Stories From The Road
Stop #13 - McGill University, Montreal, Canada – October 8, 2009
My last stop for 2009 brought me to the city of my birth, Montreal, where I received a warm welcome from the Montreal and McGill University community. I had the pleasure of appearing on stage with McGill Professor Antonia Maioni, with whom I had an engaging discussion about Hope, Not Fear and the Jewish community.
We began our conversation by engaging about the title of the book, particularly the use of the word ‘renaissance.’ I explained that I chose this specific term because I want to usher in a time when Jews are knowledgeable about what it means to be Jewish; you cannot be proud of who you are if you do not have knowledge as a starting point. Professor Maioni and I discussed how many young Jews are not engaging with a Judaism that is meaningful for them, and that our enemy is not intermarriage: it is ignorance and apathy. We should give our young people positive reasons to be Jewish not negative ones. As opposed to generations past, being Jewish is no longer a condition: it is a choice, and our job is to find meaningful and appealing ways for young Jews to choose their Jewish path.
Professor Maioni and I also had the chance to speak about the time I invest in speaking with young adults about their ideas and concerns, whether it is at my home for informal dinner and discussion, or with Hillel leaders on campuses around North America. Most importantly, we discussed the optimism I continue to have for the future of the Jewish community. Where young people are taking the lead, Jewish life continues to see new vitality. I have confidence in our young leaders, and look forward to see what vigor they will bring next to the Jewish community.
Posted by Edgar M. Bronfman, October 10, 2009
Stop #12 - Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Kansas City
I have had the privilege of traveling all over the country this past year to talk about Hope, Not Fear, but had the particular pleasure on June 7th to serve as the key note speaker at the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Kansas City’s 50th Anniversary Celebration. I was struck by what an organized and warm group of people I met there. I was also greeted by my dear friend Rabbi Avi Weinstein, who joined me on stage for an engaging discussion about Hope, Not Fear and the Jewish community. Rabbi Avi Weinstein is the Head of Jewish Studies at the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy in Kansas City as well as one of the founders of the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel.
A lot of the discussion throughout the evening centered around Jewish pride. One member of the audience asked if I have been challenged on my positions in the book. I responded that I may not have been outright challenged, but I have had many discussions about the content of the book. The key for me is that people take some aspect of Jewish pride away from these discussions, whether they agree with everything that I say or not. The last question of the evening came from a young man who asked, what is the single most important thing we can do for the Jewish community? To me the answer was simple: be proud of being a Jew, and pass this pride onto our family members and fellow Jews.
Posted by Edgar M. Bronfman, June 11, 2009
Stop #11 - The Samuel Bronfman Foundation, New York, NY
A dynamic group of congregational rabbis gathered at The Samuel Bronfman Foundation on May 20 for a book event convened by the organization STAR (Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal). Rabbi Hayim Herring, executive director of STAR, moderated a conversation on the subject, “Positive Leadership in Challenging Times.”
Rabbi Herring began by asking Edgar and me to play “word association.” “Redundant,” was Edgar’s response to the prompt of “denominations.” This generated a lively conversation. Do denominations help to keep Jewish practice dynamic by defining differences and creating clear platforms for debate? Do they increase the fractured quality of Jewish community? What does pluralism mean if some members of the Jewish community do not consider others to be Jews?
For me, the event was an opportunity to reflect on why I’ve tended to stay away from synagogues, a fact that is characteristic of many in my generation. It was a little overwhelming to do this in front of a group of important rabbis, and I was struck by the openness of their responses. Joining a synagogue is not the only way to be active as a Jew, but rabbis who are genuine teachers, counselors, and spiritual leaders show why synagogues matter.
Posted by Beth Zasloff, June 4, 2009
Stop #10 - New Orleans Jewish Community Center, New Orleans, Louisiana
It was wonderful to be back in New Orleans, finding the city full of life – even full of traffic jams, a sign that the city was returning to its previous lively state. On May 6th, I spoke at the New Orleans Jewish Community Center on stage with local news reporter Lee Zurik. The audience was full of enthusiastic questions relating to Hope, Not Fear and what I thought Jewish communities need in order to remain relevant for future generations. We spoke specifically about intermarriage, and why it is not our enemy; ignorance and apathy are the true enemies of the Jewish community. I also spoke at length about not outsourcing Jewish education: that Jewish education must start at home.
Posted by Edgar M. Bronfman, May 14, 2009
Stop #9 - Congregation Beth Elohim, Brooklyn, NY
Rabbi Andy Bachman and Edgar know each other well, and this was clear in the personal and in-depth conversation that Rabbi Bachman moderated at Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn on Wednesday, March 18. The discussion (in which I also participated) focused on the challenge of creating Jewish community for a new generation that may not affiliate in traditional ways.
It was particularly interesting to have this conversation at Congregation Beth Elohim, a large Reform synagogue and what could be called a traditional American Jewish institution. With Rabbi Bachman’s leadership, the congregation is redefining and exploring how a synagogue can respond to the community around it, in this case the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn. At Beth Elohim, this has included establishing small minyans within the larger synagogue and running a fantastic series of speakers on cultural and political subjects.
The synagogue has also begun an initiative, Shabbat-in-the-Neighborhoods, that helps young, unaffiliated Jews to organize Shabbat gatherings in their homes. The idea is to enable them to “build robust Jewish experiences based on what THEY want.” This strikes me as a remarkable take on outreach. It’s not necessarily about bringing young people into a particular institution, but helping them to find their own way into Judaism.
Posted by Beth Zasloff, March 26, 2009
Stop #8 - Houston JCC, Houston, TX
On November 3, the Jewish Community Center of Houston’s Annual Book & Arts Fair featured a discussion of Hope, Not Fear, moderated by Professor Deborah Lipstadt, as one of its headline events. This book fair is an amazing event which this year celebrated its 36th anniversary. It was an impressive venue that included a temporary bookstore where I wished I had more time to browse.
Professor Lipstadt, who is director of Jewish Studies at Emory University, opened by asking Edgar to speak about both fear and hope. He reflected on past and present threats to Jewish survival and then on what we need to build a strong, positive future for Jewish life. I spoke about the fact that both my daughters were born during the process of writing this book, and how I have felt like both co-author and audience as I face decisions about their Jewish education.
Professor Lipstadt concluded with a comment that I found a moving and apt description of Edgar’s work, both in fighting anti-Semitism and in voicing a vision for a Jewish future. She said (and I paraphrase) that as a scholar, her focus is often on the Jew as object, acted upon by others. Edgar’s strength is to see the Jew not as object but as subject—confident, proud, and active in the world.
Posted by Beth Zasloff, December 1, 2008
Stop #7 - New York City, New York University
On October 29th, I was welcomed at NYU as a speaker for the Wagner School’s Moral Courage project. I was interviewed on stage by Irshad Manji, a Muslim reformer whom I greatly respect. Known for speaking out against extremists within her community, Irshad’s forum is meant to create a space for dialogue about standing up for one’s beliefs regardless of what others think. Irshad demanded my opinion on tough topics such as intermarriage, genocide, Israeli politics and the 2008 election. I found the discussion to be engaging, and enjoyed seeing a wide variety of age groups in the audience.
Discussing both the Muslim and the Jewish perspective on intermarriage was especially interesting. Like me, Irshad Manji has challenged her community to recognize intermarriage as a fact. While multiple opinions exist within both religious communities, Irshad noted with astonishment that I have not yet received any death threats from within my community for vocalizing my convictions. I responded that Judaism values disagreement and debate. Even the Talmud displays multiple opinions within its commentary. As Jews, we are told to ask questions. This, to me, is our greatest strength.
Posted by Edgar M. Bronfman, November 6, 2008
Stop # 6 - New York City, Manhattan JCC,
Matthew Bronfman, one of Edgar’s sons, Edgar and I spoke at an event moderated by Abigail Pogrebin, author of Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish at the JCC in Manhattan on October 23rd. The idea was an intergenerational dialogue, which was very appropriate for the setting: a young JCC—it opened in 2002— that has had great success in attracting members and donors of many ages.
Abby, who opened by saying that after preparing for the event she had a degree in Bronfmanology (I have one of these as well) asked questions that got to right to the heart of the issues in the book. There was frank talk about topics including intermarriage, coming to Judaism through text study, whether belief in God matters, and the different paths Edgar and Matthew have taken to Judaism and the ways they have converged.
The audience seemed energized, and there were many more questions than there was time. It was just the right kind of conversation for a book whose goal, really, is to get people to talk to each other about Judaism.
Posted by Beth Zasloff, October 30, 2008
Stop #5 - New York City - 92nd Street Y
I believe there is a saying that your home town crowd is the most difficult, but that was not entirely my experience on September 22nd where I was met by a welcoming and engaged crowd at the 92nd Street Y on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. I was joined by my dear friend Charlie Rose on stage who, while a friend, did not shy away from asking me some difficult questions. Our discussion spanned a wide range: the economic markets, the political situation in Israel, but we focused mainly on the ideas of Hope, Not Fear. The audience also did not stay away from challenging questions, and a highlight of the event was taking questions from both audience members in NYC, and those who tuned in to watch from as far away as Ketchum, ID, a location that is dear to me. I was especially interested in the question about what makes a good leader, and also the questions about my relationship with my own family, and its influence on my Jewish path. I look forward to the upcoming events in NYC, for what will surely be equally enthused and challenging audiences.
Click Here to see the video.
Posted by Edgar M. Bronfman September 26, 2008
Video coming soon
Stop #4 - New York City Launch Party
On Thursday, September 18, 2008, we celebrated with the book launch celebration for Hope, Not Fear. The party was at the Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram Building, an architectural landmark designed by Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson, thanks to the influence of Phyllis Lambert, Edgar’s sister. There was a terrific turnout and a festive atmosphere. Edgar and I each spoke to the crowd about the book. It was amazing to celebrate the launch with so many friends, family members, and people who are invested in this book and its message. What a sendoff! Click Here to see the pictures.
Posted by Beth Zasloff, October 2, 2008
Stop #3 - Washington, DC
On September 16, we traveled to Washington DC for an event at the Washington DC JCC literary festival. Wayne Firestone, president of Hillel, moderated. It was a lively conversation and a wonderful, responsive audience.
Wayne asked Edgar to speak about intermarriage. Edgar responded that he doesn’t want to hear anything about statistics—i.e. the claim that only a third of children of intermarriage will be raised as Jews, or that it is more likely that a Jewish mother, rather than father, will pass on Jewish identity—until he sees a Jewish community that is open and welcoming.
This made me think about the response I would sometimes get from Jews who were married to non-Jews when I told them I was working on a book about Judaism. “I’m one of the bad ones,” they would say about themselves. These were people who feel connected to their Judaism and who would like to pass it on to their children, but who also know that many in the Jewish community consider intermarriage in America a disaster. I would explain Edgar’s position—that, to quote a line from the book, “The problem is not that Jews aren’t falling in love with Jews, but that they aren’t falling in love with Judaism.” The point is to cultivate a more generous, substantive version of Jewish education and community that will make it possible for both Jews and non-Jews to understand and to pass on what’s interesting and valuable in Jewish culture, ritual, traditions, and community.
Click Here to read the article.
Posted by Beth Zasloff on September 19, 2008
Stop #2 - Westhampton Beach, NY
On Thursday August 18, I was greeted at the Hamptons Synagogue by Rabbi Marc Schneier, whom I have known for many years both through my acquaintance with his father, Rabbi Arthur Schneier, and, later, though our work together at the World Jewish Congress. For the past 18 years, Marc has cultivated a strong and active Modern Orthodox community in Westhampton Beach. Many of his congregants joined us that evening. The discussion with Marc was provocative, and sparked many interesting questions from the audience. One audience member asked me about Jewish day school education, and what is being done to advance that cause. In my answer, I talked about the work that has been done over the past decade by PEJE (the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education) to advocate for and help establish new Jewish day schools. I do want to add an additional point, which I did not make that evening. In 1994 at the G.A. in Denver, I advocated forcefully that all American Jews who wanted to have a day school education should be able to get it for their children, regardless of their wealth. At the same time, I do not believe that day schools are the single answer to Jewish growth. There is probably less assimilation among those who do go to day schools, but they are not immune from the phenomenon. We have also seen that day schools, despite the determined efforts of many national and local advocates, attract a small minority of non-Orthodox children. If we are to make renaissance happen in all segments of our diverse community, it is important that alongside day schools, we cultivate dynamic and inclusive institutions and mechanisms that foster strong Jewish identity, such as camps, trips to Israel, and Hillels. If we are to bring Jewish life to large numbers of Jewish youth, it is by strengthening all of those efforts.
Click Here to see the pictures.
Posted by Edgar M. Bronfman on August 25, 2008
Stop #1 - Park City, Utah
“Utah? For a book on Judaism?” That’s what everyone said when I told them that the first book event for Hope, Not Fear would be held in Park City.
Park City is the home of Adam Bronfman, Edgar’s youngest son and managing director of The Samuel Bronfman Foundation. It is also the home of Temple Har Shalom (which means “mountain of peace”) whose community was celebrating the opening of a beautiful new building. This was the occasion for the book event, an interview and discussion with Professor Deborah Lipstadt, director of the Rabbi Donald A. Tam Institute for Jewish Studies at Emory University.
I spoke to Adam about his Park City synagogue in 2005. He described it as “sort of a Jewish outpost in a Mormon world,” made up primarily of “intermarried couples, people who have very little Jewish education, people who are searching for our own identity.” The community began with four families meeting in homes to celebrate Shabbat, and grew into a body of dedicated people who brought in Rabbi Joshua Aronson to be their spiritual leader. It is a community, Adam said, in which many are still finding their route into Judaism, particularly intermarried families who may “come to a door of Judaism and look to open it,” and find that it “may be locked or it may be open.”
The new building is full of light and high angles, narrow panes of blue glass in the sanctuary and wide windows framing the Wasatch mountains. Its members are fit, successful, glowing people, some who live in Park City full-time, some who vacation there, full of warmth and enthusiasm for their community, often with a sense of wonder that they have created, as the synagogue’s motto states, “a vibrant center of Jewish life and learning where you’d least expect it.”
I spent a few days after the book event hiking with my family in the area. It’s a different world from Brooklyn, where I live. I read about the Mormon Pioneer Trail and tried to imagine what the landscape looked like when they settled there. The Jewish community of Park City has grown through a different kind of journey. As Hope, Not Fear describes, it wasn’t religious fervor that drove the waves of Jewish immigrants to North America, it was the search for a better life for themselves and their children. The members of the Temple Har Shalom community have made it in America. They can choose to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. They have also made a more striking kind of choice: to make this a place of hopeful, open Jewish community. This is why, perhaps, it makes a lot of sense that the first book event was held in Park City, Utah.
It was exhilarating to see the book for the first time in the literally breathtaking beauty of the high mountains, in a part of the country I had never seen before, with the unexpected view from the windows of Temple Har Shalom.
NOTE: Hope, Not Fear will be on sale in bookstores on September 16, 2008. The books available at this event and others in advance of this date are thanks to an advance printing organized in collaboration with the Jewish Book Council.
Click Here to see the pictures.
Posted by Beth Zasloff on July 1, 2008