IISHJ Webinars

Drunk History Purim 2021

“A person must drink until they cannot tell the difference [ad lo yada] between ‘Cursed be Haman’ and ‘Blessed be Mordechai”
– some ancient rabbi

Secular Synagogue’s Rabbi Denise Handlarski and the IISHJ’s Dean for North America Rabbi Adam Chalom present Drunk History – Purim Edition.

Laughs, music, learning and fun. And when we say adults only, we mean adults only: sex, drinking, violence, critical literary theory – the works!

  • Learning about the REAL Purim story, not the Rated G version taught in Sunday Schools
  • Reliving the ancient debate: should the book of Esther be in the Bible? {spoiler alert: it is}
  • How does the religious holiday of Purim encourage breaking boundaries on gender, respect for authority, even intermarriage?
  • Tipsy Rabbis Handlarski and Chalom attempt a Rap Battle
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Modern Exodus: What Leaving Hasidism Can Teach Us About Judaism

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Those who exit a religion—particularly one they were born and raised in—often find themselves at sea in their efforts to transition to life beyond their community. Sociologist Schneur Zalman Newfield, who went through this process himself, has interviewed dozens of ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jews who left their communities. Why did they leave? How do they make sense of their personal Exodus, and what do they think of their religious upbringing now? What have they lost, and what remains with them, in their new lives?

Newfield has found that “exiters” experience both a sense of independence and a persistent connection with their roots. And their experience offers important lessons for Jews of all backgrounds, or for anyone interested in religious tradition in the modern world. Newfield joins IISHJ Dean for North America Rabbi Adam Chalom for a stimulating conversation on his work.

Schneur Zalman Newfield grew up in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, in the heart of the ultra-Orthodox Lubavitch Jewish community. In his early twenties he left this community, seeking out secular education and a broader life. Today Newfield is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Borough of Manhattan Community College (CUNY) and the author of _Degrees of Separation: Identity Formation While Leaving Ultra-Orthodox Judaism_ (Temple University Press). He is also a podcast host with the New Books Network Jewish Studies channel, interviewing scholars of Jewish and religious studies. Visit him online at ZalmanNewfield.com

"Blessed Are You, World" - Jewish Poetry With Humanist Spirit - Herbert Levine

How do secular Jews express gratitude, praise or wonder, if not to a god then to the universe in which we live?

Poet Herb Levine, the author of several works on the intersection of spirituality, religion and poetry, explores these boundaries and possibilities in his Words for Blessing the World (2017) and the forthcoming An Added Soul (2020). In Levine’s Hebrew and English verse, we encounter beauty, mortality and inspiration. Levine joined IISHJ Dean for North America Rabbi Adam Chalom for a stimulating reading and discussion of several of his poems.

Herbert Levine is the author of two books of bi-lingual poetry, Words for Blessing the World (2017) and An Added Soul: Poems for a New Old Religion (2020). Herb was educated at Harvard and Princeton, where he received a Ph.D. in English Literature. Before turning to writing poetry, he was an English professor and also directed non-profit organizations, working on issues of youth violence, diversity and homelessness policy.

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The A to Z of Intermarriage

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Most Jewish communities continue to cite intermarriage as the most serious threat to Jewish continuity. The A–Z of Intermarriage reveals that intermarriage can be a force for good in the lives of Jewish families and communities.

Written by Rabbi Denise Handlarski, an intermarried rabbi, The A–Z of Intermarriage is part story, part strategy, and all heart, as well as a coming together of religious source material, cultural context, and personal narrative. Fun to read and full of helpful and practical tips and tools for couples and families, this book is the perfect “how-to” manual for living a happy and balanced intermarried life.

Join Rabbi Handlarski for a conversation with Rabbi Adam Chalom, Dean for North America of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, on her wonderful and important new book. They will also explore the past, present and future of intermarriage and the Jewish community.

What Comes Next: Rebuilding in Jewish History

Jewish civilization has experienced destruction many times. Each crisis has produced creative responses that transformed Judaism to meet new realities. How can these examples give us inspiration, and even direction, as we move forward from our current challenges? Rabbi Adam Chalom, Dean for North America of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism and Rabbi of Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation in suburban Chicago, explores lessons from Jewish history for the current moment.

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Unorthodox: The Inside Story

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The hit Netflix series “Unorthodox” presents a moving yet challenging view of an insular Jewish community and one woman’s quest for self-determination. Tradition and freedom, community and the individual, the Holocaust and Jewish celebrations of life add up to an emotional experience that has connected with millions of viewers all over the world.

The International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism hosted a special conversation with actor Eli Rosen, “Reb Yossele” in “Unorthodox” and a special consultant to the project: translating scripts, coaching actors and ensuring authenticity in costumes and rituals.

Rosen himself was born and raised speaking Yiddish in a Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn, which he left to pursue life, liberty and a law degree. He is currently managing director of New Yiddish Rep theater company in New York City. Rosen was joined in conversation by Rabbi Adam Chalom, Ph.D., Dean for North America of the IISHJ. Together they discussed the experiences of those leaving Orthodoxy, the most powerful themes in Unorthodox, and how the quest for personal freedom is a universal story.

This program was co-sponsored by Unitarian Universalists for Jewish Awareness.

"When Disaster Strikes - Religious & Secular Responses

Tragedy has always been part of the human condition, so there have also been many attempts to explain “why” after disasters. How can we make sense of our difficult circumstances today, and where can we find reasons to hope? This webinar explored traditional religious answers from the Bible and beyond, as well as contemporary secular approaches to lighting candles instead of cursing darkness.

Rabbi Adam Chalom, Ph. D., is the Dean for North America of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism and Rabbi of Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation in north suburban Chicago. He holds a BA in Judaic Studies from Yale University and a Ph. D. in Near Eastern Studies from the University of Michigan.

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