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.