Morning Courses

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, clinic presenting material that she or he loves in an inclusive style that encourages everyone to participate. Choose from classes in traditional texts, rheumatologist Jewish politics, approved 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.

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-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-04 – Cracking the Sefer Barrier: Breaking into Four Primary Jewish Texts

Ellen Frankel

Jewish literacy has an extremely high barrier to entry. Classic texts are written in languages many readers don’t understand, and meanings are often hidden by lots of insider code.

This course will provide an introduction to four ancient classics in the Jewish library: the Hebrew Bible, the prayer book, the Talmud, and the Midrash. Each of them constitutes mini-libraries in their own right. We will begin by talking about how literary texts work, looking at genres, various methods of interpretation, assumptions brought to the text by readers, and the context of the Ancient Near East.  We will look at selected texts in English, unriddle their secret codes, and learn how best to hear their ancient voices with modern ears.

Photo of Ellen Frankel After serving for many years as Editor-in-Chief of the Jewish Publication Society, Ellen now works as a freelance writer, librettist, editor, and community volunteer. She is the author of The Classic Tales, The Five Books of Miriam, and The JPS Illustrated Children’s Bible; as well as several librettos, including an opera, Slaying the Dragon, with composer Michael Ching. She has been coming to the Institute, off and on, since 1980.

AM-05 – What did we Lose When we Lost the Temple?

Avi Garelick

The Temple is a central element of our learning and liturgy, not only on Tisha B’Av, but also at weddings and even at funerals. The echo of lament and yearning for this ruin can seem very strange, remote from both our experience and our values. In fact, the rabbis of the Talmud faced a similar disconnect. They were apparently fascinated with the Temple, devoting scrupulous attention to the details of its daily existence. In this class we too will attempt to make the Temple less remote. What did it feel like to be there?  Was that feeling different on Erev Pesach compared to regular Tuesdays? What did it smell and sound like? While involving ourselves with in-depth study of the rabbinic Temple imagination, we will also try to determine why this utopian nostalgia was of such value to the rabbis, and what it can offer us today.

Photo of Avi Garelick Avi Garelick teaches Oral Torah at Pre-Collegiate Learning Center of New Jersey and is an editor in chief at, a monthly magazine of essays both conceptual and timely. He likes to teach in ways that provoke participation and to guide students  into  conversation with each other.

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-07 – Jewish Spiritual Direction

Sharon Pearl

Jewish Spiritual Direction has a rich history and is referenced in Pirke Avot  1:6, which states, “Make for yourself a teacher and acquire for yourself a friend.”  Our sages suggest that this “friend” is one who serves as a spiritual guide. Viewing your joys and struggles from a spiritual perspective is incredibly empowering.  In this class you will experience Jewish Spiritual Direction,  a contemplative practice that will support your connection and understanding of the Holy in your everyday activities and in the extraordinary events of your life. You will have opportunities for deep listening to spiritual narratives, both your own and those of other participants, for the purpose of understanding, exploring and deepening God’s role in your life.

Photo of Sharon Pearl Sharon K. Pearl provides individual and group spiritual direction. A veteran teacher of adult education at area synagogues, Jewish service organizations, Sharon  is a lay leader at P’nai Or Philadelphia.  Sharon leads enriching workshops that support participants’ spiritual growth.  She is an ordained Mashpiah Ruchanit (Spiritual Director), having studied in a three year mentorship with Sandra B. Cohen, DSW, and is a member of Spiritual Directors International.  This is her first Institute.

AM-08 – The Constant Prayer of the Soul: Rav Kook’s Ecstatic Vision of Prayer

Louis A. Rieser

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook articulated an expansive and poetic vision of prayer.  He describes prayer as a dynamic force that flows from heaven and acts through the soul in order to affect the cosmos.  We will study and discuss passages from his prayerbook commentary, Olat R’ayah, on the purpose and action of prayer.  Rav Kook’s notions of prayer will serve as background to a discussion of our own experience of and desires in prayer.

Photo of Louis A. Rieser Writer and teacher, Louis Rieser, is the author of The Hillel Narratives. His writings are found in a variety of journals, as well as online in the blog, NuViewTalmud, and on the website, Jewish Values Online. Louis regularly teaches at synagogues and in the Melton Program in Palm Beach County, among other venues. He is the Rabbi Emeritus of Etz Hayim Synagogue in Derry, NH and is married to Connie Rieser, a nutritionist in private practice.

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.

AM-11 – Yitgadal v’Yitkadash: Jewish Rituals of Grief and Mourning from Aninut (Mourning) to Yahrzeit (Annual Remembrance)

David Stearman

The journey from the intense mourning of Tisha B’Av to the comfort of Shabbat Nachamu reminds us not only of the Jewish people’s communal loss of the Temple, but also of our own personal experiences of loss. In times of loss, particularly the deaths of loved ones, each of us goes through a process of grief, mourning, and, ultimately, healing.

We will explore how the Jewish rituals of mourning track or reflect Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief—and how they differ.  Some of these rituals are derived from Halakha (mitzvot); others are traditions (minhag). Some we observe strictly; others we put our own spin on. We will look at these rituals through text study and sharing of personal experiences, whether as mourner or comforter, and across variations in observance. Together, we will seek  both a better understanding of these rituals and a greater appreciation for how they support us.

Photo of David Stearman David Stearman grew up in a Conservative Jewish home and had a traditional Bar Mitzvah. Since then he has gone through periods of atheism and total non-observance, dabbled in Reform Judaism, learned to keep kosher, and encountered Orthodox and Chasidic Judaism. In the past year he has lost both parents, so he has been embedded deeply and personally in the Jewish rituals of mourning. Although he remains unaffiliated, he davens and says Kaddish for his parents at the local Chabad.

AM-12 – Text and Interpretation: A Series of Journeys through Time

Aryeh Wineman

A tradition cannot be grasped simply by reading its sacred text, and certainly Jewish tradition requires, along with the Torah-text, serious understanding of the ongoing interpretation, which often transforms and gives new life to the text itself.  That process of interpretation is an exciting story, often a process of highly creative, even radical, understanding of the literal text itself.  We will examine, each day, a different kind of textual passage(s) from the Torah along with some representative and sometimes startling re-readings of the same passage. We will look at passages concerning law and society, cultic practices, the creation of light, and revelation.

Photo of Aryeh Wineman Aryeh Wineman has taught at several Havurah Institutes over the years, as well as having taught at an Israeli youth-village and later at SUNY-Albany, and having served as a congregational rabbi. He has written various studies in the areas of Hebrew literature and Jewish mysticism, including The Hasidic Parable: An Anthology with Commentary and Ethical Tales from the Kabbalah.

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.”


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