Groundbreaking Jewish Conversations

About the show

Evolve: Groundbreaking Jewish Conversations features interviews with thought-provoking rabbis, leaders and creators about the urgent issues faced by Jewish people today. As a part of Reconstructing Judaism’s multimedia Evolve project, this podcast models respectful, sacred conversations about challenging topics.

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  • Episode 28: Ben & Jerry’s, Amnesty International, and the Debate Over Boycotting Israel

    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.

  • Episode 27: Beyond Antisemitism

    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.

  • Episode 26: The Reconstructionist

    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.

  • Episode 25: 'Adoption Isn’t a Bad Thing, It’s a Tricky Thing'

    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.

  • Episode 24: Liberation from Opioids: One Rabbi’s Journey

    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.

  • Episode 23: Hidden Jews in the 21st Century

    August 17th, 2021  |  Season 1  |  1 hr 2 mins
    conversation, conversion, 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.

  • Episode 22: Hope as an Ethical Imperative

    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?

  • Episode 21: Fighting Antisemitism and Racism in Minneapolis

    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.

  • Episode 20: America's First Bat Mitzvah

    May 27th, 2021  |  Season 1  |  33 mins 28 secs

    The first American bat mitzvah took place on March 18, 1922. As its 100th anniversary nears, we’ve got something of a departure for our podcast. We’re running an episode of Adventures in Jewish Studies, a podcast of the Association for Jewish Studies. Evolve: Groundbreaking Jewish Conversations co-sponsored this episode. Guest scholars Rabbi Carole Balin, Melissa R. Klapper, and Rabbi Deborah Waxman consider the history of the bat mitzvah and its evolution over time. They also explore how the bat mitzvah helped pave the way for greater inclusion of women in public Jewish ritual and practice and helped shape American Jewish life.

  • Episode 19: Environmental Justice and Race

    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.”

  • Episode 18: Liberating Your Passover Seder

    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?

  • Episode 17: Human Composting: Good for the Environment, But Is It Kosher?

    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.

  • Episode 16: Silver and Gold: Reparations and Judaism

    January 14th, 2021  |  Season 1  |  43 mins 55 secs

    Since Ta-Nehisi Coates published his influential Atlantic essay “The Case for Reparations” in 2014, a number of thinkers have made explicitly Jewish arguments for (and against) reparations for American slavery. Educator and activist Rabbi Aryeh Bernstein argues in an article on Evolve that the case for reparations is presented clearly in the Torah itself. In this episode, Bernstein explores this claim, and what he thinks it means for present-day policies and politics.

  • Episode 15: Jews and Money: A Frank Conversation 

    December 15th, 2020  |  Season 1  |  45 mins 52 secs

    Endowments and donor-advised funds: They may sound like boring financial terms, but they're actually part of a fascinating history of philanthropy in the Jewish community. They reflect the ways in which individuals and organizations use financial resources to impact the Jewish community and democratic society writ large.  For half a decade, Lila Corwin Berman has been raising eyebrows, and sparking conversation, with her writings about wealth and charitable giving, Jewish communities, and democracy. In this interview with Berman, we explore the origins of both endowments and donor-advised funds, and examine how they have shaped communal decision-making.  

  • Episode 14: Fixing Broken Policing: What Does Judaism Say?

    November 19th, 2020  |  Season 1  |  48 mins 41 secs

    Does the Talmud offer a perspective on police reform, and whether it makes sense to, as the slogan says, defund the police? Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, a Talmudic scholar and an advocate for redirecting police funding, explains what ancient Judaism does and doesn’t have to say about policing. After a quick post-election debrief, Cohen lays out the case for a new approach to policing, one in which far fewer officers would carry arms. He addresses questions about armed guards protecting Jewish institutions during a time of rising antisemitism and touches on how his experience as a soldier in the first Lebanon War shaped his anti-violence worldview.

  • Episode 13: COVID-19 and Jewish Ethics

    October 22nd, 2020  |  Season 1  |  39 mins 49 secs

    How can Jewish ethics shape how people make decisions about daily life during a pandemic? Rabbi Mira Wasserman, who directs the Center for Jewish Ethics, explains how ethical considerations have shaped her own decisions — such as whether to drive her child to school or send him on the school bus — and how they should operate on a communal level. She also addresses the narrowness of questions of medical ethics such as best use of limited hospital resources, arguing that a true ethical response to crisis goes beyond the mechanics of triage to address the structural inequities in our health care system that lead to scarcity in good times as well as crises. She and Bryan also cover how Hollywood action movies' model of heroism reflect a warped model of heroic individualism that neglects less flashy, but vital and sustaining contributions. Is it time to rethink the actions and behaviors celebrated by American society?