At the center of the Institute are a wide array of courses offered in morning and afternoon sessions. Each course has a maximum of 20 students and is led by a teacher who is also an Institute participant, presenting material that she or he loves in an inclusive style that encourages everyone to participate. Choose from classes in traditional texts, Jewish politics, poetry, Jewish ethics, dance and singing, Judaism and world religions, and contemporary topics.
Extended Format courses meet during the regularly scheduled course time and the adjacent workshop time.
Sephardim have a rich, diverse musical heritage spanning several centuries, three continents, and dozens of cultures from Spain to Iran, from the Crimea to Arabia. Sephardic music is thriving in Israel today; however, Sephardic music is not commonly sung in America, except for a few notable performers, such as Ofra Haza (z”l) and a few notable melodies, such as Los Bilbilicos. This course will explore the riches of Oriental Jewish music in Ladino and Hebrew, new and old. We will learn music, musical styles, and liturgical versus secular pieces. We will also play melodic and percussive instruments and make new music. Expect lively interaction and participation.
Samuel Asher has done extensive work in reviving traditional Sephardic music as well as developing new music for Jewish liturgy. He has taught many classes and led several workshops on music, prayer, and interfaith dialog. Educated at the Eastman School of Music, Samuel has officiated as Cantor for Temple Beth David in Rochester, NY for the last 17 years, and was the first Artist in Residence for the Partnership program in Modi’in, Israel in 2005. Also comfortable with jazz, gospel, and folk music, Samuel lives in Rochester with his wife of 28 years; they have 3 grown children.
Kashrut, the corps of mitzvot on how and what we eat, is inescapable in Jewish life. It is simultaneously divisive, archaic, and central to Jewish identity and morality. Kashrut elevates our animal need for sustenance by connecting it with how we treat the animals that we eat. We will study Jewish sources across time about the theology, ethics, and sociology of meat-eating. Through these texts we will refine our ethical lens as we examine relevant topics in Masechet Hullin, the section of the Talmud dedicated to non-sacrificial slaughter.
Ellie Ash and Annie Bass are a hevruta born at the NHC Summer Institute. They have been studying Mishna Hullin by phone for the past two years. They are undergraduate students at Stanford and Cornell universities, respectively.
For those wanting to “cry freedom” to a Jewish audience, the d’var Torah is a key opportunity. But who hasn’t groaned through a predictable d’var Torah that hits an audience on the head with a self-righteous message while distorting or disregarding the text? We’ll learn how to balance moral clarity with nuance; how to engage and challenge the Torah text with love and respect; and how to meet and move an audience. Each participant will work independently on a d’var Torah, with the support of the group. Some will share their divrei Torah with an NHC audience at the end of the Institute.
Guy Izhak Austrian writes for the American Jewish World Service’s weekly Torah commentary, Dvar Tzedek, and has delivered divrei Torah in front of audiences as large as 2,000 people. Formerly a community organizer with the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs and Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, he is now a rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He lives with his life partner, Jill Jacobs, and their daughter Lior.
Mixed-heritage Jews are the present and future of the Jewish community. Gentiles are inextricably woven into our communities and personal heritages. Does this trend represent enrichment or watering-down? In the past as today, Jews have been committed to maintaining our distinctiveness, even as we adopted ideas and practices from neighboring cultures. How have Jews created, transformed, and deconstructed the boundaries between others and ourselves? Is there any such thing as half-Jewish? In search of new ways of understanding mixed heritage, conversion, and interfaith families, we will study a wide range of traditional, contemporary, autobiographical, theoretical, and ethnographic texts. We will share personal reflections on mixed ethnicity, faith, culture, and lifestyle.
Rebecca Ennen is the complicated child of a complicated Jewish-Catholic union. As a dialogue facilitator for Jewish Dialogue Group in Philadelphia, she helps Jews engage gracefully in thorny conversations. Rebecca is a 2008 and 2009-10 Yeshivat Hadar Fellow, where she studied traditional Jewish sources on peoplehood, conversion, and intermarriage. She co-created a daylong workshop for mixed heritage Jews, including children of intermarriage and converts, in March 2009.
In contemporary bioethics, some of the most contested and difficult questions concern the bodies of children. At what age should children have more freedom over their bodies and their medical care than parents or physicians? Is it ethical for parents to arrange for a child to donate blood marrow or participate in a biomedical experiment? At what age may a child, regardless of parental wishes, refuse chemotherapy? When, if ever, should parents refuse to have their children vaccinated? Who should decide about life-support interventions for newborns in extremis? Would it be right for children to be genetically designed or enhanced? Class participants will pore over Talmudic and medieval rabbinic law, as well as recent Orthodox, Conservative & Reform responsa that shed light on pediatric ethics. For questions not yet addressed by the rabbinate(s), we will try to chart the likely trajectories of Jewish pediatric ethics.
Hillel Gray is an Assistant Professor of Medicine and the Scholar of Bioethics and Jewish Thought at Emory Center for Ethics. He has a PhD in the History of Judaism at the University of Chicago. He is former policy director of the National Environmental Law Center and has served on the board of minyanim from both the left and right ends of Jewish life.
“Sixty Years of Israeli Poetry Between War and Peace” examines the deepest recesses of the Israeli psyche. From the elation of the victory of 1948 and the founding of the state sprang hope for peace and the realization that more wars will have to be fought and terrorism will have to end. We will follow three generations of soul-searching agonized poets who grapple with personal existence and the state’s existence through joy, hardship and perseverance. During the eighties and nineties, poetry of protest and dissent expressed exhaustion and despair because of nonstop cycles of violence and opposition to west bank occupation. We hope to read from the works of A.Z.Greenberg, Amichai, Ravikovitz, Alterman, Rubner, Sivan and Gilead. Special attention will be paid to universal war symbols and the applications of biblical motifs to modern Israel. Note: A special booklet is being prepared for the course.
Hanoch Guy grew up in Israel. He is a bilingual poet, Hebrew and English. His works have appeared in Genre, Poetry Newsletter, Tracks, The International Journal of Genocide studies, Visions International, and Poetica, from whom he won an award. The Mad Poets Society gave him an award in 2007. His recent works include both Hebrew poems and English poems. He has taught at the NHC Institute chai times.
Adam Gordon is a civil rights attorney at Fair Share Housing Center, a public interest law firm focused on providing affordable housing in New Jersey’s most desirable communities, and a fellow at NYU Law School focusing on federal land use and affordable housing policy. He also co-founded and is the editor-in-chief of The Next American City, a quarterly magazine about the future of cities and suburbs that the New York Times calls “a subtle plan to change the world.” He is a member of Kol Tzedek, a small Reconstructionist synagogue in Philadelphia.
D'raw Yikra - and paint too. Some of us may think we "can't draw"; others may be more confident in our skills but still "stuck" in other ways. We'll free ourselves from these constraints, create a safe space for creative experimentation and use a range of texts - from the ancient prophets to classic Yiddish literature - as jumping-off points for visual exercises. There are no rules about form or content - the goal is to have fun, make a mess, and expand your definition of what is possible!
Artist/filmmaker Luke Jaeger grew up in Brooklyn, NY and attended Yale University, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, and Massachusetts College of Art. He and his family now live in Western Massachusetts. His animated films have been shown in festivals and theaters worldwide.
In 2009, NYU Press published Torah Queeries, a groundbreaking set of essays on parshiyot hashavua (the sections of the Torah read each week) and Jewish holidays authored by gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and otherwise self-described “queer Jews.” In this course, we will read some of these essays side by side with more “traditional” interpretations of the same texts, and familiarize ourselves with the various methodologies employed by queer interpreters of Torah. Are these queer approaches equally or even more appealing and persuasive than some traditional interpretations? Or is this politically-motivated “eisegesis,” as some critics charge – “reading in” what the reader hopes to find, rather than “exegesis,” reading out what is “actually there”? The course will culminate, at the end of the week, with all class members writing (and presenting, if desired) a queer drash on a few verses, an episode, or a character from the Torah.
Diane Klein is a lawyer and law professor living in Berkeley, California, working in San Francisco and participating sporadically in Congregation Sha’ar Zahav. Some of her legal scholarship focuses on gender and queer theory, and she thinks of herself as a 'queer heterosexual.'
What are Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur all about? Is Rosh Hashanah simply a prelude to Yom Kippur, or does the beginning of a new year have a separate existence and meaning? Is Yom Kippur simply a time when we beat our breasts, atone for our sins, and hope for divine favor? And what are the spiritual implications of these questions? In this course we will explore, through study, discussion, and guided meditation, the themes of the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur liturgy, how their authors and later commentators understood these themes, and how these themes might be reflected in our own observance of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Our text will be the instructor’s brand new Machzor Eit Ratzon.
Joe Rosenstein is a founder and former chair of the NHC and of the NHC Institute. He is the author of Siddur Eit Ratzon (www.newsiddur.org) and Machzor Eit Ratzon, and a member of the Highland Park (NJ) Minyan. In real life, he is a professor of mathematics at Rutgers University whose focus is K-12 mathematics education. He and his wife Judy are blessed with five daughters, three sons-in-law, and three grandchildren.
The biblical Song of Songs is a vivid and sensual book that challenges ancient boundaries and defies traditional constraints. The interpretive tradition around the Song of Songs has enabled the book to be a mainstay of Jewish tradition for centuries. In these four sessions, incorporating a rich array of sources, we will explore the Song of Songs in its biblical context; in classical rabbinic interpretations; in the Jewish mystical tradition; and in present-day readings.
Rabbi Jonah Chanan Steinberg, PhD. is an Associate Dean of the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College. Jonah has received the New Scholar Award from the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. He is a Canadian who grew up in Vienna, Austria - the best thing about which was Italy.
Perhaps one of the most under-appreciated 20th century Jewish thinkers, R. Yitzhak Hutner served as the rosh yeshiva (dean) of Yeshivas Chayim Berlin. His sermons, artfully crafted in a style created in the classical Lithuanian yeshivot, consider such questions as the religious meaning of debate, different models of relationship, and the sacrality of human beings. We will study these sermons, appreciating not only their artistry, but also considering the possibly radical messages contained in such an unexpected place.
Miriam-Simma Walfish teaches Talmud at Yeshivat Hadar and at the Abraham Joshua Heschel High School in New York. A graduate of the Pardes Educators’ Program, through which she studied in the Advanced Talmud track at Pardes and received an M.A. in Jewish Education at Hebrew University, she has also studied at Drisha, the Northwoods Kollel, and Midreshet Ein ha-Netziv. She has taught in a variety of settings, including the Hadar Beit Midrash, the Northwoods Kollel, and here at the Havurah Institute.
The biblical account of the Exodus from Egypt is both our freedom-document and a foundation-story for Jewish teaching, tradition, and consciousness. Together, we will examine the nature of that account and also touch upon questions concerning its historicity. Then we will examine interesting ways in which Hasidic teachers viewed and even retold the Exodus account. Some of their comments range beyond a literal understanding to a more symbolic grasp of the Exodus-tradition which might help us to clarify its meaning in our lives today.
Aryeh Wineman, rabbi and author, who has taught several courses at the Havurah Institute over the years, is engaged in research and writing in the areas of Hebrew literature and Jewish mysticism.
Jewish poets are calling out to the universe: Listen up, universe! Listen up, Torah! Listen up, politicians! Join us for a series of poetry “laboratories,” where our instruments will be the written word and the collective neshama (soul) of the Jewish people. Using poetic techniques developed by our rabbinic and surrealist fore-folk, we will engage in: midrash (rabbinic story development), prayer composition, protest poetry, and the subverting of oppressive texts. Each laboratory will include a reading of poetic/Jewish source materials, individual and communal writing activities, and workshop. No previous poetic experience required, just a desire to pray with your pen!
Joshua Bolton is a rabbinical student at Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote, PA. He is also a graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst Program for Writers and Poets, from which he received an MFA in Poetry. Josh established the Hillel student organization at the University of the Arts in downtown Philadelphia.
Natalie Lyalin is the author of Pink & Hot Pink Habitat (Coconut Books, 2009). She received her MFA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst Program for Writers and Poets. Natalie is the co-editor of GlitterPony magazine, an online poetry journal, and co-edits Agnes Fox Press, an independent poetry collective. She has taught Freshman Composition and Creative Writing at Temple University and University of the Arts.
How do we elevate our prayer experience and that of our communities? How do we best use the natural gifts of our voice, body, and heart toward that end? Together, we will explore central Jewish approaches, in texts from the Talmud to Chasidism to contemporary thinkers. We will also hone our use of voice, tone, and words to facilitate a prayer experience of clear, directed intention. Topics include defining our service leading goals, balancing kevah with kavanah (structure with intentionality), skillful use of and strengthening of the voice, and raising up others’ prayers. English translations provided, but text will be considered in the original Hebrew.
Julia Appel returns from a year in Jerusalem to enter her final year at Hebrew College Rabbinical School this autumn, where she develops her prayer leading skills with Rabbi Ebn Leader. She has prayed and led services with havurot, shabbatonim, and congregations across the Northeast and in Jerusalem. This is her seventh Havurah Institute.
Israel’s film industry is recognized as one of the best, most productive and diverse today. The country’s talented directors, producers and writers are leaders in the international cinema scene. Quite willing to turn the camera onto their own lives and society, these artists are free to express themselves without censorship or government limits. Using excerpts from contemporary Israeli films, we will explore the themes, issues and ideas in the focus of Israeli filmmakers today. We will also examine the question of whether or not there is a distinctly “Israeli style” in the country’s cinema and how that style might reflect realities of life in Israel today.
Susan Barocas is a filmmaker and writer who currently directs DC’s Washington Jewish Film Festival, one of the leading fests of the nearly 150 Jewish film festivals around the world each year. A multi-year Institute participant, she directed the Kids Camp for three years and loves attending with her son, Sam, who is finally old enough for the Teen Program.
This course aims to build and deepen participants’ connection to Yiddish and Yiddish folk culture through learning and singing Yiddish songs from various traditions. Each day we will share stories and learn songs ranging from children's lullabies to the Partisan Hymn. No prior familiarity with Yiddish or Yiddish folksong will be assumed. Participants who do have prior familiarity will have opportunity to share favorites from their collections. Recording devices are welcome, as are musical instruments.
Charley Beller is a Ph.D. candidate in Cognitive Science at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD. He is an avid musician and an enthusiastic Yiddishist. He has attended many past NHC Institutes and is excited to be offering a course for the first time.
We will learn several Israeli folk dances and weave movement lessons in between them to heighten our ability and enjoyment of dancing. The movement lessons will focus on Balance, Alignment, Strength and Body Mechanics. We will learn dances with the theme of freedom such as: D'ror Yikra, Manginat Ha D'ror, and At Cheruti. This class is intended for anyone who wants a greater appreciation of movement possibilities; movement freedom; and is for all ages - especially for those who have not danced in a while.
Walli Chefitz has attended almost all Institutes and was co-chair in 1991. She is an occupational therapist and teaches Bones for Life® which is the basis of the lessons and has taught Israeli Dance. This course will combine two of her greatest interests, movement and Israeli dance.
What do Samson, the Golem of Prague, Superman and The Thing have in common? How have medieval illustrated manuscripts influenced the creation of modern-day haggadot and megillot? Is a comic book an appropriate medium for discussing the Holocaust? If you could have any one super-power, what would it be? These questions and more, as we explore this topic through hevruta text study, group discussion, art, and the movies. All Hebrew texts will include English translations.
Brian Fink, back for his 5th Institute, is a student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. He recently spent a year in Israel, studying at Pardes and Hebrew University. He loves to talk about Reconstructionism, social justice (especially Avodah and the American Jewish World Service), and archaeology. Like Superman, he someday hopes to be able to fly.
The Jewish concept of tzniut (modesty or humility) is most familiar to us as the basis for guidelines for modest dress, but it also concerns norms about appropriate behavior and boundaries. Tzniut is highly relevant to contemporary society—especially in an age when our culture increasingly represents both women and men in a highly sexualized manner and constantly blurs the boundaries between the public and the private. Are the laws of tzniut inherently oppressive? Is there room to engage authentically with the concept of modesty in a liberal context? We will study traditional and non-traditional texts and work together through them to create our own communal definitions of modesty.
When she is not soaking up the learning at Institute, Marisa Harford is the director of the New Visions - Hunter College Urban Teacher Residency, an alternative certification program for teachers in New York City. She loves grappling with Jewish texts in chevruta, singing, cooking, and writing.
What does it mean to live in a place as a Jew? How does that place, or our choice of it, affect our relationship with God—whether through the place itself or the people we encounter there? What obligations do we have to that place and those people? And what does place mean in a globalized world? In this course, we will examine concepts of space and place in secular and Jewish thought, and we will work to construct a theology of place that helps us to define our spheres of obligation to the world around us.
Jill Jacobs is the author of There Shall Be No Needy: Pursuing Social Justice through Jewish Law and Tradition (Jewish Lights 2009) and the Rabbi-in-Residence of Jewish Funds for Justice. She is currently at work on a book about the theology of place as a framework for effective social justice work, which she began while on sabbatical as a Jerusalem Fellow at the Mandel Leadership Institute. She lives in New York with her husband, Guy Austrian, and their daughter Lior.
'R. Simeon ben Lakish said: The Torah given to Moses was written with black fire upon white fire…(JT, Shel. 6:1, 49d). How did the actual text of the Torah, the Black Fire, get to be the way it is today? The Talmud cites passages from scripture that don’t exist in our version; the sages acknowledge that they sometimes changed the text of the “original” Torah. We will explore the content and the physical text of the Torah, from both traditional and higher-critical perspectives. Content topics include the documentary hypothesis (J,E,P and D), “typos,” tikkun soferim (changes introduced by the sages), vocalization, cantillation and variant texts (e.g. the Samaritan and Karaite Torahs). We’ll look at the physical text and delve into the crowned Assyrian “font,” the significance of the many different kinds of blank spaces, the outsized or broken or upside-down letters, the strange dots. We’ll discuss: What is the spiritual meaning of all of these things to us?
Mosh is a past Chair of the National Havurah Committee.
To what extent are we expected to care about other people’s actions? To what extent am I responsible for actions I deem problematic when committed by others? In this course, we will study the Rabbinic law of lifnei iver, which prohibits people from—at least in certain circumstances—aiding others in transgression. As we follow the twists and turns in the debates about the extent of this law, we will ask ourselves the question: what is gained and what is lost when we take responsibility for others’ actions?
Micha’el Rosenberg is the rabbi of the Fort Tryon Jewish Center, an independent egalitarian synagogue in the Washington Heights section of New York City. A doctoral candidate in Talmud and Rabbinic Literature at JTS, he received his rabbinical ordination from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel following his studies at Yeshiva Ma’aleh Gilboa. He has taught Bible, Tamud, and halakhah in a variety of settings, including Drisha, JTS, the Northwoods Kollel, and Yeshivat Hadar.
What happens to freedom and community in the proliferation of technology and media? This course will begin with consideration of the simple (“plain”) living practiced within the “peace churches” of the Amish, Mennonites, Brethren and conservative Quakers. We will relate such Christian choices to those of both insular and integrated Jewish communities, especially in the decision-making context of musar (ethical discipline). Finally, we will listen to how “freedom calls” in the traditional observance of Shabbat, as we consider the individual and communal choices facing us as 21st century Jews. Come prepared to combine midrash (study, teaching) with ma’aseh (practical action).
Regina Sandler-Phillips grew up in contact with the insular Jewish communities of Monsey, New York, which informed a number of her subsequent life choices. She is the founding rabbi of Kehillat Tikvah, a trans-denominational Jewish “Community of Hope” in Jackson Heights, Queens and also serves as a hospice bereavement chaplain in her home borough of Brooklyn. Regina believes that we teach what we most need to learn, and has done both at 10 previous NHC Summer Institutes.
We will examine selected midrash from The Mechilta, Midrash Rabbah, and Midrash Tanchuma. We will examine how they work and how they generate new stories from biblical verses. Then we will compose our own ‘creative midrash’ using the same techniques observed in the classical texts. (If possible, students will benefit from hevruta study outside class.)
Devorah Schoenfeld is the Ike Weiner Chair of Judaic Studies at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and has previously taught at University of California, Davis and at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem. Her doctorate is in medieval Jewish and Christian biblical interpretation, and she is currently writing a book on the history of the literal sense of scripture.
Many thousands of Jews are practicing a religion into which they were not born. We'll look at some of the classical sources on conversion, some of the contemporary issues around conversion in the U.S., Israel and elsewhere, and discuss what the future might hold for this issue in the Jewish community.
Rabbi Brent Chaim Spodek lives in Beacon New York with his wife Alison and their daughter Noa. When he isn't hiking or inexpertly playing the drum, he is the Rabbi in Residence at American Jewish World Service, where he writes, teaches and oversees a program to educate rabbis about human rights issues in the Global South.