Courses arts and literature

AM-01 – Towards a New Jewish Art!

Zoe Cohen

Jewish tradition prohibits making graven images.  This prohibition may have prevented a full blossoming of Jewish art besides ritual objects and documents. But isn’t God present in every beautiful thing on the planet?  What would it look like for us to go back and reclaim symbols and imagery for a new Jewish art? In this course, participants will develop a new Jewish iconography, based on our research into historical Jewish art, as well as reflection on what images and symbols communicate our current understanding of our own Jewishness.

Through discussion, visual brainstorming, self-reflection, and visual research, collaboratively we will create a large visual mixed media art piece portraying both historical and contemporary Jewish life and spirituality. The artwork will be on display for the community; each participant will be able to take home a section of the final product at the conclusion of the Institute.

Photo of Zoe Cohen Zoë Cohen has been teaching visual art to children and adults for almost 15 years.  She encourages her students to make their own connections with the material and projects and takes inspiration from seeing her students’ minds unfold in the process. As a visual artist, Zoë works conceptually in a wide range of materials and modalities, creating drawings, sculptures, installations, and public participatory projects. She creates images and events that address contemporary concerns and issues, and resonate with the thousands of years of our cultural heritage.  

AM-06 – Methodologies in Midrash-Making: Poetry, Movement, Bibliodrama, and Theater of the Oppressed

Bronwen Emilia Mullen

The rabbis used various methodologies to generate midrashim from Biblical exegesis. Participants will continue in these traditions via different creative media. From rewriting verses and individual words to playing word-association with Hebrew roots, we will use bibliodrama to interpret medieval commentaries, poetry, and the spoken word.  We will utilize the methods of Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed to explore ways in which the themes of questioning, struggling, and journeying reflect and make an imprint on the challenges  of our world and our times.

Photo of Bronwen Emilia Mullen

Bronwen Mullin is a playwright, composer, educator and rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. She earned her B.A. at Sarah Lawrence College (2006) in Theater and Religious Studies and was Arts Fellow 2008-2011 in Musical Theater Composition at the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education. Bronwen is the co-founder of MetaPhys-Ed, a gymnasium for the multi-media exegesis of Jewish texts with performance artist/director Jesse Freedman.



AM-13 – Rebuilding through Song: Making the Zemirot our Own

Jonathan D. Zimet

The Zemirot are our people’s folk music, expressing the themes of our tradition and Jewish experience.  They rest on allusions and inside secrets, which we will unlock and explore.  We will also look at the authors’ social circumstances that resemble those of our contemporary folk artists, examine the ways we can embrace these poems even if we do not agree with all their themes (such as rebuilding the Temple), sample the wide variety of melodies, and discuss how these songs can enhance our Shabbat meals and bring people together.

Photo of Jonathan D. Zimet

After avocationally doing diverse celebrations and programs and leading a community Jewish chorus, lawyer Jonathan Zimet received ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion. He offers programs especially in zemirot, Shir Hashirim, and nusach for lay people, and is currently writing an English commentary, “Zemirot are for Everyone:  An Invitation to the Shabbat meal and the songs that adorn it.”



PM-01 – Modern Prophets in Action: Biblical Street Theater

Eli Kaplan-Wildmann

Prophets stood at the city gate and spoke about injustice and hypocrisy, destruction and hope.  They often used theatrical tricks such as props or audience interaction.  In this course we will explore theatrical storytelling and use our new skills to create modern interpretations of biblical prophecies: if you were standing at a modern city gate, such as an airport, what would you tell the world to fix? The class will be divided into groups;  each will choose a prophecy and use it to make an exciting, colorful, relevant call to action that will be performed as street theater.

if you were standing at a modern city gate, such as an airport, what would you tell the world to fix?

Photo of Eli Kaplan-Wildmann

Eli Kaplan-Wildmann is a designer based in Jerusalem.  He has worked extensively on set design for television, theater and events, with projects for NBC, MTV, ESPN, George Tsypin, Beowulf Boritt and the Toy Fair, and various off-off-Broadway theaters.  The experimental side of things is far more interesting  –  he designed puppetry for a show about mermaids that was performed on a barge; a Liz Swados musical about the Dominican Republic’s Jews; and more.

The NHC Summer Institute’s Poretsky Artists-in-Residence program was launched and has been supported for two decades by the Rita Poretsky Foundation. In appreciation of its importance to the Summer Institute and the importance of the arts in Jewish life, it will be sustained in 2014 and going forward as the Timbrel Artist-in-Residence program by the Timbrel Fund, through the generosity of Elaine Reuben.



PM-03 – Shmita! Designing a Year of Radical Cooperation, Economic Justice, and Ecological Sustainability

Laura Bellows

What can the Torah’s ancient Shmita practice teach us today?  This Tisha B’Av begins the next High Holiday season and, with it, the once-every-seventh-year radical rest of the sabbatical cycle.  Through collage, text motifs, and creative design, this timely course will explore contemporary perspectives on three of Shmita’s core practices: letting the land rest, forgiving debt, and resource sharing.  Participants will use a collaborative art process and resources from The Shmita Project to develop a Havurahnik’s Guide to Shmita Practice for community use in 5775 / 2014-2015.

Photo of Laura Bellows Laura Bellows is a life-long havurahnik and artist, and is now entering her third year of rabbinical school at Hebrew College in Boston.  Most recently Laura served six years designing and directing experiential Jewish environmental education programs for communities across the country through the Teva Learning Alliance.  She enjoys praying outdoors and playing at the intersection of ecology, Judaism and justice.

PM-04 – Praying With Song: Hasidic Spiritual Melodies And Our Spiritual Selves

Robert Cohen

We’ll study Hasidic spiritual melodies (niggunim) in Hasidic philosophy and spiritual practice and explore how they — and contemporary, ‘quasi-Hasidic’ melodies — can enrich our own spiritual practice. We’ll learn melodies from various Hasidic traditions and sing some of them; learn and sing contemporary spiritual melodies; and perhaps touch on the tradition of borrowing melodies for prayer — experimenting, if we have time, with our own, new shidduchim (matches) of melody with traditional or original prayers.

Photo of Robert Cohen Robert Cohen has produced and hosted over 100 Jewish radio programs, including “One People, Many Voices:  American-Jewish Music Comes of Age” on NPR.  He has pursued Graduate Education at JTS, where he created the first Jewish music curriculum, written on Jewish music for magazines and newspapers, edited all music (and Hasidic rebbe) articles for the YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, and produced  Open the Gates! New American-Jewish Music for Prayer (compilation CD).

PM-07 – Sh’viti ‘Nachamu’: An Artful Journey from Mourning to Comfort

Jennifer Judelsohn

Judaism teaches that times of deep loss needn’t last forever and can lead to rebuilding and renewal. The period between Tisha b’Av and Shabbat Nachamu provides a metaphor and a map to express  our individual stories of the journey from loss to wholeness, from mourning to healing, from despair to rejoicing. Traditional texts of Tisha b’Av and Shabbat Nachamu will inform us as we write our own personal narratives of our journeys. Using the form of a circle (mandala), we will draw the light of renewal from the darkness of loss.  Through chevruta text study, discussion, journaling, meditation, and hands-on art-making, participants will explore the concepts of loss and renewal. By the end of the class, each of us will have created an illuminated manuscript reflecting our personal journey.

Photo of Jennifer Judelsohn

Jennifer Judelsohn is an artist, psychotherapist, and educator and author/illustrator of the book Songs of Creation: Meditations on the Sacred Hebrew Alphabet. Her artwork, including acrylic paintings, Prismacolor drawings, and Giclee prints,  has been exhibited in numerous solo and group shows and is in private collections worldwide. Jennifer has presented workshops, seminars, and classes on Judaism, spirituality, and other topics at conferences nationally and internationally. She was an Artist-in-Residence at the 2013 NHC Summer Institute.



PM-08 – Our Lives are in our Songs: Yiddish Voices Moving us Forward!

Susan Pearl Leviton

Using Yiddish song as a roadmap, we’ll travel through social justice activism, yearning for actual and abstract homelands, the world of women’s voices,  the experiences of dreams and realities of America, and an examination of our culture through foodways.  Shake off any images you have of dusty old chestnuts (the Yiddish ‘top ten’) and prepare to encounter songs of the aguna and domestic violence, developing class struggle among children and I. B. Singer’s magical literature as interpreted by his illustrators.  Translations and archival images will be provided.

Photo of Susan Pearl Leviton

Susan Leviton’s joyful embrace of Yiddish arts is matched by her enthusiasm in sharing.  As an interpreter of song, and one of few who are reviving women’s a cappella singing today, she dips into a treasure trove and weaves programs of unexpected beauty.  Her naturally clear instrument and background in theatrical (Sign) interpreting brings story-telling magic to her teaching.



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