Bryan Schwartzman is an award-winning journalist, critic and fiction writer. He has approached the question of “What does it mean to be Jewish in today’s world” as a 20-year reporting project. His search for deeper understanding has taken him from his cultural Jewish upbringing in Queens, N.Y., to the mystical northern Israeli city of Tzfat, a kibbutz chicken coop, the mountains of the southern Sinai, the Tunisian Island of Djerba, a Jewish enclave in Johannesburg, post-Katrina New Orleans, the slot canyons of south central Utah, the classrooms of the Jewish Theological Seminary, the newsroom of Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent and, now, Reconstructing Judaism in Wyncote, Pa., where he’s a member of the communications team. In his spare time, he writes fiction that’s occasionally published and seeks inner peace in the lap pool.
He was co-creator and co-host of #TrendingJewish: The Jewish Podcast About Everything. (Archives from the show remain available on this site.) He is a blogger for The New Normal, a New York Jewish Week online publication focusing on issues of inclusion. He and his wife, Amy, live in suburban Philadelphia and are the parents of two daughters.
September 14th, 2022 | Season 1 | 54 mins 34 secs
high holidays, rosh hashanah, whitewashing, yom kippur
From the time she was a young girl, Rev. Wil Gafney noticed that every major biblical figure, in both art and popular culture, was represented as white. Now a scholar and Episcopal priest, Gafney paints a more accurate picture of our Afro-Asiatic forebearers, making a case that engaging with the racist history of biblical criticism and western art is key to forging a more just future.
August 17th, 2022 | Season 1 | 56 mins 34 secs
Rabbi Kevin Bernstein is a mohel who has performed hundreds of circumcisions. In this episode, the veterinarian turned Reconstructionist rabbi offers a Reconstructionist take on this most ancient of Jewish conventual ceremonies, the brit millah. He responds to critics who question its continued relevance, attempts to demystify the process and explain what actually happens at a brit millah.
July 27th, 2022 | Season 1 | 1 hr 9 mins
circumcision, evolve, jewish, shteyngart
In the first of a two-part series examining circumcision, we talk with two critics of the practice: best-selling novelist and memoirist Gary Shteyngart and Max Buckler, author of the Evolve essay, “Be Honest About the Bris.” We discuss circumcision from the perspective of morality, Jewish tradition, medicine gender norms and the rights of parents and children.
May 19th, 2022 | Season 1 | 57 mins 11 secs
Have you ever heard a Jewish organization refer to itself as “warm and welcoming” but, on some level, fail to live up? Then listen to Bryan's conversation with Miriam Steinberg-Egeth and Warren Hoffman, Ph.D., about their book “Warm and Welcoming: How the Jewish Community Can Become Truly Diverse and Inclusive in the 21st Century.” The authors argue that “warm and welcoming” is not a state to achieve but a constant process.
April 14th, 2022 | Season 1 | 51 mins 2 secs
What if the central purpose of the Torah is to ensure was to ensure that people live in harmony with the environment and other living things? That is exactly what Rabbi David Seidenberg teaches, and he believes that Jews have strayed from the Torah’s message for thousands of years. Seidenberg argues that Jews must return to the Torah’s teaching and play a key role in combating climate change – before it is too late.
February 15th, 2022 | Season 1 | 1 hr 11 mins
When Ben & Jerry’s announced last year that it would cease selling its products in the Occupied Territories, it touched off a brouhaha that lasted months. Rabbi Maurice Harris, Reconstructing Judaism’s lead staff member on Israel affairs, explains why this story garnered such attention and what he thinks it all means. He also delves into a recent Amnesty International report accusing Israel of Apartheid and narrates Reconstructing Judaism's response, both in terms of process and substance.
January 31st, 2022 | Season 1 | 55 mins 39 secs
antisemitism, judaism, progressive judaism
Just days before a horrifying hostage standoff at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, we recorded an episode about antisemitism. Rabbi Jacob Staub, Ph.D., the show’s executive producer, joins Bryan Schwartzman as a guest host as they welcome Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D, for a wide-ranging conversation about her recent Evolve essay, "Beyond Antisemitism." Rather than give in to fear, Deborah argues we should lean into Jewish identity, community and coalition-building.
December 29th, 2021 | Season 1 | 1 hr 3 mins
In this special episode celebrating the career of our podcast's executive producer, Rabbi Jacob Staub, Ph.D., guest host Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D., president and CEO of Reconstructing Judaism, traces how Jacob went from being a secular college student, intent on pursuing a literary life, to one of the most influential Reconstructionist thinkers, writers and teachers of the past 50 years.
November 29th, 2021 | Season 1 | 40 mins 58 secs
adoption, evolve, jewish
The process of adoption is often thought of as children in need of a loving home being matched with couples who get to fulfill deferred dreams of becoming parents. It’s a win-win, right? Minna Scherlinder Morse, a writer and editor as well as an adoptive parent, says the reality and the history is far more nuanced.
October 12th, 2021 | Season 1 | 1 hr 4 mins
opioid, recovery, sobriety, vicodin
Rabbi Michael Perice recently made a startling revelation to his congregation: For four years, he’d been addicted to opioids. Now, celebrating 10 years of liberation, Perice decided it was time to share his story with his community and the wider world.
August 17th, 2021 | Season 1 | 1 hr 2 mins
conversation, interview, jewish, judiasm
In the past few decades, descendants of Jews who had been forced to flee, convert, or hide Jewish practices during the Inquisition have been seeking to reconnect with Jewish communities. At times, they have been embraced, other times shunned, and, too often, encountered Jewish experiences that didn’t authentically reflect their Sephardic roots.
July 22nd, 2021 | Season 1 | 52 mins 48 secs
breitman, evolve, hope, jewish, judaism, spiritual direction, staub, therapy
In Barbara Breitman’s telling, hope isn't "some fluffy thing." It's an essential Jewish practice. Hope enables leaders to imagine a different world and work to bring it out about no matter what obstacles stand in the way. Breitman, a spiritual director, therapist and scholar of religion, cites Moses, Noah and Mordechai as Biblical characters who embody this kind of hope. How can ordinary people emulate these examples?
July 1st, 2021 | Season 1 | 48 mins 47 secs
“People are really still antisemitic? I thought you all were just regular white people now.” When social justice activist Carin Mrotz heard those words from a Black activist, Mrotz knew she had even more to do: Educating non-Jewish progressives about antisemitism, putting antisemitism on the progressive agenda, building alliances to tackle antisemitism, racism and all expressions of white supremacy. In this interview, Mrotz, executive director of Minneapolis-based Jewish Community Action, discusses how the murder of George Floyd and subsequent conviction of former police officer Derek Chauvin has impacted her work. Mrotz also talks about her working relationship with Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress. And, just to mix things up, we get into how the Miami punk rock scene of the 1980s shaped her worldview.
April 28th, 2021 | Season 1 | 43 mins 28 secs
We talk with Rabbi Rebecca Richman of Philadelphia’s Germantown Jewish Centre about environmental justice and the legacy of environmental racism, particularly focusing on her adopted hometown of Philadelpha, whose refinery – which recently made national headlines with a massive conflagration – has harmed Black and brown residents' health for decades. She addresses how the Torah can help us conceive of environmental justice and identify environmental racism. And in an emotional segment, we discuss parenthood in a world that seems spinning out of control. “As a parent...if I don’t take care of this place today, then there is no life for my children. And, if I don’t teach my children to take care of this place, then there will be no capacity for them to have children.”
March 23rd, 2021 | Season 1 | 56 mins 56 secs
At 87, Rabbi Arthur Waskow still proudly calls himself a radical. His most revolutionary act may have taken place 52 years ago, when he wrote, published and organized the original Freedom Seder. Celebrated, debated and criticized, the Freedom Seder upended the contemporary seder by incorporating contemporary, non-Jewish liberation struggles. We talk about the origins of the Freedom Seder and what it means today. We explore Waskow’s life of activism, including his personal interactions with Rev. Martin Luther King Junior. And Waskow shares what keeps him turning out books and, at increasing risk to himself, taking to the streets and facing arrest. He also offers some practical advice on how to make a Zoom seder more compelling and how to take first steps as an activist. And we ask the burning question (no pun intended): is civilization as we know it headed for collapse?
February 16th, 2021 | Season 1 | 1 hr 6 mins
In this live episode, recorded as part of the 2021 Big Bold Jewish Climate Festival, we speak with Rabbi Seth Goldstein and Rabbi Adina Lewittes, two religious leaders who’ve thought deeply about human composting, the green burial movement, and what each means for Jewish communities.