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 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.