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 9: Climate Change, COVID-19 and Racism: A Jewish Response

    June 29th, 2020  |  Season 1  |  54 mins 45 secs

    Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb explains how Jewish values and community have served as the underpinning for his environmentalism, and how many Jewish ideas promote the kind of long-term thinking that is needed right now. Though this interview was recorded before the murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests that took place in all 50 states, he discusses racism and how climate change will continue to disproportionately affect poorer communities comprised of people of color – unless changes are made. He also explains how lessons learned during this pandemic might be applied to taking steps to lessen climate change. He offers an empowering and hopeful message about how the actions we take now can positively impact humanity and all life for generations to come.

  • Episode 8: Israel-Palestine: The Possibility of Healing Conversations

    May 12th, 2020  |  Season 1  |  45 mins 11 secs

    In many Jewish communities, Israel-Palestine is the third rail that nobody wants to step on. Yet the Jewish community of Madison, Wis., found a way to have a sustained, facilitated dialogue that brought together participants with vastly different viewpoints. In this episode, professional facilitator and mediator Harry Webne-Behrman explains how they did it, what was why dialogue is so central to a healthy democracy. Acknowledging that the model used in Madison can’t be used during a time of pandemic, Webne-Behrman talks about what communities can do now and in the future to spur the kinds of conversations that transform lives.

  • Episode 7: Confronting Anti-Semitism and Racism

    April 13th, 2020  |  Season 1  |  54 mins 7 secs

    When he confronted demonstrators at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va.,hearing the chants of “the Jews will not replace us”, Rabbi Mordechai Liebling came face-to-face with white supremacy and antisemitism. As a child of Holocaust survivors, Liebling has thought about antisemitism his entire life, and as a veteran organizer and activist, he’s worked with a cross-section of groups to combat intolerance in all forms. In this conversation, Liebling describes his experiences in Charlottesville: what brought him there, and what he learned about hate in America. He also reflects on two of his Evolve essays: “Thoughts on Racism and Antisemitism” and “A Brief History and Update on Antisemitism”, paying particular attention to relations between American Jews and African Americans.

  • Episode 6: Scenes from the Q of LGBTQ+

    March 3rd, 2020  |  Season 1  |  49 mins 31 secs

    John Backman wore a dress as a child and had never felt comfortable identifying as a man. And only in the past decade, well into middle-age, John, a writer and spiritual director, began to use the pronouns she and her (and sometimes going by the name Janelle.) Yet, she identifies as gender non-binary, rather than as a woman. What has all this meant for her relationship with her wife of decades? Her adult daughter? Friends and colleagues? In this remarkably candid interview, John describes what it is like to live between society’s definitions of male and female. A Christian and Zen practitioner, John places her lifelong quest for true self — and struggle with mental health — within a spiritual framework.

  • Episode 5: Racism in the Jewish Community

    January 30th, 2020  |  Season 1  |  54 mins 51 secs

    Imagine you’re an African American Jew-by-choice and made the monumental decision to go to rabbinical school. A fellow synagogue board member says, “wow, you’re more Jewish than the Jews.” Throughout rabbinical school, the first thing you’re asked when you enter Jewish space is “how can you be Jewish?” or “when did you convert?” And then after starting your first job as a campus rabbi, a parent asks if you’re really ordained. In this episode, Rabbi Sandra Lawson shares her personal experiences like these. She seeks to push white Jews to face their assumptions and confront racism within themselves, racism that may not be malicious in intent but is inherited from the world around. Her hopes are for the Jewish people to live up to our highest ideals.

  • Episode 4: Slavery and Its Atonement: The Jewish Obligation to Confront Slavery’s Legacy

    December 24th, 2019  |  Season 1  |  42 mins 28 secs

    Slavery has been described as America’s original sin. Abolished with the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865, slavery still casts a shadow over American life. Today, many Americans are seeking to better understand, and respond to, this tortured history. Can Judaism offer some guidelines for how to do that? Do Jews have to atone for the sin of slavery, even though mass Jewish migration to the United States didn’t happen until decades after the Civil War? Rabbi Toba Spitzer answers yes to both questions. In this episode, the religious leader of Congregation Dorshei Tzedek, a Reconstructionist congregation outside Boston, discusses ideas she first explored in a Yom Kippur sermon. Spitzer says that the ancient priests — who may have been among the Hebrew Bible’s editors —had ideas about communal sin that may offer a path toward societal acknowledgement and atonement for the sin of slavery. Rabbi Jacob Staub, Ph.D., who directs the Evolve project, sits in for this interview.

  • Episode 3: Preparing our Communities for Conversations on Race

    December 3rd, 2019  |  Season 1  |  48 mins 3 secs

    In our third episode of Evolve: Groundbreaking Jewish Conversations, we speak with Rabbi Joshua Lesser of Congregation Bet Haverim in Atlanta. A noted civil rights activist and leader, Lesser shares the evolution of his thinking on race and how fighting injustice has always been a core component of his rabbinate. He breaks down the Jewish conversation on race into an internal and external conversation. The internal focuses on efforts to fully embrace and celebrate Jews of color as a central part of North American Jewry. The external focuses on how Jewish communities interact with communities of color and confront structural racism. Lesser discusses steps his congregation has taken.

  • Episode 2: Congregation Planting in Baltimore

    October 18th, 2019  |  Season 1  |  38 mins 14 secs

    In episode 2, we speak with Rabbi Ariana Katz of Hinenu: The Baltimore Justice Shtiebl, a new congregation that harkens back to an Eastern European, hyper-local vision of Jewish community. Katz, an under-30 rabbi who once lived in an anarchist collective, describes her efforts to organize a new, intergenerational community convened around spirited prayer and social justice activism. Rather than seeking to overturn the synagogue model, Katz explains she is seeking to revitalize an older model. We also discuss how building an explicitly progressive spiritual community creates an atmosphere that welcomes people whose political views on race, LGBTQ issues, and Israel/Palestine have left them marginalized or excluded from other Jewish communities.

  • Episode 1: Reimagining Synagogues and Communities

    September 17th, 2019  |  Season 1  |  45 mins 45 secs

    In this inaugural episode, we speak with Rabbi Rachel Weiss of Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, Ill. Weiss describes her community’s effort to remain relevant at a time of great change in Jewish life and North American life more generally. From deep and respectful dialogue on divisive issues, to the transformational use of post-it notes, Rabbi Weiss shares a window into her synagogue community’s ongoing evolution.

  • Coming soon...

    August 16th, 2019  |  Season 1  |  2 mins 54 secs

    Welcome to Evolve! Listen to this brief teaser to find out what's coming soon to a podcast player near you.

  • #TrendingJewish 27: Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen

    July 10th, 2019  |  Season 0  |  25 mins 9 secs

    All good things must come to an end. In this final all-banter episode of #TrendingJewish, Bryan and Rachael go behind the scenes of podcast production. Highlights are reviewed, kudos are given, and take-aways are taken away. And last but not least, stay subscribed to this feed for a new podcast coming in September: Evolve.

  • #TrendingJewish 26: The Jewish Camping Brand

    June 18th, 2019  |  Season 0  |  53 mins 7 secs

    Jeremy Fingerman, CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, shares his journey from corporate executive, working for well-known brands to Campbell’s Soup and Manischewitz, to building the collective brand of Jewish day and overnight camps. He discusses ways the foundation has sought to raise the profile of some 160 Jewish camps, while offering training and leadership development for camp directors. He illustrates how Jewish camps are trying to keep up with trends in general camping, including shorter sessions and increased specialization. He also discusses how camps, long known as a setting for summer romances, are responding and recalibrating in response to the #Metoo movement.

  • #TrendingJewish 25: Life Without Screens

    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.

  • #TrendingJewish 24: The New American Judaism

    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.

  • #TrendingJewish 23: Forming Rabbis

    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.

  • #TrendingJewish 22: Leave Your Solution At The Door

    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.