Art and Culture
Music is the soul's native language: a prayer, a divine ladder upon which we climb between the Earth and the Heavens. But music also reaches horizontally across our social fractures and dogmas and connects us one with the other. Just as it cuts the nonsense away from our hearts, music opens our ears so that we can listen to the subtle nuances and sacred whispers of the world around us. In every moment, music encourages us to ask ourselves: Can we hear the songs that are already being sung by all of creation?
Based on Joey Weisenberg's book (The Torah of Music) and his teaching at communities across the world, this course provides an opportunity to reflect together on the place of music in our Jewish lives—our relationships to God, each other, and ourselves. You'll be encouraged not only to discuss the texts, exploring 3000 years of music history, but also your own experiences of prayer and Jewish music.
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Bob Dylan revolutionized popular music by bringing the great questions that have driven religious and spiritual quests for millennia to the radio. The riddle at the heart of his 1965 song Like a Rolling Stone—“How does it feel / to be on your own / no direction home?”—affirmed the search for spiritual meaning that defined rock and roll for all who followed him.
While Dylan’s challenge to a generation of seekers is universal, it also resonates strongly with the continuing Jewish journey between home and exile in America. Dylan’s restlessness models how, even as Jews have felt more at home in America than perhaps any other country or kingdom in the past two thousand years outside of the Land of Israel, they have also wrestled with their individual and collective Jewish purpose in ways that intertwine with and influence not just rock and roll, but the American spirit as a whole.
Dylan’s career-long search for a “direction home” is one of the essential creative journeys of his era. It is deeply Jewish, deeply American, and still deeply unresolved.
Jon Adam Ross
People sitting around campfires telling stories: it's the most ancient of human behaviors. The tradition of that behavior is alive and well especially at summer camp. In cabins, at flagpoles, and even, yes around campfires, stories get told and retold. Similarly, Jewish tradition brings with it a long legacy of storytelling: the telling of Torah. These stories get told and retold, usually as part of religious services in houses of worship.
This course attempts to combine the human and Jewish traditions of telling and retelling stories by re-imagining the morality tales of the Torah as stories that could be told at camp and used as tools for a variety of teachable moments. You will learn four 'new' stories, each inspired by a passage from the Torah but retold for young, modern ears. And you will get to unpack the process of how these stories were told and interpreted, and apply your own voice to that process.
Perfect for use at camp and other educational settings! Great for educators of small children and people who use storytelling regularly in their lives.
This is a 4-session course.
Rabbi Sivan Mass
“One cannot understand Judaism as a culture without understanding secular Jewish culture, much as it cannot be understood without understanding its religious culture” (Yaakov Malkin). Judaism is and has always been a “pluralistic culture”, with Jewish cultures evolving to form sects and groups in Israel and the Diaspora.
In “Secular Jewish Culture”, we will examine the evolution of the modern Jewish identity and the cultural characteristics of the Jewish people in the modern era - central issues in secular Jewish philosophical works. We will delve into the link between humanism, Judaism and secularism, the evolution of the concept of God in Jewish culture and the meaning of pluralism in Judaism, as can be observed in a variety of writings and cultural artwork.
Facilitated by Rabbi Sivan Mass, Prof. Yaakov Malkin, and Rabbi Adam Chalom
How Do We Increase Peace in the World? This course looks to our sages to answer this important question. Sephardic Jewish textual wisdom speaks to the complex interactions between Jews and non-Jews today in Israel and around the world. Over the next three months, explore Jewish views on racism and intolerance through the perspective of Sephardic sages whose teachings you may never have encountered before. These rich and often overlooked traditions of Jews of Spain and Muslim countries offer a perspective on Jewish identity that is moderate, inclusive, and does not force its values on others. This course will address the proper treatment of other nations, rights of minorities, neighborly relationships, and respect for human beings. Draw on this wisdom, and your personal encounter with racism and intolerance to discuss larger themes of social-ethical values and humanity.
Study of Jewish culture often focuses too much on what the self-proclaimed experts think is important about Judaism. While we can count on rabbis, academics, and traditional teachers to help us contextualize and interpret Jewish experience, we cannot understand Judaism without asking what Jews themselves are actually experiencing.
Very often Jewish experience—the nurturing of ideas and emotions around faith, community, identity, and meaning--depends on culture from outside of tradition. Consider the massive impact of film, literature, art, music, television, and popular media and creativity on how Jewish identities have been shaped for the past century.
Leonard Cohen offers a compelling vision of how Jewish and popular culture can meet. Raised in a Jewishly engaged home in Montreal, he was a prominent poet and novelist for a decade before emerging in the late 1960’s as an acclaimed singer-songwriter. After many twists and turns in his career and his death in 2016, Cohen is more popular than ever, touring and recording continually.
There may be no contemporary musician who has engaged themes of the spirit in a more sophisticated, lasting way than Leonard Cohen. He combines deep Jewish knowledge, hipster iconoclasm, and years of study and practice in Zen Buddhism in songs and writing that bring ancient spiritual themes of divinity, suffering, enlightenment, and love to the landscape of pop.
This course explores Cohen’s perspectives on Spiritual Purpose, Worldly Conflict, and Resolution with the Divine, offering a voice of human faith, curiosity, empathy, and theology that not only entertains and inspires beyond any particular tradition, but also challenges and enriches Jewish practice and experience specifically.
The course is based on listening to and discussing a set of Leonard Cohen’s songs—with occasional poems or excerpts from interviews.
We will examine the complex bonds between physical, mental, and mystical spaces. We will look at how architecture and geography are used to create order out of chaos, separate the sacred and profane, define the boundaries of the individual and the collective self, and create a sense of meaning and purpose for individuals and communities.
Our core text will be the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel. From there, we will move to some of the better, as well as the lesser, known realms of the Bible, the Mishna, the Talmud and the Midrash to study stories, fantasies, and debates that relate to the junction of space, place, structure and meaning. We will visit ancient cities, mythological spaces, ruins, caves and long-withered gardens. We will supplement this study with works of art that will bring to the table insights and sensibilities and enrich the texture of our study-experience.
Dr. Nira Nechaliel
We customarily mark milestone events and important stages of our lives by holding ceremonies. The ceremony is a condensed and symbolic expression of personal and public ideas and moods and is conducted in festive and elevated spirits.
The ceremony allows both individuals and society to shape time, endowing it with personal, social and cultural significance. It is a way for people to gain a sense of control over time. The ceremonies we choose to hold and the forms these take allow us to express our cultural identity.
Throughout this course, we have chosen to discuss ceremonies that mark the circle of life – birth, coming of age, marriage and mourning. We will observe these ceremonies from a personal, social and cultural perspective.
The learning process will proceed with studying the Jewish origins of each ceremony, their respective structures, which have taken shape over the course of innumerable generations, and contemporary and relevant perspectives and the possibilities for reshaping our life cycle ceremonies.