Courses contemporary issues

AM-02 – We Are What We Eat… and How We Eat: Food Justice in Halakhah and Aggadah

Aryeh Bernstein

In this course, we will study and discuss halakhic (legal) and aggadic (narrative and philosophical) texts addressing various questions of responsible and sustainable approaches to eating, such as:  What attitudes are we called to bring forth when we eat animals and animal products?  How do we distribute limited resources?  Who owns water and who gets access to it? During the first session, on Tisha B’Av, we will look at images of starvation in the poetic literature of Eicha (Lamentations) and kinnot (elegies) and will consider fasting as an exercise in radical empathy with the experience of starvation.

Photo of Aryeh Bernstein Aryeh Bernstein, a Chicago native and Jerusalem resident, translates for the Koren-Steinsaltz English Talmud edition and is an Editor of  He has studied at Columbia, JTS, YU, YCT, and Yeshivat Maale Gilboa, and taught at Yeshivat Hadar, Drisha, Yeshivat Talpiot, the Hartman High School, Camp Ramah in WI, and elsewhere.  He has led High Holiday services at Kehilat Hadar for 11 years.  And he released a hip-hop album, called A Roomful of Ottomans.

AM-03 – Facing History: An Intergenerational Jewish Conversation

Shahar Decassares Colt

How do identities affect one’s perspective? How is honoring individual identity a matter of social justice? Generations after the Holocaust, questions about human nature, personal and group identity, behavior, bias and social boundaries resonate deeply today. We will use selections from Facing History and Ourselves curriculum, which explores the Holocaust and other historical moments as case studies in human behavior, to experience the relevance of these questions across age groups. Using traditional Jewish sources and contemporary case studies for comparison,  we will take advantage of the NHC’s intergenerational community to listen to the wisdom of all ages and support each other in asking hard questions about how these themes play out in our lives today.

Photo of Shahar Decassares Colt Shahar Colt, a third year rabbinical student at Hebrew College, has been attending the Institute for over ten years. She has taught middle and high school students from the Facing History and Ourselves Curriculum in Jewish and secular school contexts, as well as studying it as part of her Master’s in Education program.  She recently founded the Teen Beit Midrash, a cross-community collaborative Jewish learning program for teens, and leads adult learning programs for a Boston area religious school.

AM-09 – Three Legs or One Foot: Rebalancing Our Jewish Communities

Regina Sandler-Phillips

We are taught that the world stands on a tripod of study, worship, and caring actions.  When our communities run on the two legs of study and worship, the third leg of caring is often shortened.  Yet the third leg is the only one that can support us “on one foot.”  This week, as we stop to mourn our brokenness, we’ll seek the comfort of a new equilibrium that integrates kindness and justice.  We’ll explore familiar junctures in the regular rhythms of learning and prayer that can be leveraged as “caring points” to build more balanced and inclusive communities.

Photo of Regina Sandler-Phillips Rabbi Regina Sandler-Phillips created WAYS OF PEACE Community Resources in Brooklyn, NY, so that she could do more while standing on one foot.  Her work has been featured in The New York Times, The Jewish Daily Forward, Tablet Magazine, and elsewhere.  On two legs, Regina enjoys long walks, dancing, singing and birding, with gratitude for her mobility while it lasts.  She co-coordinates electronic caring notifications to help keep the NHC balanced throughout the year.

AM-10 – Who are the Jews? Contemporary Sociology of American Jews

Talya Weisbard Shalem

This course will dive into the vast world of current surveys of American Jews, from Pew to the National Jewish Population Surveys. We will contextualize these studies by looking at the broader world of current American religious trends. We will compare quantitative and qualitative types of analyses, examining an in-depth analysis of individual Jewish journeys by Bethamie Horowitz. We will look closely at data on intermarriage and children’s upbringing, using studies from and the Jewish Outreach Institute.

We will explore how definitions of who is a Jew, and the choice of which survey questions to ask, can massively shape outcomes and conclusions. At the end of this course, you will know how to read handwringing articles in the Jewish press with a hermeneutic of suspicion, and you will be well-informed for engaging in contemporary debates about the future of the community and where to best direct energy and funding.

Photo of Talya Weisbard Shalem Talya grew up attending the Institute with the rest of the Weisbards.  She is a Reconstructionist Rabbi and active member of Havurat Shalom in Somerville.  She has taught at several prior Institutes including in Kids Camp, is a former NHC Board member, and serves on the Fellows Committee. Her day job for the past four years has been with the US Census Bureau, where she currently supervises employees collecting data for many important surveys, including the American Community Survey, and the monthly unemployment statistics (CPS).  Her bachelor’s degree from Harvard is in Anthropology, and she has always loved interviewing people, crunching numbers, and drawing conclusions.

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-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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