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 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.

  • #TrendingJewish 21: Evolve: Groundbreaking Jewish Conversations

    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.

  • #TrendingJewish 20: Don’t be the Frog: Technology and Our Spiritual Lives

    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.

  • #TrendingJewish 19: Old School Reporting

    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.

  • #TrendingJewish 18: The Luxury of Not Having to Share

    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.

  • #TrendingJewish 17: Why Jewish Ethics Matters

    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?