infrastructures existing independently from one another, as opposed to consolidating them into fewer, arguably stronger, institutions. To close the episode, Freelander advocates for a few ideas and practices of our Jewish past that may be worth reviving or amplifying today. [6]

[1] Access Daniel Freelander's bio by clicking here and learn more about the World Union for Progressive Judaism, which he serves as President, by clicking here. Learn more about the Union for Reform Judaism, the umbrella organization of Reform Judaism, by visiting their website.

[2] The writing of the Columbus Platform in 1937, cited by Freelander, marks a few key ideological transitions in Reform Judaism. Read the full text of it by clicking here. For two other platforms published by Reform rabbis of later eras, see "Reform Judaism: A Centenary Perspective," published in San Francisco in 1976, and "A Statement of Principles for Reform Judaism," published in Pittsburgh in 1999.

[3] For a deep look at Jewish suburbanization in the mid-20th century, see Metropolitan Jews: Politics, Race, and Religion in Postwar Detroit, written by Lila Corwin Berman and published in 2015.

[4] For past Judaism Unbound conversations on institutional change in American Judaism, we recommend the following episodes: Episode 1: GenesisEpisode 4: Exodus IIEpisode 21: jOS 4.0 - A New Jewish Operating System?Episode 53: Death and Rebirth - Irwin KulaEpisode 77: Folk Judaism, and Episode 86: We're the Jews We've Been Waiting For.

[5] Freelander is an accomplished musician who has written and co-written many well-known Jewish melodies. For video of his melody for "Lo Alecha," co-written with Cantor Jeff Klepper, click the video above on the left. For video of Broadway stars Ben Platt (winner of a Tony Award) and Cassie Levy singing Freelander's melody for "Shalom Rav," see the video directly to the left.

[6] One of the ideas proposed by Classical Reformers that Freelander would like to revive is their emphasis on Jewish education for adults. For a recent article sharing this view from a perspective outside of the Reform movement, see Shmuly Yanklowitz's article, entitled "Adult Learning is the Number One Priority for the Jewish Future," and featured in eJewish Philanthropy.

Judaism Unbound Episode 87: Reforming Judaism - Daniel Freelander

Daniel Freelander, President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, joins Dan and Lex for the first of a two-part conversation about the history of Reform Judaism. [1] In today's episode, Freelander tells the story of the first 100 years of Reform Jewish history, beginning in Germany and continuing into the first few generations of Reform in the United States. [2]

To play the episode, click the arrow button above. To download, hover over the player, click share (on the right), and then choose download by clicking the cloud.

Image Credit: Leo Baeck Centre for Progressive Judaism

Image Credit: Leo Baeck Centre for Progressive Judaism

(0:01 - 14:57): To begin the episode, Rabbi Daniel Freelander discusses the earliest post-Enlightenment reforms of Judaism that occurred in Germany, highlighting Israel Jacobson as a key figure in initiating those reforms. [3] Freelander lays out an important frame for the remainder of his overview of Reform Jewish history -- the three major eras of Reform Judaism, which he terms Moderate Reform, Classical/Radical Reform, and New Reform. He also outlines the earliest manifestations of Reform Judaism in the United States in the mid-19th Century.

(14:58 - 32:33): Freelander emphasizes the lack of centralized bodies in the early years of Reform Judaism, which resulted, he explains, in the first era of Moderate Reform being largely defined by lay leaders, not rabbis. Freelander presents two key figures, Isaac Mayer Wise and David Einhorn, whose different philosophies exemplified some of the ideological debates of the time, and he engages with the deep shifts to American Judaism that came about due to the massive immigration wave of East European Jews beginning in the 1880s. He then tells the story of the founding of Hebrew Union College, the first American rabbinical seminary, along with the infamous "Trefa Banquet" [non-kosher banquet] that occurred at its first ordination. [4] Freelander also analyzes forms of Jewish life in this period that manifested outside of synagogues, often in homes. 

The original edifice of the Hamburg Temple. Image Credit: Uni-hamburg.de

The original edifice of the Hamburg Temple. Image Credit: Uni-hamburg.de

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

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

(32:34 - 49:15): Freelander talks about the growing influence of rationalism and how it led to liturgical, calendrical, ritual, and other changes in Reform Jewish communities. He explains that Americans, unlike many others in the world, draw a hard distinction between nationality and religion, emphasizing how this was one reason that Reform rejected the conception of Jewish peoplehood at the time, in favor of the idea that Judaism was a religion. [5] To close this first section of the two-part episode, Freelander analyzes why the newly formed Conservative movement spoke deeply to Eastern-European immigrants in ways that Reform Judaism, at the time, did not.

[1] Access Daniel Freelander's bio by clicking here and learn more about the World Union for Progressive Judaism, which he serves as President, by clicking here. Learn more about the Union for Reform Judaism, the umbrella organization of Reform Judaism, by visiting their website.

[2] To learn more about the history of Reform Judaism, we recommend Response to Modernity: A History of the Reform Movement in Judaism, by Michael A. Meyer, and American Judaism: A HIstory, by Jonathan Sarna, whose guest appearance on Episode 11 of Judaism Unbound can be accessed by clicking hereAmerican Judaism: A History is also available as an audiobook at this link.

[3] Learn more about Israel Jacobson through his entry in the New World Encyclopedia. Learn more about the early years of the Israelite Temple, located in Hamburg and cited by Freelander as the first Reform congregation, by clicking here.

[4] For more on the "Trefa Banquet," we recommend "The Trefa Banquet and the End of a Dream," written by Michael Feldberg for MyJewishLearning.com.

[5] For a landmark text that declared Reform Judaism's rejection of Jewish nationhood, along with a number of other philosophical reforms, see the text of The Pittsburgh Platform, crafted in 1885 (though never officially adopted, it would prove to be particularly influential).