Danielle Eskow: Judaism Unbound Episode 192 - Online Jewish Learning

Danielle Eskow, co-founder and CEO of Online Jewish Learning, joins Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg for a conversation about leading one of the few for-profit businesses in a field (Jewish education) that is mostly made up of non-profit organizations. [1]

(0:01 - 18:22): To begin the episode, Eskow looks back on the origins of Online Jewish Learning (OJL). Early on, she realized that there existed a large population of students, all around the world, whose needs were not being met by Jewish institutions (including those who have no Jewish institutions near them). She sought to create an organization that could bridge the gap between synagogue and these families’ lives. Over the ensuing years, her work with largely unaffiliated families led eventually to partnerships with synagogue institutions that utilize OJL for once-a-week online learning, [2] in addition to meeting once-a-week at their synagogue. Eskow looks at the distinctions between her work and the work of schools housed in synagogue institutions, along with how OJL differs from simply finding a talented tutor — independent of an organization — who would facilitate Jewish learning for a student (or students). She emphasizes that her institutional goal is not to replace offline institutions, but rather to serve as a supplement to them. She then provides an overview of her organization’s curriculum, including options that OJL has recently offered for people to learn through videos. [3]

(18:23 - 33:13): Eskow looks at the some of the challenges in building a sense of community for Jews who are in areas that lack Jewish institutions. [4] She then reflects on her experiences that led her to found Online Jewish Learning. In doing so, Eskow emphasizes her work with interfaith families, who are often told explicitly or implicitly that they aren’t “Jewish enough” in Jewish institutional spaces. [5] She then takes a deeper look at what it means for OJL to be a for-profit company, as opposed to a non-profit organization (which most other Jewish institutions are).

(33:14 - 45:56): Expanding on the question of for-profit Jewish companies, Eskow considers how her model kept her accountable in a way that might have been lessened had she been structured on donations and grants. [6] Shifting gears, she reflects on the forms of adult education that Online Jewish Learning offers, along with explaining why she — despite those offerings — has chosen to center the education of children. She then returns to the topic of interfaith families, naming that in certain ways her affiliation as a conservative rabbi makes her unable to take on some forms of ritual leadership for students who don’t have a Jewish mother. To close the episode, she states that — largely due to OJL’s ability to customize its curriculum to every child — it may be that some students get more out of their online experience than they would in a traditional synagogue context.

[1] Learn more about Danielle Eskow by checking out her bio here, and learn more about Online Jewish Learning at OnlineJewishLearning.com.

[2] Eskow speaks about what it means to “white label” the OJL curriculum for congregations. Learn more about what that means here (you have to scroll down the page slightly).

[3] Danielle Eskow was a member of the inaugural cohort of the Glean Network’s Start program. Listen into our Judaism Unbound conversations that featured Glean by checking out any of the following: Episode 110: Glean (Elan Babchuck), Episode 111: Unaffiliated Affiliation (Debbie Bravo), Episode 112: The Flourishing Synagogue (Aaron Bisno, Harlan Stone), Episode 113: Embrace the Weird (Miriam Terlinchamp), Episode 114: Sinai & Synapses (Geoffrey Mitelman), Episode 115: Beloved (Sara Luria, Isaac Luria)

[4] At this point in the conversation, Lex references an event he ran simultaneously in North Carolina and South Carolina, via Skype, between two synagogues. Learn more about that event by reading an article he wrote about it, entitled “Yes, You Can Be in Two Places at Once.”

[5] Listen to Keren McGinity’s appearance on Judaism Unbound, which touches on this set of topics, here: Episode 15: Men, Women, and Intermarriage - Keren McGinity

[6] For another Judaism Unbound episode featuring a Jewish organization operating as a for-profit business, see Episode 96: ModernTribe - Amy Kritzer, Jennie Rivlin Roberts

Ana Robbins, Neshama Littman: Judaism Unbound Episode 191: Jewish Kids Groups

Ana Robbins and Neshama Littman join Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg for a conversation about Jewish Kids Groups, an innovative Atlanta organization that Robbins serves as Executive Director and Littman serves as Sunday Families Director. [1]

(0:01 - 18:23): To begin the episode, Robbins looks back on the founding of Jewish Kids Groups (JKG). She talks about how the organization came together through a mixture of happenstance and thorough research, and discusses the influence that Presentense had on her work, through her time as one of its Global Fellows. [2] She reflects on her initial surprise that no 5-day Jewish after-school programs existed anywhere in the country, along with the joy that came with the rise of a few such organizations in other cities, right around the same time that JKG was created. [3] She and Littman explain the logic behind the organization’s “ridiculously cool” tagline, emphasizing the ways in which it is more than just a sales pitch. In particular, she emphasizes how JKG crafts its “ridiculously cool” model around educational successes from the world of Jewish camping. [4]

(18:24 - 34:32): Who is a 5-day-a-week Jewish after-school program for? Robbins and Littman look at that question. Robbins talks about how the majority of Jewish children nationally do not attend either Jewish day-school (4% total) or a part-time Jewish education program (37%). JKG exists largely to meet the 59-60% of children who don’t have any Jewish educational experiences, though in recent years they have started to gain a following among synagogue members in addition to unaffiliated families. Littman outlines the critical role that choice plays, daily, in how students navigate their own educational experiences — with 3 options every day (15 different ones a week!) revolving around a core subject. Robbins and Littman also look at their B Mitzvah program (gender-neutral term for Bar, Bat, and B’nei Mitzvah), which re-visions and expands the possibilities for what a B Mitzvah is and can be. [5]

(34:33 - 50:00): Dan names that it is a failure of Jewish education that many issues — among them homelessness, the environment, etc — are not perceived by students to be connected to Judaism. Lex asks Littman about their background growing up in the South, along with what it means for JKG to be located in a Southern context. Littman then explores the ways in which their work provides channels for students to enter or re-enter into the contemporary Jewish conversation when they might not otherwise have been able to participate. [6] Robbins looks at what it means to be a “Jewish adjacency-service,” and why doing so is a strong financial model. To close, Robbins explores what keeps her so excited and passionate to go into work for Jewish Kids Groups every day. [7]

[1] Learn more about Jewish Kids Groups at JewishKidsGroups.com, and check out bios for Ana Robbins and Neshama Littman here. For a 2013 article, co-written by Ana Robbins and our very own Dan Libenson, check out Day Schools, Disrupt! Why Day Schools Should Provide Supplemental Jewish Education.

[2] Learn more about the organization Presentense, which played an important role in the founding of Jewish Kids Groups, at Presentense.org.

[3] Robbins mentions her friend Jennie Rivlin Roberts, who helped encourage her to participate in Presentense’s fellowship. Hear more from Rivlin Roberts herself by listening into her appearance on Judaism Unbound here - Episode 96: ModernTribe: Amy Kritzer, Jennie Rivlin Roberts

[4] Think more about the lessons that can be learned from Jewish camp by listening into Episode 190: Jewish Camps, Jewish Utopias - Avi Orlow (Orlow gets a direct shout-out toward the end of this episode as well).

[5] Check out JKG’s collaborative, creative approach to B Mitzvah here.

[6] Here, Littman mentions SVARA: A Traditionally Radical Yeshiva, an organization near and dear to Judaism Unbound’s heart, as another project that empowers people who have in the past been marginalized in Jewish spaces. Learn more about SVARA’s work by listening to Episode 56: A Traditionally Radical Yeshiva - Benay Lappe.

[7] In exploring the idea of “Jewish adjacency-services,” Robbins mentions PJ Library. Learn more about its work at PjLibrary.org, and check out a scholarly study of their work, by past Judaism Unbound-guest Rachel Gross, in this book (you’ll need to purchase the book to read her essay).

Avi Orlow: Judaism Unbound Episode 190 - Jewish Camps, Jewish Utopias

Avi Orlow, Vice-President for innovation and education at The Foundation for Jewish Camp, joins Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg for a conversation that explores summer camp as a site for Jewish education. This episode is the 4th in an ongoing series of podcasts on American-Jewish education.

Learn more about Avi Orlow   here  , and learn more about The Foundation for Jewish Camp   here  .

Learn more about Avi Orlow here, and learn more about The Foundation for Jewish Camp here.

(0:01 - 15:51): Orlow reflects on his experience working for the Foundation for Jewish Camp, [1] beginning with a brief history of American-Jewish summer camping. [2] Orlow explains that, much like the Israelites going on a holiday before escaping from Egypt, [3] summer camp can be an immersive, imaginative space for the development of Jewish identity and education — and not just for campers. Orlow discusses how each camp is actually two camps: both for campers and for counselors, who will become role models in Jewish life. Orlow underscores the importance of creating intentional camp experiences that imagine lifelong engagement beyond synagogue membership, especially considering how many young Jews may not have another touchstone for Jewish engagement beyond the summer. Orlow looks at ways in which camps (often implicitly) send educational messages about goals, success, and being “in” or “out” as Jews, defining a vision of a Jewish future.

(15:52 – 32:48): Orlow describes the youthfulness and playfulness of camp as fundamental components of what enables camp to be a place for imagining utopia. [4] He then talks about ways in which some camps have brought elements of their culture into the “real world” after the summer. He looks at how orthodox camps can provide teachings for other camps when it comes to using camp as a laboratory for various visions of Jewish life. In this way, Orlow says, camps must turn the corner from being a beneficiary of their communities to being a benefactor to their surrounding communities. Orlow pivots to talk about the importance of sending a message that “you matter”, looking at the different ways that synagogue memorial boards, on the one hand, and camp sign-boards, on the other, both say that loudly and clearly. He outlines how camp is different from school in ways that are transformative for both campers and counselors — while school environments tend to emphasize power dynamics and grades, camp is a space that subverts many hierarchies, allowing for people to influence each other in ways that aren’t possible in other places. [5]

(32:49 – 54:31): Dan asks Orlow to imagine the ideal summer camp of the future. For example, could a Jewish summer camp enable campers to experience the full calendar of Jewish holidays, even though the vast majority do not take place during the summer? Orlow brings examples of how some camps have found a way to teach about Jewish history, and/or portions of the Torah, from one year to the next. Orlow also mentions FJC specialty camps, which seek to fuse Jewish education with other interests, like art or sports. [6] Lex asks Orlow to explain how summer camps influence American-Jewish culture, discussing how influential camps have been in making Tisha B’av (the 9th of Av, a fast commemorating the destruction of the 1st and 2nd temple) back on non-Orthodox Jewish calendars. Orlow adds the example of Jewish music as a realm in which camps have had a major impact on the “real world.” Dan speculates on what a Judaism Unbound Summer Camp might look like, referencing a previous conversation with Rebecca Milder. [7] Orlow closes by positing that camps can offer us new perspectives on power and culture. [8] At camp, Judaism is a dominant culture. What does it mean to be part (or not part) of a dominant culture? He adds a call to action. Camps enable and empower campers to be the leaders of tomorrow. Camp can be a place of play and education – so, Orlow says, Jewish communities must invite and demand that camps show up at the educational table with other Jewish educational institutions.

[1] Check out the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s website and read more about Avi Orlow here.

[2] Read more on the founding of Camp Ramah by reading this paper that Dan references in the episode.

[3] Before Moses demanded that Pharoah “Let my people go!”, he asked if they could go on a three day holiday first, which Orlow calls (accurately, in our view) a “retreat.” Read that text on Sefaria here.

Image Credit: Camp Tawonga

Image Credit: Camp Tawonga

[4] Orlow says that Jewish Camp offers us the opportunity to envision utopia. For campers outside of the gender binary, Camp Tawonga offers all-gender cabins, envisioning a place where kids of any gender can belong. Read about this camp’s vision of a better world.

[5] Read up on Orlow’s idea of Excellent Experiential Education here.

[6] Curious about specialty camps? Learn more about FJC/Jim Joseph Specialty Camp Incubators here. Some of the camps referenced include those specializing in sports, technology, and art.

[7] Listen to our episode with Rebecca Milder, which dovetails nicely with this conversation, and focuses in on the idea of child-centered Jewish education.

[8] For another podcast that explores the topic of Jewish summer camp, see this episode of The Schmooze, a podcast of the Yiddish Book Center, which features Sandy Fox, a scholar of education and religion.

American Jewish History Unbound #6: Emma Goldman - Judith Rosenbaum

Judith Rosenbaum, the Executive Director of the Jewish Women's Archive, joins Judaism Unbound on the ground at the National Museum of American Jewish History. In conversation with Lex Rofeberg, she looks at the life and activism of Emma Goldman. This bonus episode is part of a series of bonus episodes, recorded in partnership with the American Jewish Historical Society and the National Museum of American Jewish History.

American Jewish History Unbound #5: Irving Berlin - Judah Cohen

Judah Cohen, the Lou and Sybil Mervis Professor of Jewish Culture at Indiana University, joins Judaism Unbound on the ground at the National Museum of American Jewish History. In conversation with Lex Rofeberg, he looks at 20th century composer Irving Berlin. This bonus episode is part of a series of bonus episodes, recorded in partnership with the American Jewish Historical Society and the National Museum of American Jewish History.

American Jewish History Unbound #4: Sheyndele the Cantor/Sheyndele di Chazante - Judah Cohen

Judah Cohen, the Lou and Sybil Mervis Professor of Jewish Culture at Indiana University, joins Judaism Unbound on the ground at the National Museum of American Jewish History. In conversation with Lex Rofeberg, he looks at the story of an often-overlooked historical figure -- Sheyndele di chazante (Sheyndele the cantor). This bonus episode is part of a series of bonus episodes, recorded in partnership with the American Jewish Historical Society and the National Museum of American Jewish History.

Tiffany Shlain: Judaism Unbound Episode 189 - Six Days A Week

Tiffany Shlain, author of 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week joins Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg for a conversation about her weekly practice of “Tech Shabbat.” [1]

Tiffany Shlain Squarespace.png

(0:01 - 17:54): To begin the episode, Shlain gives an overview of her family’s Shabbat practice. Calling it a “tech shabbat,” she talks about the impact that refraining from digital screen technology has on her life. [3] She looks back at the “origin story” of her practice, describing the National Day of Unplugging initiative, pioneered by Reboot [4] — an organization committed to supporting Jewish arts and culture. Shlain gets down to the nitty-gritty, in terms of the specific kinds of technology that she will use on Shabbat (pens and other writing implements, land lines for phone usage, Alexa, and other electronics that lack screens), along with those that she won’t (smart-phones, TVs, computers, etc). She also looks at ways in which her practice is on the one hand very ancient (built on thousands-of-years of Shabbat observance) and on the other quite specific to our time. [5]

(17:55 - 30:54): Lex poses some contemporary scenarios (framing them as 21st-century Talmudic conversations) that open up further conversations about screen technology on Shabbat, through Shlain’s lens. In particular, he highlights the segment of the Jewish population that is physically unable to access many forms of Jewish community, except through digital technology (like streaming services). He also asks why, if the goal is to be present in the world, many people’s screen-shabbats involve reading fiction — a form of entry into an alternate universe. Shlain expands on why a patterned observance, on an every-week basis, is meaningful for her — as opposed to taking on tech shabbat on a once-in-a-while basis. [6] Continuing, she critiques our society, which has made work a 24-7 affair, where people are expected to be “on” — available via email and more — at virtually all times of day and night.

(30:55 - 45:28): Shlain explores the common ground that she shares, both with Jews who consciously have a Shabbat practice, but do use their phones, and (on the other hand) with Orthodox Jews who refrain from a variety of other tasks on top of screen usage. Dan shifts gears slightly (though…it’s also a continuation of this Shabbat conversation) to Shlain’s work on personal growth, including the Jewish tradition of Mussar. [7] He asks about the distinction between “values” and “habits,” arguing that perhaps one of Judaism’s strengths historically has been the latter more than the former. Closing the episode, Shlain gives her thoughts on the question of habit, and she reflects on the fact that — despite her self-identification as a cultural Jew — rabbis have told her that she is “the most religious Jew I know.”


[1] Tiffany Shlain is an Emmy-nominated filmmaker and creator of the Webby Awards. She is the author of the newly released book, 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day A Week. More info on her work at 24SixLife.com She invites everyone to introduce Tech Shabbats into their lives through her global initiative Character Day this fall. Learn more at CharacterDay.org Follow Tiffany on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram.

[2] Hear from another practitioner of “Tech Shabbat” — Casper ter Kuile — who is also a past Judaism Unbound guest, at this link! Listen to his guest appearance on Judaism Unbound (along with his colleague Angie Thurston) here: Episode 18: How We Gather

[3] At a number of points in this episode, Shlain alludes to Abraham Joshua Heschel’s idea of a “sanctuary in time.” Hear more about this by listening to Elul Unbound #2: A Wrinkle in (Jewish) Time, and for a recent episode that looks at that framework as well, see Episode 185: An Army of Translators - Sarah Hurwitz.

[4] Learn more about Reboot by heading to Rebooters.net.

[5] Shlain mentions The Webby Awards, which she founded in 1996. Learn more about them here.

[6] To read the article Shlain references, which she wrote in August 2019 for the Boston Globe, making a case for Tech Shabbat, click here.

[7] Learn more about Shlain’s film, The Making of a Mensch (and watch it!) by clicking here.

[8] One of Tiffany Shlain’s best-known projects on contemporary Judaism is a short film called The Tribe, and it takes a deep dive into Jewish life through the lens of the Barbie doll. Watch it for yourself here.

Judaism Unbound Bonus Episode: Elul #8 - Uncertainty

Lex Rofeberg and Wendie Bernstein Lash talk about the “holi-month” known as Elul, directly preceding the Jewish New Year. It is observed through a journey of introspection and personal growth. This “mini-episode” is the 4th of four that were released as part of Elul Unbound 2019. To listen to any or all of the four episodes that were part of Elul Unbound 2018, click here. [1]

[1] Experience Elul Unbound, through daily emails from Judaism Unbound, by clicking here! Explore our digital Elul Unbound resources by clicking here.

Alicia Jo Rabins: Judaism Unbound Episode 188 - The Art of Jewish Education

Alicia Jo Rabins, the educator, artist, and midrashist (what’s that?? — you’ll have to listen!) who created the Girls in Trouble curriculum, joins Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg for a conversation about Jewish music, art, interpretation, and education. [1]

Image Credit: Jason Quigley

Image Credit: Jason Quigley

(0:01 – 16:40) Rabins begins by telling about her upbringing as a young artist. She talks about her initial discovery of the depth and breadth of the Jewish world, culminating in learning at the Pardes Institute. [2] Eventually Rabins arrived at a particular type of Jewish creativity: midrashic writing. Rabins explains her Girls in Trouble project, a curriculum and commentary on women in Tanakh. It is composed of songs written in the voices of biblical women. [3] Rabins posits that problems of gender representation in the Torah, Prophets, and Writings may reflect as much about how we read the text as they do about the text itself. In short, she argues that the women are far more complex and interesting than we may have been taught to believe, and that we should therefore spotlight them more, and differently. [4]

(16:41 – 31:38) Rabins discusses the connection between art and education, describing her first experiences teaching Hebrew School. She explores how her philosophy and experiences as an educator culminated in this curriculum, centered on story and song. While touring with the Girls in Trouble song cycles, Rabins was invited by a handful of synagogues and Jewish institutions to perform concerts and lead educational workshops, eventually giving way to a full curriculum based on the songs. [5] Lex switches gears, asking about Rabin’s A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff project. [6] Through the lens of Bernie Madoff and the financial crisis, Rabins discusses the process of grappling with the tension between a shared concept of an interconnected, unconditional Jewish identity and what happens when there is someone who we do not want within our community.

(31:39 – 43:55) Shifting to questions of career, Dan asks Rabins about her “Why I’m Not a Rabbi” article and the contrast between the “authorization” of rabbinic professionalism and the freedom of artists. [7] Rabins explains how she feels that she “can facilitate experiences without being a rabbi but I can’t be a fearless artist as a rabbi,” preferring to describes herself as a priestess, a term that encompasses art, spiritual leadership, and education. [8] Rabin leaves the podcast with her thoughts on the intersection of Judaism and art, teaching that the Torah itself is a piece of art (literature) meant to be chanted, and sung, and retold, in order to speak to what it means to be alive and Jewish in this moment.

[1] Check out Alicia Jo Rabins’s website and bio, as well as the Girls in Trouble project.

[2] Rabins studied at Pardes, a Jewish learning institute which offers intensive Jewish study programs. You can learn more about it here.

[3]  Listen to Rabins’s music from the “Girls in Trouble” song cycle here.

[4] Rabins specifically speaks about her song about the Daughter of Jephthah, entitled Mountain/When My Father Came Back. Give it a listen here and read along with a Sefaria source sheet here. If you want to purchase the full lesson plan on this song, click here.

[5] Check out the Girls in Trouble gallery where folks have shared personal reflections, responses, and interpretations.

 [6] Watch the “Kaddish for Bernie” trailer by clicking the video below, then check out the original solo-show the project is based on.

[7] Why isn’t Rabins a Rabbi? You can read more in depth about her feelings about rabbinical ordination here.

[8] Curious about Enheduanna, the Sumerian Priestess that Rabins mentioned? Learn more here.


Judaism Unbound Bonus Episode: Elul #7 - Autumn

Lex Rofeberg and Wendie Bernstein Lash talk about the “holi-month” known as Elul, directly preceding the Jewish New Year. It is observed through a journey of introspection and personal growth. This “mini-episode” is the 3rd of four that will be released as part of Elul Unbound 2019. To listen to any or all of the four episodes that were part of Elul Unbound 2018, click here. [1]

[1] Experience Elul Unbound, through daily emails from Judaism Unbound, by clicking here! Explore our digital Elul Unbound resources by clicking here.

Judaism Unbound Episode 187: Child-Centered Jewish Education – Rebecca Milder

Rebecca Milder, Founding Director of the Jewish Enrichment Center in Chicago, joins Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg for a conversation about rooting Jewish education in empathy, text study, and creative expression. [1]

(0:01 - 20:05):  Milder begins by talking about her experience as a parent, looking for high quality of Jewish learning among many Jewish communities. She felt it was important for her children to experience education as co-creators of Judaism. [2] She speaks to society’s tendency to see teachers as holding all the answers, and why shifting that idea to a framework in which the child has an active voice, is crucial. Milder then looks at the Jewish Enrichment Center’s curricular structure, focused around three themes every year, with Jewish text embedded into each theme. [3] Next, she provides a window into some of the key similarities and differences in her approach to educating younger and older children, highlighting some student projects in the process. [4]

(20:06 – 30:20): Dan asks Milder if the model of education at the Jewish Enrichment Center always should have been the standard for Jewish learning, or if its methods are specifically important for our current place and time. She talks about how this educational process is developing the creativity and critical text skills and empathy that Jewish children will need for themselves and the Jewish future. Milder cites many different educational philosophies which influenced Jewish Enrichment Center. [5] Responding to a question about “Jewish Literacy” in the JEC’s curriculum, Milder discusses the structure of the three annual themes, plus their annual unit on Passover. She then pivots to discuss the learning environment, describing Hebrew, song, and prayer as core features of the learning, in addition to text study.

(30:21 – 42:07): Milder describes how the prayer curriculum centers social and emotional learning, as well as mastery over language. [6] She discusses how time constraints impact her work (and Jewish education more broadly). Milder then dives into one word in particular, “L’hitpalel” the verb meaning “To Pray,” and argues that its character as a reflexive verb is particular important to internalize. [7] Milder shifts to explaining the back-end work required to train educators in the JEC’s pedagogy, paying teachers 8 hours a week for professional development and collaboration time. What these educators are doing, she says, is something that educators have likely never experienced in their own education. Milder closes with her vision of a JEC graduate as a Jewish adult, saying her hope is that students will become “people who hold Judaism inside, treat every single person in the world with dignity, and are working on the really complex problems of our planet.” She also expresses her desire that graduates practice “an active and dynamic Judaism that continues to grow and change as they grow and change.”

[1] Visit the Jewish Enrichment Center’s website and learn more about Rebecca Milder and her team here.

[2] Read an article by Milder about the process of Child-Centered Jewish learning here.

[3] Lex references two children’s books by his uncle which address hard topics, and including the perspectives of children themselves. Purchase them at these links: The Kids' Book About Death and Dying, The Kids Book of Divorce

[4] Read the source-text that JEC students learned about Hagar and Ishmael here.

[5] Learn more about John Dewey and Reggio Emilia, two educational philosophers who inspired the Jewish Enrichment Center’s work.

[6] Interested in learning more about the Psalm mentioned in the podcast? Read this piece about Psalm 150, written by Lex for MyJewishLearning.

[7] Check out the story of Hannah, which is a key model for Jewish prayer, from the book of 1 Samuel

Judaism Unbound Bonus Episode: Elul #6 Take a Breath

Lex Rofeberg and Wendie Lash talk about the “holi-month” known as Elul, directly preceding the Jewish New Year. It is observed through a journey of introspection and personal growth. This “mini-episode” is the 2nd of four that will be released as part of Elul Unbound 2019. To listen to any or all of the four episodes that were part of Elul Unbound 2018, click here. [1]

[1] Experience Elul Unbound, through daily emails from Judaism Unbound, by clicking here! Explore our digital Elul Unbound resources by clicking here.

Miriam Heller Stern: Judaism Unbound Episode 186 - Re-Imagining Jewish Education

Miriam Heller Stern, National Director of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion School of Education, [1] joins Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg to kick off a unit of episodes looking at shifting dynamics in contemporary Jewish education. [2]

(0:01 - 16:45): To begin the episode, Dan asks a big whopper of a question: What is Education? Heller Stern provides an overarching answer to that question, and follows it up with a crash course in the history of American-Jewish education, from the late 19th century through the present. She compares and contrasts two different schools (ha!) of thought, each of which referred to themselves as “progressive” theories of education. Highlighting a famous brochure — featuring the anxiety-provoking question “Your children — will they be yours?” — Heller Stern looks at how, both before and after the Holocaust, the field of Jewish education has placed a great deal of emphasis on questions of preservation and survival (of the Jewish people). [3] She asserts that “survival isn’t enough,” and calls on Jewish educational institutions (and individual teachers) to focus in other directions moving forward.

(16:46 - 33:10): Heller Stern explores the ways in which definitions of success and failure depend largely on how we define the end-goals of Jewish education. She examines the ways in which, while we may seem united about those end-goals, there may actually be many diverse approaches to it residing in any given board meeting or teachers’ lounge. Lex asks about the tension between teaching skills and teaching information, along with the tension between teaching forms of emotional connection and teaching information. [4] Heller Stern questions these dichotomies, and adds to them by calling for forms of education that look at how to access information (especially in our digital world) as effectively as they teach the information itself. [5]

(33:11 - 47:16): Examining “innovation” from a bird’s-eye-view, Heller Stern asserts that much of how people define Jewish educational innovation seems to relate simply to shifting the setting where education happens. She calls for different forms of understanding innovation, where the educational enterprise becomes more focused on experimentation and creativity than it is on replication. [6] Shifting a bit, Dan asks whether our podcast might or might not be correctly understood as a kind of education, despite the fact that he thinks of himself more as a “public student” than as a “teacher.” To close the episode, Heller Stern seeks to carve out a new definition of “creativity” that would better serve us, and our systems of Jewish education, in the 21st century. [7]

Image Credit: American Jewish Historical Society, originally the Jewish Education Association (1927)

Image Credit: American Jewish Historical Society, originally the Jewish Education Association (1927)

[1] Access a full bio for Miriam Heller Stern by clicking here.

[2] For a written piece by Heller Stern that effectively encapsulates some of her major points from this conversation, see “The Creativity Imperative.”

[3] Look to the left to find the image Lex references in this section, initially cited by Heller Stern in a speech she gave in April 2019, featuring the provocative caption “Your children — will they be yours?”

[4] For another Judaism Unbound episode that looks at the idea of teaching love — in particular in the realm of Israel education — see Episode 121: Homecoming and Arrival - Yehuda Kurtzer.

[5] Heller Stern alludes to Bloom’s Taxonomy in this section. Learn more about it, along with ways that it applies to contemporary Jewish life, here.

[6] In exploring the role of creativity in education, Heller Stern cites her own 5-year-old daughter. She speaks about how a “kindergarten mentality,” can contribute to shifts in Jewish education, drawing from Mitchell Resnick’s book Lifelong Kindergarten. Purchase that work for yourself at this link.

[7] For more on the role that creativity plays in Jewish life, see either Episode 108: The Jewish Studio Project - Adina Allen, Jeff Kasowitz or Episode 156: Creating Jewish Theatre - Aaron Henne.

Judaism Unbound Bonus Episode: Elul #5 - No Suitcase Required

Lex Rofeberg and Wendie Lash talk about the “holi-month” known as Elul, directly preceding the Jewish New Year and observed through a journey of introspection and personal growth. This “mini-episode” is the 1st of four that will be released as part of Elul Unbound 2019. To listen to any or all of the 4 that preceded it, as part of Elul Unbound 2018, click here. [1]

[1] Experience Elul Unbound, through daily emails from Judaism Unbound, by clicking here! Explore our digital Elul Unbound resources by clicking here

Sarah Hurwitz: Judaism Unbound Episode 185 - An Army of Translators

Sarah Hurwitz, former speechwriter for Michelle and Barack Obama, and author of Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life--in Judaism (After Finally Choosing to Look There), joins Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg to discuss a sometimes-overlooked question: Why bother with Judaism? [1] [2]

(0:01 - 13:58): To begin the episode, Hurwitz discusses her recent forays into Jewish learning and practice, which began on a whim and contrasted starkly with the distant relationship she had to her Jewishness earlier in life. In explaining why she eventually decided to write a book about Judaism, she discusses the gap she noticed between “Judaism 101” books, largely focused on “how to” as opposed to “why to,” and deep-dives into Jewish topics that rely on readers possessing a great deal of previously-held knowledge about Judaism in. Through Here All Along, she sought to contribute to a genre of books that would fill the gap between those extremes. She names a few elements of Jewish tradition, which she had never known much about, that have proven deeply transformative for her over the past few years, including notions of “in the image of God” (b’tzelem Elohim) [3] and the “sanctuary in time” (Abraham Joshua Heschel’s way of distilling the essence of Shabbat). [4]

(13:59 - 31:56): Hurwitz argues that we set impossibly high standards for Jewish educators, who are expected to instill deep knowledge around a vast array of Jewish topics in just a few hours a week. She then gives a window into the experience she (and many others!) have experienced, where she feels like everybody else in a Jewish space is “in on an inside-joke that I’m not privy to.” Dan and Hurwitz explore the philosophy of Benay Lappe, frequent flyer on Judaism Unbound and key figure in the conclusion of Hurwitz’s book, can instruct us as we re-imagine “option-3” Judaisms that incorporate elements of tradition while, at the same time, thinking radically about how they could manifest in new forms today. Following up, Lex asks about — of all things — the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Hurwitz considers how the relationship between its individual movies can help us understand the systematic nature of Judaism and its “hyperlinks.”

(31:57 - 47:51): The conversation turns for a bit toward Hurwitz’s experiences as a speechwriter for Michelle and Barack Obama. She examines the ways in which a commitment social justice can be a manifestation of Jewish practice, but also names that repairing the world can be a manifestation of Christianity, Islam, or any number of other traditions. Continuing, Hurwitz looks at the ways in which Jewish meditation and spirituality have had profound effects on her since diving into Jewish tradition. [6] In doing so, she asserts that in a certain sense, traditional Judaism boils down to one big mindfulness practice. To close the episode, Hurwitz calls for (and recruits!) an “army of translators” — people who can “bridge the gap between insider Judaism and outsider Judaism.”

[1] For a full bio of Sarah Hurwitz, along with videos of talks she has given, click here.

[2] Purchase a copy of Here All Along at this link! For an article about Hurwitz that explores her evolving relationship to Judaism, see this 2016 piece in The Forward.

[3] In Judaism Unbound’s 100th episode, Dan and Lex dove deep into the concept of “in the image of God” with Yitz Greenberg, who Hurwitz cites. Listen in here - Episode 100: The Third Era - Yitz Greenberg.

[4] For more on the idea of a “sanctuary in time” see Bonus Episode: Elul #2 - A Wrinkle in (Jewish) Time, one of our “mini-episodes,” released in 2018 as part of Judaism Unbound’s “holi-month” initiative called Elul Unbound.

[5] This article, featured in The New Yorker and entitled “The Narrative Experiment That Is the Marvel Cinematic Universe,” is not about Jewish text or tradition (at least not directly). That said, it provides another look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and how its interlocking characters and movies have in some senses shifted the landscape of contemporary film.

[6] Click here for the JTA piece, written by Ben Sales and quoting Hurwitz, that Lex cites in a question about Romemu Yeshiva and Jewish spirituality more broadly.

Judaism Unbound Episode 184: Disorganized Religion - Dan and Lex

Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg call for future forms of Judaism that will be less institutional and more disorganized. [1]

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(0:01 - 11:58): To begin the episode, Dan hones in on recent conversations with Urban Kibbutz and Judaism On Our Own Terms, bringing up the idea of “pseudo-organizations.” [2] Questioning the idea that “sustainability” should be among the most important characteristics of our Jewish organizations today, he argues that we should find ways to define organizational success that are not based simply on the continued existence of an institution. Lex brings up the “life cycle” of student-groups on many college campuses as a way of building on this idea. Specifically, he notes that a huge percentage of student-groups that currently exist on campuses were formed in the last 5-10 years, that a similarly huge percentage will not exist in 5-10 more years, and that may actually be a positive story.


(11:59 - 28:18): Dan asks an open-ended, and maybe counter-intuitive, question. What could be achieved in a Jewish world only if the norm became organizations (or “disorganizations”) that exist for a short period of time, whose goal is not at all to be sustainable over many generations? Lex answers by saying that focusing on the here and now, and not on sustaining an organization for the future, automatically allows for ideas that are more radical, ambitious, and (yes) risky. [3] Lex also calls back to a recent episode with the New Synagogue Project, arguing that we could benefit from less “organized Judaism” and more of an “organizers’ Judaism” (a Judaism built by community organizers). Dan carries that point forward, asserting that an organizers Judaism would, on one level, benefit existing institutions, but perhaps more importantly it would create a thriving ecosystem of Jewish life manifesting outside of organized institutions.

(28:19 - 44:26): Lex reflects on his own blind-spot, earlier in this conversation, whereby he mapped ideas of community organizing only onto existing institutions, instead of broadening the idea to encompass Judaisms that manifest outside of institutions as well. Dan pivots to talk about how contemporary Jews (and Jewish organizations) define success and failure. He looks at the story of BimBam — a digital home for videos about Jewish texts, holidays, and culture that closed recently — as an example of how we could re-conceptualize ideas of success that hinge on continued existence over many generations, which automatically define closure of an organization as failure. [4] Lex advocates for a future of Jewish organization-building in which many projects would, from the get-go, be designed with an expiration date. [5] To close the episode, Dan draws an analogy of Judaism to starting a fire, which begins not with the biggest logs, but with tiny twigs whose flames can then expand to larger logs, and Lex takes the opportunity to look at how that analogy connects to the next theme Judaism Unbound will tackle: Jewish education.

[1] At the top of the episode, Dan mentions two exciting Judaism Unbound developments! The first is that our 2nd-annual edition of Elul Unbound is almost here: sign up to participate by clicking here. The other is that we are in the process of raising funds for a book, to be published soon (working title is Judaism Unbound…Bound). It will be a collection of transcripts of some of our best episodes, plus commentary, discussion questions, and more! Help make this book a reality by clicking here.

[2] Check out the full conversations with these two (pseudo) organizations here - Episode 182: Judaism On Our Own Terms - Tal Frieden, August Kahn, Episode 183: Intentional Community - Sara Levy Linden, Shira Rutman

[3] In this section of the episode, Dan cites Benay Lappe and Amichai Lau-Lavie, two of our past “frequent flyer” podcast guests (more than one appearance each!), as the rare kinds of folks that are finding a way to craft innovative organizations that are reaching people who wouldn’t otherwise be connecting to Jewish institutional life at all. Listen to their appearances on the show at any of the following links: Episode 3: Exodus - Benay Lappe, Episode 29: Lab/Shul - Amichai Lau-Lavie, Episode 36: What Jewish Looks Like Today - Benay Lappe Episode 56: A Traditionally Radical Yeshiva - Benay Lappe, Bonus Episode - Intermarriage: Changing the Rules - Amichai Lau-Lavie

[4] Listen in to our episode on BimBam, featuring its founder Sarah Lefton, by clicking here - Episode 24: BimBam - Sarah Lefton. Dan also mentions the closing of JDub Records, which you can learn about here, as an example we can learn from as we seek to re-define institutional success in Jewish life.

[5] Dan notes that the Avi Chai Foundation, which has committed to spend down all of its assets before the end of the 2020s decade, provides one model for what this kind of thinking could look like. Learn more about the phenomenon of foundations in Jewish life that are spending down by reading “When Foundations’ Days Are Numbered,” a 2012 piece in The Forward, written by Amy Schiller.

Sara Levy Linden, Shira Rutman: Judaism Unbound Episode 183 - Intentional Community

Sara Levy Linden and Shira Rutman, two members of San Francisco’s Urban Kibbutz, join Dan and Lex for a conversation about what constitutes an intentional community.

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(0:01 - 18:26): To begin the episode, Levy Linden looks back at the beginnings of the Urban Kibbutz in San Francisco. [1] Rutman speaks to the kinds of programming that they run, and explains how even without shared housing (as is the case for many kibbutzes in Israel), there can be a strong sense of shared community for their kibbutz. She also articulates why they sought to foster a communal space around Judaism in particular, and talks through the flow of the group from week to week, and over the course of the Jewish calendar year. Levy Linden adds a note about the influence of Hakhel, a global incubator for intentional Jewish communities, in helping make this Urban Kibbutz a reality. [2]

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(18:27 - 31:47): Levy Linden considers the word “kibbutz,” and explains why they chose to go by that moniker instead of other options. [3] The two guests, along with Dan, explore the similarities and differences between the urban kibbutz, and something like a condo association (which Dan dubs an “unintentional community”). Rutman explores why she doesn’t think that there should be a “manual” with ready-made rituals for communities like this, but does assert that a guide for how to design your own rituals would be helpful. [4] Both Levy Linden and Rutman look back at some of the landmark moments of Urban Kibbutz thus far, especially emphasizing a Tu Bish’vat Seder that they organized in Golden Gate Park.

(31:48 - 46:18): Looking at the demographics of their group, Levy Linden discusses how they have more interfaith (or multi-faith) families than otherwise. Dan brings back some of Judaism Unbound’s ongoing conversations about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, asking to what extent this urban kibbutz arose because local Jewish institutions weren’t able to effectively meet some of these families’ Jewish needs. [5] To close the episode, the two guests offer some words of advice to those who might be interested in starting a similar kind of group in their area. Levy Linden and Rutman each call for groups to start by holding small events — perhaps with just one other family — and allowing growth to happen gradually over time. [6]

[1] Levy Linden cites an article in J Weekly that helped kickstart their urban kibbutz. Read that article, written by Drew Himmelstein and entitled “Squeezed Out: Housing Prices Gut Dream for Jewish Middle Class,” by clicking here.

[2] Learn more about Hakhel, an initiative of Hazon: The Jewish Lab for Sustainability, by clicking here.

[3] Levy Linden invokes the phrase “a Kibbutz Without Walls” to describe their work. Hear more about the idea of Jewish institutions without walls by listening to Episode 20: Jewish Without Walls - Beth Finger.

[4] For more on ideas of ritual design, see Episode 180: The Ritual Design Lab - Margaret Hagan, Kursat Ozenc.

[5] To further explore the ramifications of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for contemporary Jewish life, see Episode 109: Open Doors - Dan and Lex.

[6] Rutman describes her experience growing up in a Havurah, offering up how it may have influenced her participation in this urban kibbutz today. Learn more about the Havurah movement through two Judaism Unbound episodes - Episode 84: The Jewish Catalog, Then and Now - Riv-Ellen Prell and Episode 86: We’re the Jews We’ve Been Waiting For - Dan and Lex.

Tal Frieden, August Kahn: Judaism Unbound Episode 182 - Judaism On Our Own Terms

Tal Frieden and August Kahn, two leaders of Judaism On Our Own Terms (a new national network of student-led Jewish communities) join Dan and Lex for a conversation about how Jewish campus life today can help us build the Judaisms of tomorrow. [1] [2]

(0:01 - 18:02): To begin the episode, Frieden and Kahn give an overview of Judaism On Our Own Terms (JOOOT). They explore its vision for independent, student-led Jewish communities on campus and emphasize that Jewish organizations should be accountable, first and foremost, to the needs of their constituent members over the desires of their donors. Kahn looks at the associations of a college education, and he argues that the organizations making up JOOOT embody the exploratory spirit of college life in a way that powerfully reflects broader campus dynamics. Frieden considers how JOOOT encourages its constituent groups (and individual members) to question elements of American Judaism that they might have previously taken for granted. Both guests then consider the ways in which these newer campus groups naturally lend themselves to flexibility and change. [3] They also respond to institutional restrictions on discourse (specifically on the issue of Israel-Palestine) — simultaneously naming that these policies have led to a need for other organizations to arise on campus, and stating that independent Jewish communities serve other needs as well. [4]

(18:03 - 31:25): Frieden and Kahn dive deeper into the question of funding (and funders). [5] Frieden explores whether a future in which many forms of Jewish life manifest on campus without as much funding (perhaps counter-intuitively, perhaps not) could actually have a powerful impact and resonate very deeply with a large population of students. Kahn reflects on the idea of “Jewish continuity,” arguing that Judaism has always been (and will always be) changing. As a corollary, he calls for donors to focus not on the continuation only of their own visions of Judaism, but also on new visions coming from current college students. In doing so, he identifies an “intellectually ravenous” population among Jewish college students that might not be finding stimulating programming in mainstream institutions.

(31:26 - 51:06): Kahn tells the story of his group’s founding (Nishmat at the Claremont Colleges), and Frieden looks back at the origin story of Friday Night Jews. Kahn describes his community, where juxtaposing James Baldwin’s writings with the Talmud, and both of those with last week’s neuroscience class, is common. [6] Frieden describes Friday Night Jews, where on any given weekend, a facilitator organizes a conversation around a key issue — ranging from antisemitism, to restorative justice, to the BDS movement (boycott, divestment, and sanctions). To close the episode, Kahn looks at the ways in which JOOOT’s work can inform not only how people think about Judaism on campus, but how they think about Judaism in general. [7]

[1] Learn more about Judaism On Our Own Terms at Jooot.org.

[2] JOOOT is hosting their 2nd annual gathering, September 20th-22nd in Providence, Rhode Island (on Brown University’s campus). You can support this event on GoFundMe by clicking here.

[3] If you’re looking to start up your own independent Jewish community on campus (or anywhere!), check out JOOOT’s guidebook, accessible by clicking here.

[4] Hear more about the Israel-Palestine conversation on college campuses by listening into Episode 126: Open Hillel - Rachel Sandalow-Ash, Eva Ackerman.

[5] For an article about the role that donors play with respect to Jewish campus institutions, see “Who Funds Religious Life on College Campuses?,” written by Rachel Silverman, a recent graduate of Bryn Mawr College. To hear more about Jewish campus life in general, from students themselves, we recommend NewVoices.org.

[6] Kahn mentions a Haggadah created by JFREJ (Jews for Racial and Economic Justice). Check out a wide variety of resources that JFREJ has put together for Passover seders over the years by clicking here.

[7] To read more about the origin-story and current work of Judaism On Our Own Terms, see this recent article featured in Jewish Currents, entitled “Red Line Rebellion,” and written by Jess Schwalb, a student at Northwestern University.

Joseph Berman, Lauren Spokane: Judaism Unbound Episode 181 - The New Synagogue Project

Joseph Berman, founding rabbi of The New Synagogue Project (NSP), and Lauren Spokane, NSP’s “lead instigator,” join Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg for a conversation about how their intentional community is looking to help build a better, more just world. [1]

(0:01 - 15:05): To begin the episode, Berman and Spokane respond to two inter-related questions that frequently arise for them: 1) Why on earth are you looking to start a new synagogue, and 2) But isn’t the synagogue model dead? They assert a variety of ways in which they believe synagogues continue to play a vital role, and they argue that they are particularly well-situated to serve the role of intentional community — something that many people desire, even if they might not yet be considering joining a synagogue. [2] They make the case for continuing to have forms of membership in synagogue contexts, arguing that even in an era when many decry a lack of “joiners,” people will affiliate with organizations that really deeply speak to their values. [3]

(15:06- 32:11): Spokane speaks to the ways in which social justice is the “bedrock” of the New Synagogue Project community and a community organizing approach is its “backbone.” [4] She suggests that an important function of their organization is to center those who have, in other Jewish settings, been on the margins (including Jews of color, people in interfaith relationships, LGBTQ Jews, and others). Berman carries that conversation forward, arguing that the realms of the religious and the political cannot realistically be seen as separate, citing as an example the ways in which belief in human beings as tzelem Elohim (in the image of God) necessitates standing up against white supremacy. The two guests then look at their geographic location within Washington D.C, and they consider ways in which spiritual organizations provide a context not only for resistance against the oppression we see in the world, but additionally for imagining what a more liberated future could look like. [5]

(32:12 - 48:40): Berman argues that there is a pervasive tendency towards seeing money as dirty, which in the long term does harm to progressive organizations which are often (as a result) under-resourced. He also discusses the beginning of NSP’s Hebrew school, which does not yet exist but will in the fall of 2020. [6] Turning to the topic of Israel-Palestine, Berman explores how The New Synagogue Project can stand proudly and publicly against the occupation, choose not to mix Jewish practice with political nationalism, and still simultaneously maintain a very big tent around Zionism and Anti-Zionism. To close the episode, Spokane and Berman reflect on some of the greatest strengths of their burgeoning project.

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[1] Learn more about The New Synagogue Project by heading to NewSynagogueproject.org. Find out the answers to some FAQs about the organization by clicking here.

[2] Find out why the name “New Synagogue Project” was chosen by reading this piece, written by Berman.

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[3] Berman alludes to an article by Toba Spitzer, on the subject of synagogue dues. Check out her piece, published in Sh’ma Now and entitled “The Covenant of Money,” by clicking here.

[4] Spokane mentions that both she and Berman have a background in community organizing through their training with the Industrial Areas Foundation. Learn more about the IAF by visiting IndustrialAreasFoundation.org.

[5] Berman cites a few other congregations around the country doing similar justice-driven work. Learn more about them at the following links: HinenuBaltimore.org (Hinenu, Baltimore), Kol-Tzedek.org (Kol Tzedek, Philadelphia), TzedekChicago.org (Tzedek Chicago), KolotChayeinu.org (Kolot Chayeinu, New York City)

[6] Stay tuned for many episodes of Judaism Unbound looking squarely at the topic of Jewish education, beginning just a few weeks after the release of this episode!

Margaret Hagan, Kursat Ozenc: Judaism Unbound Episode 180 - The Ritual Design Lab

Margaret Hagan and Kursat Ozenc, co-creators of the Ritual Design Lab, based at Stanford University’s Institute of Design (the “d.school”), and co-authors of the book Rituals for Work, join Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg to investigate what rituals are, why they matter, and how they work. [1] [2]

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(0:01 - 17:32): To begin the episode, Hagan and Ozenc provide a framework for what a ritual even is! Pushing beyond the largest and grandest rituals (weddings, funerals, etc), they talk about ways in which even the daily process of drinking a cup of coffee can become ritualized (and has been by some of their students). They reflect on the origins of their Ritual Design Lab, beginning with Ozenc’s research on transitions and eventually evolving into a class they teach together. [3] Continuing, they take a look at some of the reasons that rituals hold weight for people and add value to their lives, highlighting the sense of comfort, or guidance, that they can give, along with creating a sensation of control during moments that might otherwise feel uncertain or ambiguous. They also explore the benefits of compact (short!) rituals, those that take into account body in addition to mind, and those that balance the realms of familiar and novel. [4]

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(17:33 - 32:31): Hagan and Lex bond over their shared connection to sports, and the ways in which sports — like religion — can easily be a realm conducive to the implementation of rituals. She also distinguishes between rituals created and overseen by large central institutions (often religious institutions) and those pioneered by individuals or small groups for themselves. Ozenc explores the ways in which simply calling a particular task “a ritual” can make people connect on a deeper level to that task and add layers of meaning, [5] and both guests look at reasons why rituals designed by others can often land more effectively on us than rituals an individual might attempt to design for their own use. Dan asks whether there are particular kinds of people who naturally feel comfortable with the creation of new rituals in ways that might be challenging for those who struggle to suspend their own disbelief.

(32:32 - 51:19): Looking specifically at the realm of rituals created for a workplace environment, Hagan and Ozenc name some of the challenges that can arise when the purpose of ritual is to yield profit for a company. They also advocate for ways in which, despite the potential pitfalls, implementing workplace rituals — even in a large corporation — can have a meaningful and positive impact. [6] Each guest names a few rituals designed by their students, including those that involve (we kid you not!) desks, secret dance moves, and rocks. Ozenc looks back at his own life experience, highlighting ways in which his immigration from Turkey to the United States helped lead to his interest in transitions (and then in ritual). Hagan considers how her career in legal aid groups, and her immersion in the court system, led to an interest in culture-change and organizational structure. [7] To close the episode, each of the two guests shares a personal ritual that they utilize in their own everyday life.

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[1] Learn more about Margaret Hagan by clicking here, learn more about Kursat Ozenc by clicking here, and purchase their book Rituals for Work: 50 Ways to Create Engagement, Shared Purpose, and a Culture of Bottom-Up Innovation at this link.

[2] Check out this 2018 feature in The Atlantic about Ozenc and Hagan’s work, entitled “A Design Lab is Making Rituals for Secular People.”

[3] For an article looking simultaneously at the role of transitions in gender and in Judaism, see this Jewish Currents piece, entitled “Transitions in Jewish Time: A Trans Writer Visits the Mikveh.”

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[4] Ozenc and Hagan allude to the “Wundt Novelty Curve” (pioneered by Wilhelm Wundt, an early psychologist). To learn more about this topic, its relationship to the ideas of “familiarity” and “novelty,” and some of the ramifications for contemporary design, see the article “Novelty and Interestingness Measures for Design-space Exploration,” put together by a group of Dutch and Danish researchers.

[5] For more on the ways in which simply conceptualizing an action as a “ritual” can make us connect to that action on a deeper level, see this Harvard Business School study, alluded to by Ozenc and summed up in an article with the title “Rituals Make Us Value Things More.”

[6] Hagan mentions The Office (the award-winning sitcom) as a show that encapsulates many ways that ritual can be embedded into a workplace environment. For more on some of the hidden ways in which religious themes embed themselves into this show, see this article.

[7] For more of Hagan’s work on Legal Design, check out LawByDesign.co.