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.