For our first two years, Judaism Unbound didn’t directly confront one of the more contentious issues in American-Jewish life — Israel. But midway through 2018, we decided to go for it. We launched a 14-episode series of conversations exploring the evolving relationship between American Jews, Israel, Palestine, and a variety of related issues around discourse, pluralism, and red-lines.
At approximately 10.5 hours in total audio, it is roughly the length that you’d find in a typical American sitcom. We encourage you, as you would your favorite comedy, to “binge listen” to these conversations! If you work in a Jewish institutional context, we hope you’ll identify creative ways to include these conversations in teen or adult education. If not, let us know if you’d appreciate assistance in gathering a group to discuss them outside of the walls of any “official” Jewish space. Scroll down this page to access our entire unit of episodes on Israel and American Judaism, and jump to a particular episode by clicking any of the links above!
Dan and Lex are joined by writer and commentator Peter Beinart, a Professor of Journalism and Political Science at the City University of New York. Beinart is also a contributing editor for The Atlantic and a senior columnist for The Forward. His 2010 article in The New York Review of Books predicted a widening gap between Israel and young American Jews, and his framing has shaped the American Jewish community's discussion ever since. In this episode, we explore generational differences in Jewish life, denominational differences within generations, and the ever-present tension between universalism and particularism.
Dan and Lex are joined by Dov Waxman, Professor of Political Science, International Affairs, and Israel Studies at Northeastern University and author of the book Trouble in the Tribe: The American Jewish Conflict Over Israel. The conversation explores the debates, tensions, and divides over Israel and Palestine within the American Jewish community, and we discuss why a topic that once unified American Jews now divides them.
To help us better understand and think about the role that Israel might play in the future of American Jews, Dan and Lex are joined by Professor Noam Pianko of the University of Washington, author of the books Zionism and the Roads Not Taken and Jewish Peoplehood: An American Innovation. The conversation explores the origins and evolution of Zionism, its many early variations, the changing nature of American Zionism, and the ever-shifting place of Israel in the minds of American Jews.
Dan and Lex are joined by Yehuda Kurtzer, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, for the 5th episode in Judaism Unbound's series on the relationship of American Jews and Israel. In their conversation, Kurtzer questions ideas of Judaism as a "family," puts forth a case for why American Jews should care about Israel in the first place, and provides ideas for new frameworks of Israel education.
To get a sense of the Israel conversation from the point of view of a congregational rabbi, Dan and Lex are joined by Sharon Kleinbaum, Spiritual Leader of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST), in New York City. In their conversation, they discuss topics including the varied and evolving perspectives on Israel in Jewish-and-LGBTQ spaces, the consequences of institutional red-lines around Israel discourse, and the importance of interfaith bridge-building.
Looking back at the first part of our series on American Jews and Israel, Dan and Lex discuss various topics, including the past, present, and potential meanings of Zionism and the "red lines" that some Jewish institutions have established, which put certain ideas (such as advocacy for boycotts of Israel) and people outside of their "big tents." Dan and Lex explore whether many American Jews relate to Israel in a fashion that is very analogous to "religious."
Dan and Lex are joined by Ilana Levinson and Jill Raney, two members of IfNotNow, a national campaign led by young Jews, working to end American-Jewish support for the Israeli occupation and promote freedom and dignity for all Palestinians and Israelis. Their conversation looks at a wide variety of issues, ranging from fear and trauma in American-Jewish life, to the idea that no Jew should be deemed "not Jewish enough" to express their viewpoints on Israel and Palestine.
In our ongoing exploration of the relationship of American Jews and Israel, Dan and Lex are joined by educator and activist Zach Schaffer, whose work focuses on helping Jewish federations and similar organizations talk across ideological, generational, and religious divides. Schaffer describes his approach to Israel education, engagement, and advocacy, encourages dialogue across ideological differences, and suggests that the framing of "pro-Israel" and "anti-Israel" is unhelpful to the project of engagement and relationship-building with Israel.
Dan and Lex are joined by Brant Rosen, founding rabbi of Tzedek Chicago, 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.
Dan and Lex are joined by Lesley Sachs, executive director of Women of the Wall, and by rabbi and author Susan Silverman, a member of Women of the Wall's Board of Directors and an activist on behalf of African refugees and asylum seekers in Israel. In their conversation, they discuss the efforts of Women of the Wall to fight for women's rights to pray as they wish at the Western Wall, explore questions related to religious pluralism in Israel, and consider how a Jewish state ought to deal with non-Jewish asylum seekers. They also consider the roles that American Jews might or might not take on in dealing with these issues and the nature of the relationship between American Jews and Israel.
Dan and Lex close out their unit on the relationship between American Jews and Israel. In their conversation, they explore a wide range of issues, ranging from the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, to civil disobedience in American-Jewish life, to the idea of loving Israel.