Judaism Unbound Episode 127: A Synagogue Without Flags - Brant Rosen


Dan and Lex are joined by Brant Rosen, founding rabbi of Tzedek Chicago, [1] an intentional congregational community based on core values of justice, equality, and solidarity. In their conversation, they look at the central role that nationalism, and Zionism in particular, has come to play in many Jewish communities, and explore strategies for institutional change within American-Jewish life.

 Image Credit: ChicagoMonitor.com

Image Credit: ChicagoMonitor.com

(0:01 - 13:21): To begin the episode, Rosen explores the ongoing question of this unit of podcast episodes - the relationship between American Jews and Israel. In particular, he looks at the twin concepts of homeland and diaspora, calling on Jews outside of Israel to embrace the idea that "homeland" refers not to Israel, but to whatever land in which they live. He then reflects on his own political journey over the past few years, especially as it relates to Zionism. [2] To open up that conversation further, he links it to the symbolic decision, made by many American synagogues, to feature Israeli and American flags at the center of their sacred spaces. [3] He then explores the origin story behind Tzedek Chicago, along with the central values that ground its work.

(13:22 - 28:39): Rosen looks at the history of Zionism, including forms of Zionism that were proposed before the state of Israel was created. He argues that, despite the diversity of Zionisms that manifested in the past, it is important to focus on the Zionism that manifests in reality today. That Zionism, he states, is embodied by the state of Israel and its oppression of Palestinians. [4] He then shifts gears, providing his take on the "inside game" and the "outside game" -- strategies of Jewish institutional change focused on change from within, and change from without, respectively. He also looks at developments of the 20th century, analyzing how, and why, they led to a situation in which love for Israel became the "ikar" -- defining principle -- of Jewish institutional life.

(28:40 - 44:09): Shifting gears, Rosen and the two co-hosts look at some of the challenges of synagogue life. They begin by looking at Jewish education, and asking whether, and how, the role of Israel-Palestine in educational contexts could change in the future. More generally, Rosen suggests that American synagogue life may be a sinking ship, comparing it to the process of "re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic." To close the episode, he reflects on the energy that was present in the room, when Tzedek Chicago gathered its first ever High Holiday services. As a final word, he calls on Non-Zionists, wherever they are, to look for, and create, their own vibrant Jewish communities, working towards justice and built on universal values. [5]

[1] Learn more about Tzedek Chicago by visiting www.TzedekChicago.org, and explore its core values at this link. Read Brant Rosen's full bio by clicking here, and check out a Chicago Tribune profile of his congregation at this link.

[2] For an in-depth reflection from Rosen on Judaism, nationalism, and more, see Wrestling in the Daylight: A Rabbi's Path to Palestinian Solidarity, a book that he wrote in 2012.

[3] Explore the history of American and Israeli flags in synagogues in this JTA article, entitled "Why synagogues started putting American flags in the sanctuary."

[4] To hear more about competing visions for Zionism in the early 20th century, listen to Episode 119: The Histories of Zionisms - Noam Pianko.

[5] Towards the close of the episode, Rosen cites a Baltimore project, called Hinenu, as the kind of justice-driven Jewish community that could become more common in the future. Learn more about it at HinenuBaltimore.org.