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!
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.
AM-02 – We Are What We Eat… and How We Eat: Food Justice in Halakhah and Aggadah
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.
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.
AM-04 – Cracking the Sefer Barrier: Breaking into Four Primary Jewish Texts
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.
AM-05 – What did we Lose When we Lost the Temple?
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.
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.
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-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.
AM-09 – Three Legs or One Foot: Rebalancing Our Jewish Communities
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.
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 InterfaithFamily.com 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.
AM-11 – Yitgadal v’Yitkadash: Jewish Rituals of Grief and Mourning from Aninut (Mourning) to Yahrzeit (Annual Remembrance)
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.
AM-12 – Text and Interpretation: A Series of Journeys through Time
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.
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.
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.”