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.
April 15th, 2019 | Season 0 | 50 mins 37 secs
Rabbi Isaac Saposnik, executive director of Havaya Summer Programs, discusses the latest trends in Jewish camping, from shorter sessions to the rise of specialty camps like Havaya Arts. Saposnik makes the case for the valuable role of Jewish overnight camp in developing campers’ Jewish identities and overall sense of self. The discussion focuses on ways to make camps welcoming and embracing for children of all different gender identities and sexual orientation. And yes, he proudly outlines his two camps’ "no screen" policies, and tells us how kids adjust to being separated from their smartphones and iPads.
March 14th, 2019 | Season 0 | 50 mins 16 secs
Noted historian Jack Wertheimer discusses his research into how “ordinary” Jews are experiencing Judaism in the 21st century.
February 26th, 2019 | Season 0 | 50 mins 6 secs
Bryan and Rachael sit down with Elsie Stern, Ph.D, vice president for academic affairs at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. Stern, who is the daughter, granddaughter, sister and sister-in-law of rabbis, discusses her surprisingly circuitous route to leading a rabbinic training program. Stern explains that rabbis are formed rather than made, and that while some methods to training rabbis are constant, others are being reimagined. Stern also recounts her fascination with the Bible, how it’s been transmitted through the ages and how it is taught and understood in Jewish settings today.
February 13th, 2019 | Season 0 | 50 mins 40 secs
What does social entrepreneurship look like in a Jewish context? How can concepts honed in a business context be employed in a spiritual fashion? And can the beit midrash, the traditional Jewish house of study, be reinvented for a new generation of spiritual seeker and Jewish learner? Bryan and Rachael raise these questions and others with guests Cyd Weissman, Reconstructing Judaism’s assistant vice president for innovation and impact, and rabbinical student Bec Richman. Cyd, who also teaches entrepreneurism, delves into the basic principles and how it is embodied in a grant program she administers. One thing she teaches is for entrepreneurs to “leave solutions at the door” and learn what “customers” actually want and need. Bec, a serial social entrepreneur who looks to Cyd as a mentor, discusses the process behind launching a new beit midrash geared for learners at different levels.
December 13th, 2018 | Season 0 | 45 mins 58 secs
Rabbi Jacob Staub, Ph.D., who directs Reconstructing Judaism’s new Evolve project, explains why the website came into being. Structured around a series of essays that tackle questions that rabbis said were most pressing to their congregants, Evolve is meant to serve as a model for civil discourse at a time unprecedented societal divisions.
September 26th, 2018 | Season 0 | 50 mins 53 secs
Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D., president of Reconstructing Judaism, and Rabbi Nathan Kamesar, associate rabbi of Society Hill Synagogue in Philadelphia, discuss the ubiquity of technology and the opportunities and challenges they bring to Judaism.
August 28th, 2018 | Season 0 | 35 mins 10 secs
Zoe Greenberg talks about what it is like to be a reporter and researcher for the New York Times. The 26-year-old tells talks about working with noted columnists like Nicholas Kristof; she once researched the number of Americans who die annually in bathtub accidents. We also hear about her original reporting, particularly for the Metro section, and how her colleagues broke the Harvey Weinstein story. Zoe recounts why she got into journalism at a time when the traditional business model for newspapers has broken down and during an era of deep division in American civic and political life. Zoe also delves into what it is like to be raised by a Reconstructionist rabbi, and we talk about what millennials are looking for in Jewish community and Jewish experiences.
August 16th, 2018 | Season 0 | 42 mins 46 secs
This interview with Rabbi Sandra Lawson was meant to focus on the intersection of Judaism and technology. But no illuminating conversation completely goes as planned. Rabbi Sandra explains how it is impossible to discuss her adoption of social media and technology from questions of race, identity and sexuality. In this frank interview, Rabbi Sandra explains how fear, fear of failure, and fear of having others define her according to race and sexual-orientation, that prompted her to take the biggest risks in her life and rabbinical studies. A social media innovator, she explains how technology fits into her mission of reaching Jews in new settings: a new kind of rabbi for an evolving Jewish community.
July 30th, 2018 | Season 0 | 41 mins 55 secs
Rabbi Mira Wasserman delves into the ethical questions raised by the dramatic emergence of the #metoo movement. Rabbi Wasserman discusses the ongoing challenge of speaking up against wrongdoing and shifting a culture that casts doubt on victims who have shared stories of abuse. The conversation focuses less on egregious cases of abuse and more on everyday encounters. We also ask: What can Judaism teach us about how to shape a world in bystanders routinely stand up to ensure the human dignity of all is protected? How can liberal Jews design ethical guidelines to live by? Is there a statute of limitations on asking for forgiveness?
July 16th, 2018 | Season 0 | 42 mins 38 secs
Yes, Star Wars fans — our title is taken from a line that Yoda says to his troubled former pupil, Luke Skywalker, in The Last Jedi. In more traditional syntax, Rabbi Shira Stutman says something very similar. The senior rabbi of Sixth & I, a thriving Jewish arts and cultural center in Washington, D.C., talks about learning from failure, and how Jewish organizations must take risks to change and grow. Rabbi Stutman discusses how Sixth & I was both inspired by, and a departure from, Mordecai Kaplan’s vision of a synagogue center. She answers forthright questions about her organization’s business model, while extrapolating lessons more traditional congregations might use. She counters conventional wisdom on a number of points, challenging the idea that synagogues should spend money to engage millennials. And she explains why she once conducted a funeral for a dog, despite not being an animal lover.
June 25th, 2018 | Season 0 | 45 mins 41 secs
Rabbi Brian Field discusses Judaism Your Way, which, in case you were wondering, is not a congregation. The organization was formed to serve Jews in the Denver area who’d felt marginalized by existing congregations. In particular, Judaism Your Way was created to serve intermarried families. By offering a catered, individualized approach to Jewish experience, the organization has grown large enough that it could be considered a disruptive force in the Denver area. How has Judaism Your Way’s mission evolved as its gone from an upstart to a major force in Denver Jewish life? What does its success mean for more traditional communities in Denver and across the country? Can congregations learn from Judaism Your Way’s approach? And what is the rabbi talking about when he says Judaism Your Way represents the front porch and most congregations represent the kitchen? Rabbi Brian fields these questions and others while Bryan and Rachael try to stay on topic and forget about the theological themes of the original Ghostbusters movie.
June 12th, 2018 | Season 0 | 42 mins 37 secs
BimBam, a nonprofit Jewish media studio, has created more than 350 animated video for children and adults. Youtube analytics reveal BimBam’s content has been viewed online for thirteen million minutes, or 24 years. BimBam’s founder, Sarah Lefton, and executive director, Jordan Gill, explain how they have sought to revolutionize Jewish education through digital storytelling and meaningful screen time.
May 29th, 2018 | Season 0 | 52 mins 54 secs
This episode introduces another theme we’ll be exploring over several episodes: How is technology impacting Judaism and vice versa? The hosts of Judaism Unbound, Daniel Libenson and Lex Rofeberg, argue that the internet has revolutionized the Jewish landscape and made Jewish texts and knowledge radically accessible. They argue that, rather than entering a period of decline, Jewish life is migrating into an era that is at least partially defined by digital connections.
May 22nd, 2018 | Season 0 | 41 mins 38 secs
Like a number of upcoming episodes, this show focuses on how Jewish communities are evolving. Rabbi Sid Schwarz, author of Jewish Megatrends, discusses the phenomenon of “tribal Jews” and “culture Jews” and the how the two groups, which largely break down along generational lines, view Jewish life very differently. He also shares lessons learned from his nearly 40 years in the rabbinate.
February 19th, 2018 | Season 0 | 48 mins 33 secs
Taking a page from the Judaism Unbound podcast, Rachael and Bryan ask the questions: What does Judaism do and what it is for? What does it do for those who don’t feel compelled by God to live life according to Jewish law? Rabbi Maurice Harris fields these questions, and also explains why he avoids “outing” himself as a rabbi while he’s a passenger on a commercial flight.
January 26th, 2018 | Season 0 | 34 mins 8 secs
Filmmaker Joshua Gippin discusses his antipathy to the idea that Jews are the chosen people and his journey that led him to embrace Reconstructionist Judaism, which rejects the idea of chosenness. The directory of "The Chosen People? A Film About Jewish Identity" also examines the challenge of presenting multiple perspectives on chosenness while holding such a strong personal perspective.