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.

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[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.