Beth Chai: The Greater Washington Jewish Humanist CongregationBeth Chai: The Greater Washington Jewish Humanist Congregation

Adult Education Program Archives

March 16, 2014:  Beth Chai's Annual Purim Party:  Addiction: Issues and Concerns. Pr. Jonathan PollockMarch 2, 2014: Montgomery County ACLU Chapter: Montgomery County ACLU Co-Chair Mike Mage will be updating Beth Chai on the current activities of the local ACLU Chapter.

 

Feb. 9, 2014:  Beyond Obamacare, with Paul Glastris, Editor in Chief, The Washington Monthly.

Feb. 2, 2014:  The role of the Jewish community in the civil rights movement and other American struggles for dignity and equality: Mark Israel and Howard Feinstein will lead us in a discussion regarding how The strikingly disproportional role of Jews in these movements has been well-recognized, but people differ as to explanations for this phenomenon.

Mark Israel will recount his family’s history in this area, as well as his own longtime participation in efforts to combat poverty and discrimination. Howard Feinstein will discuss his time prosecuting the Ku Klux Klan and other malefactors in the Deep South and elsewhere. His new memoir, Fire On The Bayou: True Tales From the Civil Rights Battlefront, will be available.


Jan. 26, 2014:  The Mind, the Soul, and the Inner Life: Dr. Art Blecher

Jan. 19, 2014: Special Martin Luther King Jr. Day session,Beth Chai will focus on people with disabilities and their families. Please join us for a panel discussion of the challenges faced by people with disabilities school, work and the community.  Panel members will include individuals with disabilities, family members and school personnel.

Jan. 5, 2014: Franz Rudolf Bienenfeld and the religion of non-religious Jews. Pr. Steve Beller

Dec. 15, 2013: From Clarinet to Combat to Clandestine Service...One Jew and Two Careers of Service and More..." Sheldon Goldberg & Mary Westley, Program Coordinator at the National Museum of American Jewish Military.

Dec. 8, 2013: "The 'Christian Nation' Myth": Robert Boston, Director of Communications, Americans United for Separation of Church and State

 


Nov 17, 2013 The DNA Project

 

Nov 10, 2013 Deities in Judaism

 

Nov 3, 2013 The Arab Spring: The rise and fall of Islamists


Oct 27, 2013 Giggling with God

Professor Jean Friedman leads an enthralling discussion on How the Book of Esther Gave Us Jewish Theater, Jewish Feminism, and Jewish Jokes.

Oct 20, 2013 Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman/So, What do you know about being Jewish.

Professor Marc Tyler Nobelman will give an overview of his work on examining the Jewish History of Superman followed by Roni Rosenthal discussing her book So, What do you Know about being Jewish.

Oct 13, 2013 American Jews in the Public Square

Professor Lauren B. Strauss, of the History Department and the Judaic Studies Program at George Washington University, will speak on the topic: "American Jews in the American Public Square".  After this illustrated talk, she will take questions.

 

Oct 6, 2013 Special Music Program: Kleztet

The Alexandria Kleztet is an exciting and innovative alternative klezmer band based in the Washington/Baltimore region. By combining traditional Eastern-European/Jewish music with diverse influences from other genres, such as jazz, classical, worldbeat, and rock music, The Alexandria Kleztet creates a unique sound that is anything but traditional. Led by woodwind player Seth Kibel, the band includes violinist Helen Hausmann, bassist Scott Harlan and percussionist Tim Jarvis

Sept 29, 2013, Book Presentation "FDR and the Jews"
Professor Allan Lichtman discusses his book FDR and the Jews. 

From the Publisher: Nearly seventy-five years after World War II, a contentious debate lingers over whether Franklin Delano Roosevelt turned his back on the Jews of Hitler's Europe. Defenders claim that FDR saved millions of potential victims by defeating Nazi Germany. Others revile him as morally indifferent and indict him for keeping America's gates closed to Jewish refugees and failing to bomb Auschwitz's gas chambers.

In an extensive examination of this impassioned debate, Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman find that the president was neither savior nor bystander. In FDR and the Jews, they draw upon many new primary sources to offer an intriguing portrait of a consummate politician-compassionate but also pragmatic-struggling with opposing priorities under perilous conditions. For most of his presidency Roosevelt indeed did little to aid the imperiled Jews of Europe. He put domestic policy priorities ahead of helping Jews and deferred to others' fears of an anti-Semitic backlash. Yet he also acted decisively at times to rescue Jews, often withstanding contrary pressures from his advisers and the American public. Even Jewish citizens who petitioned the president could not agree on how best to aid their co-religionists abroad.

Though his actions may seem inadequate in retrospect, the authors bring to light a concerned leader whose efforts on behalf of Jews were far greater than those of any other world figure. His moral position was tempered by the political realities of depression and war, a conflict all too familiar to American politicians in the twenty-first century.

 

Sept 15, 2013, Mixed Marriages
Adult Education coordinator Karim Chaibi will moderate a session on mixed marriages followed by a presentation by Rabbi Art Blecher

April 14, 2013, Status Quo in the Middle East
Adult Education coordinator Karim Chaibi and member Thomas J. Edwards will lead a discussion about the Arab Spring, revolutions and status quo in the Middle East.

April 7, 2013, In Plain Sight - what every adult should know about protecting children from predators
It is a sad fact that many pedophiles are not strangers lurking in the dark, but often respected citizens operating in the public eye. It is an even sadder fact that most cases of extra-familial sexual abuse could be prevented if ordinary citizens were better informed about who pedophiles are and how they practice. Drawing on his training and experience as a psychotherapist working with survivors of trauma and abuse, Rabbi Blecher will provide a frank and detailed discussion of this difficult topic. The first hour will be devoted to the personality profile of pedophiles and their methods. In the second hour, Rabbi Blecher will lay out specific directions for recognizing warning signs and simple steps to protect children from abuse.

March 10, 2013, Guest Speaker from Theater J
Molly Winston, Director of Community Outreach & New Media at Theater J, will speak to us about Jewish theater in Washington, D.C. and abroad.

March 3, 2013, Guest Speaker from State Department
This week we welcome Stacy Bernard Davis, Senior Advisor to the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, from the Office of International Religious Freedom (DRL/IRF), Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Ms. Davis will talk to us about the efforts and contributions the State Department is making in these areas, as well as discuss the situation in many parts of the world with regard to religious freedom.

February 10, 2013: Guest Speaker on Simon Dubnow
Professor Robert M. Seltzer will speak on the "New Judaism" of Simon Dubnow (1860-1941). Simon Dubnow was a historian of east European Jewry and a seminal spokesman for Jewish diaspora nationalism. Dubnow addressed the rapidly secularizing Jewry and was a passionate advocate of humanistic Jewish secular national identity. He considered secularism the most viable formulation of "the new Judaism." He was murdered during the Nazi annihilation of the Riga ghetto.
Robert Seltzer is professor of history at Hunter College and the Graduate School of the City University of New York and director of Hunter's Jewish Studies Program. He is the author of Jewish People, Jewish Thought.

February 3, 2013: Why Are Jews So Funny?
If there's one area in which Jews have excelled in recent years, its comedy. Bob Finkelstein will kick things off by telling a few "Jewish" jokes and talking briefly about the history of Jewish humor. Then, we'll break out into smaller groups and discuss questions like:

  • What makes a joke Jewish?
  • What role did humor play in your family?
  • Who was the funniest person you knew growing up?

It would be great if as many of us as possible came equipped with a favorite Jewish joke or funny story to share (don't worry, this is strictly optional, but the more the merrier!). There will also be jokes on hand that people can read to their groups. To wrap things up, each group will pick its favorite and tell it to the congregation -- a prize for the winner!

January 27, 2013: The Who-is-a-Jew Debate: Bloodlines, Conversions and Intermarriage. For over two thousand years, the Jewish community has been struggling with the central question of how to define its own membership. Questions about who is and who isn't recognized as a member of the Jewish People affect individuals in both America and Israel today. Burial in Jewish cemeteries, membership in synagogues and religious weddings all depend upon how Jewish Law is applied. The State of Israel offers significant incentives for Diaspora Jews to settle in the ancestral homeland, but strictly controls the definition of whom it recognizes as Jewish.
Rabbi Blecher will explain the origins of this ongoing controversy and clarify these issues that affect Jews around the world today. He will lead the group in an exploration of how Beth Chai in particular understands membership in the Jewish People.

January 20, 2013: Martin Luther King Day Program. "The [civil rights] movement's triumphs set a shining example for other groups seeking their right to pursue the American dream. If you're of Hispanic or Asian heritage, you don't have to muffle your native language or be ashamed to celebrate your cultural holidays. If you're a young schoolgirl, you can grow up to be anything you want to be, not just a nurse or a librarian. If you're gay, you don't have to spend your life in denial, cowering in the darkness of the closet. If you use a wheelchair, you can still attend that concert, that ballgame, or that presidential inauguration. This is your country too." Please join us when a panel of women from the Beth Chai community, of various backgrounds, professions, and generations, examine the progress made and challenges facing American women, from their personal perspectives.

January 6, 2013: Baha'ism and Judaism. Ms. Baharieh Rouhani Maani is the author of numerous books on Baha'ism, gender equality and the status of women in religion. Ms. Maani was a member of the Baha'i World Centre (1971-2009) and served also as Coordinator in the Department of Holy Places, as Secretary-Aide to two members of the Supreme Body, as Special Project Aide to the Aqdas Translation Committee and to the Library, Archives and Research Policy Committee. Ms. Maani will talk about the connection between Judaism and Baha'ism, Baha'ism as a religion and issues related to gender and religion.

December 16, 2012: Discussion with MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr. Dr. Joshua Starr, Beth Chai member and Superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools, will share his reflections about diversity and inclusion in Montgomery County with a focus on the county's school system. MCPS serves a richly diverse student body, including students from 164 countries. Dr. Starr holds a doctorate degree in administration and social policy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

December 2, 2012: A Discussion of Dybbuks. In Jewish mythology, a dybbuk is a possessing spirit believed to be the soul of a dead person. Agi Legutko, Lecturer in Yiddish Language and Culture at University of Maryland and PhD candidate in Yiddish literature and women and gender studies at Columbia University, will present this week's topic, "Dybbuk Possession in Judaism and in Modern Yiddish Culture."

November 18, 2012: Guests from the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy, and Conflict Resolution. Marc Gopin and Aziz Abu Sarah from the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University will walk us through various conflict resolution experiences with emphasis on the Middle East. This event will be introduced and moderated by member Mark Bauman.

November 11, 2012: True Jew: Book Talk by Bernard Beck. Bernard Beck will present and discuss his book True Jew: Challenging The Stereotype, a fresh and thought provoking look at the position of Jews in today's world and in history. Bernard Beck makes a strong case for a major change in the Jewish community.

November 4, 2012: Jewish Media in Maryland. Phil Jacobs, former executive editor of the Baltimore Jewish Times and current editor of Washington Jewish Week, will share with us insights and observations about the history of Jewish media in Maryland.

October 28, 2012: Jewish Ritual Circumcision. Rabbi Blecher will present the historical background and technical details of Jewish ritual circumcision and the controversies about it, and lead a discussion of the role it plays in contemporary Jewish life. The intricacies of Jewish ritual circumcision - brit milah -have been in the news a lot over the past couple of years. Some municipal and state governments in the United States, as well as some nations abroad, have sought to impose stricter regulations on the procedure or even to ban it outright. One particular aspect of brit milah among Ultraorthodox Jews, metzitzah bapeh, has generated considerable attention on the press. Jewish religious organizations across the ideological spectrum mostly have pushed back against government sanctions on brit milah, and medical groups have weighed in on whether circumcision serves the public health or is merely a ritual practice. Yet even among non-religious Jews today, many strongly prefer to circumcise their newborn sons regardless of any medical benefit. Here is a link to an article with further detail on the controversy: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/12/nyregion/jewish-groups-seek-to-block-new-nyc-rule-on-circumcision.html

October 21, 2012: What's At Stake Today? The elections, the security of Israel, and the surrounding politics. Ben Shnider, Development Assistant and Political Action Committee Manager for J Street (www.jstreet.org), will explore this question and lead our discussion. Ben graduated from Emory University with a BA in Political Science in 2011. He served as the student president of Emory Hillel during the 2009-2010 school year, and worked with student leaders to develop a dialogue between Hillel and Emory's Muslim Student Association. Ben joins J Street after managing Saqib Ali's 2010 campaign for Maryland State Senate and working as an Atlanta field organizer for President Barack Obama's campaign in 2008. A native of Massachusetts, Ben now lives in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

October 14, 2012: This I Believe - Differing Perspectives On Judaism. What aspects of Judaism most resonate with you? What parts do you find most challenging? How has being Jewish or being influenced by Judaism impacted your life? Share your thoughts and learn what others think during this open discussion led by Beth Chai member Robert Weinstein.

October 7, 2012: Guest Speaker and Book Talk. Gregg Ivers, Professor at the Department of Government of the American University, will introduce his book To Build A Wall: American Jews and the Separation of Church and State, a book that traces the evolution of American Jewish organizations from benevolent social service agencies to powerful organized interest groups.

September 23, 2012: Jewish Tradition and Care of Our Elders. Does Jewish tradition offer guidance in terms of caring for the elderly? And how do we feel ourselves about this subject? Some of us are facing eldercare responsibilities at this time. Some of us may be wondering what will happen when we become old ourselves. Some of us may be frustrated by the finite resources we can offer our elders in terms of time and financial backing, or be facing other stresses related to distance and to decision making among siblings. After an introduction to the topic from our Rabbi, Karen Feinstein will draw on her extensive knowledge of social work and families to facilitate a discussion during which we can put forward some of our questions and concerns, and share some best practices.

September 16, 2012, Remembrance in Judaism. Remembrance is a powerful topic and it's of the utmost importance in the Jewish tradition. "This is My Name forever, and this is my remembrance from generation to generation" God instructs Moshe in Exodus 3:15. Rabbi Blecher will address the issue of remembrance in Judaism both from the scriptures and from a secular perspective. Indeed, relatively few people are familiar with the actual rituals pertaining to death and other forms of loss and this will be an opportunity to explore them and discuss them.

April 29, 2012: War and Peace in Jewish Scripture: Conflicted about Conflict. The Hebrew Bible is curiously inconsistent when it comes to armed strife between people. God punishes Babel and Sodom for their violence but commands Joshua to destroy Jericho. Moses lays the foundation for a military draft but allows for exemptions. The Prophet Samuel calls for war, and the Prophet Isaiah calls for peace. Rabbi Blecher will lead an examination of Judaism's widely differing attitudes toward the role of warfare in human history.

April 22, 2012: Yom HaShoah: Relating to the Holocaust. It stands to reason that each one of us has some emotional reaction to the Holocaust. But it's a freighted subject, and sometimes expectations that we have about ourselves or that we impute to others make it difficult to know how, and how acutely, we really feel. Do you feel the Holocaust is present, perhaps too present, in your emotional life - or might it seem far away, even too far away? Do you have a desire or compulsion, or experience a need or obligation, to confront, feel, or try to understand the Holocaust? If so, what about the Holocaust might you want to confront, feel, or understand? In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, which falls on April 19, we will explore these themes in a discussion moderated by Beth Chai Programs Co-Chair and Holocaust author Ken Jacobson.

April 15, 2012: Group Discussion: Getting Older: Oy Vey or Oh Boy? In the last of our group discussions, we'll focus on the topic of aging. How are you experiencing aging? What have been the greatest challenges and benefits of getting older? Is there a particular family member or friend who has shaped your attitudes? As always, our goal will be to learn more about each other.

March 18, 2012: Religion and Statecraft In Judaism and Islam. A distinct parallel -- disrupted by a radical divergence -- marks the foundational stories of two of the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism and Islam. In both, there is a prophet who acts as lawgiver through the presentation of a holy book. Yet, in Islam, the Prophet Mohammed lives to found a state based on the laws he has bestowed on his people, while the Hebrew Prophet Moses dies before the founding of the state that will be based on his laws -- and, in fact, never even casts his eyes on the Promised Land. When the lawgiver becomes the actual leader, what are the consequences for the religion and for the society on which it is based? Following presentations on the link between the foundational story, and on the civilization that either created or followed it, by Rabbi Art Blecher and Beth Chai member Karim Chaibi, we will discuss these intriguing and complex questions.

March 4, 2012: Group Discussion: What Does Family Mean To You? Share your thoughts and learn what others think about family. What is most important to you as a child/parent/relative? Can one have family ties without being part of an "official" family? What messages have you gotten about family and what it means? How important or not is it to instill your idea of family values and desires upon future generations?

February 26, 2011: Homosexuality in Jewish and Islamic Law. It’s no news that Western religions frown on homosexuality, and Judaism and Islam are no exceptions. However relatively few people are familiar with the actual reasoning found in either Islamic or Rabbinic law. Examining that perspective may shed some light on what has become a major political controversy in the United States. Beth Chai member and Islamic scholar Karim Chaibi will join Rabbi Art Blecher in a presentation of the technicalities of same-gender love in Jewish and Muslim tradition.

February 12, 2012: The Meaning of Fasting in the Jewish Tradition. Most of us are familiar with the traditional Jewish holiday foods - latkes on Chanukah, brisket on Rosh Hashanah, dairy on Shavuot. But what about those days when Jews aren't supposed to eat anything at all? Yom Kippur is not alone on the list of Jewish fast days. On Sunday, Beth Chai member and treasurer Noah Dropkin, will lead us in an exploration of the Jewish fast days, their origins, and their meaning. We will also exchange ideas about what fasting means to us today and share some experiences.

February 5, 2012: Climate Action's Foundation in Jewish Teachings. Tuesday evening, February 7, marks the beginning of Tu Bishvat, a date used in Jewish law for calculating the age of trees that in recent times has come to be a day of tree planting in Israel. In conjunction with this occasion, Joelle Novey, the director of Greater Washington Interfaith Power & Light (www.gwipl.org), will present background material on the Jewish tradition as it relates to humans' relationship with nature and lead us in discussion both on that and on modern ways of living this relationship.

January 29, 2012: Fallen Angels: Religious Communities, Belief Systems, and Self-Understanding. What does it mean to belong to a religious community - and what can be the reasons for, and the price of, leaving it? How does embracing a belief system shape the individual's view of the world and the world's view of the individual - and how can both change when one abandons that belief system? Nathaniel Miller, a former Baptist minister who has left not only the clergy but his religion; our rabbi, Art Blecher, who has left the Conservative Movement, in which he was ordained; and Karim Chaibi, who has left the practice of Islam and is now a member of Beth Chai, will describe their personal journeys and talk about how they have come to see their traditions and themselves.

January 22, 2012: The Hebrew Bible and the U.S. Legal System. Principles of Jewish law were explicitly taken into account at the 1787 Constitutional Convention, and it was far from the first time that the Torah had impacted legal and political thinking in the American Colonies. Sherman Cohn, professor of law at Georgetown University and a past president of the Jewish Law Association, will sketch for us the history of the Jewish legal tradition's influence on that of the United States, pointing out where this influence is still to be seen in American statute, procedure, and jurisprudence.

January 15, 2012: The Muslim Experience in America Post-9/11. One of the great legacies of the civil rights movement was that all Americans, regardless of the tenor of the times, are guaranteed their rights under the Constitution. Consequently, Beth Chai has been honoring Martin Luther King Day by presenting representatives of various groups to tell us of their goals and struggles. This year, we will examine the experience of Muslims in post-September 11, 2001 American society. Our host and moderator will be Beth Chai's own Karim Chaibi, scholar, author, and proud native of Tunisia, birthplace of the Arab Spring. Our guest speaker is Humera Khan, executive director of Muflehun, a think-tank specializing in preventing radicalization and countering home-grown violent extremism in the American Muslim community. Ms. Kahn holds technology, nuclear engineering, and art & design degrees from M.I.T., as well as a Masters in Islamic Studies from the Washington Theological Consortium.

December 11-18, 2011: Occupy Samaria: The Prophet Amos and the 99 Percent. The social landscape of the Kingdom of Israel in the 8th century BCE appears to have been marked by the same economic inequality and concentration of wealth that we see in the Western World today. A small minority of the population had grown extremely rich and taken both to flamboyant excess and to lording it over the rest of the population, which had to struggle simply to get by. This state of affairs was addressed forcefully by the prophet Amos, who warned in the name of God that if the oppression of the poor and the general carousing did not stop, the Kingdom would be wiped from the face of the earth. Why is God portrayed as being so upset at the concentration of wealth and the oppression of the poor? Do earlier texts indicate that an inequitable social structure might provoke such divine wrath? Rabbi Blecher will provide some historical and religious context and will lead us in a discussion of these issues.

December 4, 2011: Tikkun Olam. How do you want to contribute to the world? Is it even important? The phrase tikkun olam is generally understood to mean that Jews are not only responsible for creating a model community among themselves but also are responsible for helping further the welfare of the greater society... and the world. To what degree does tikkun olam factor into your life? In what ways have you contributed up to now and how might you want to contribute in the future? Do you feel empowered, guilty, or have some other feelings when you think about Tikkun Olam? As we head into the holiday season, join others in this timely discussion topic.

November 20, 2011: Book Talk: Daniel Byman on A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism. Israel has, by turns, been admired for proficiency and derided for ineptitude in the course of its fight against terrorist threats, now in its seventh decade. But how do the results of Israeli counterterrorist strategy and actions look over time - and what has been their cost for both the nation's citizens and its Arab neighbors? Daniel Byman, who served as a staff analyst with the 9/11 Commission and currently holds appointments at Georgetown University and the Brookings Institution, takes on these questions in his newly published book A High Price, billed as a "nuanced, definitive account of the [Jewish] state's bold but frequently unsuccessful efforts to root out terrorist groups." In addition to discussing Israel's experience in its Middle East context, Byman will offer some observations on what lessons it holds for U.S. counterterrorism efforts.

November 6-13, 2011: The Roma: Their History, Culture, and Current Situation. Think of a people that has kept its language and culture alive for millennia despite the lack of a homeland, perennial outsider status, and recurring persecution. This may sound all too familiar, but there is another people whose lot has been very similar to that of the Jews: the Roma. Jewish and Romani history have much in common, including both peoples' being prime targets of Nazi genocide, yet we aren't necessarily well acquainted with the Roma. And it behooves us to learn about them, especially because persecution of the Roma has again become acute in some European countries. To paint a picture of the Roma's rich civilization and bring us up to date on the circumstances faced by this people today, we have two Roma human rights lawyers, Crina Morteanu, originally from Romania but now living in Budapest, and Toni Tashev, originally from Bulgaria but now living in the D.C. area. They will talk about the history of the Roma since ancient times, with special emphasis on the years leading up to and following the Holocaust and on the Soviet era, and about their current situation.

October 23-30, 2011: Rabbi Blecher, will discuss material from his book, The New American Judaism, regarding twentieth-century myths about Judaism and their implications for independent congregations like Beth Chai in the twenty-first century.

September 18, 2011: World-renowned photojournalist Alex Avakian will give a slide presentation on her latest book, Windows of the Soul, and her experiences living and working in the hot spots of the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, and North Africa. She will also discuss her years in the Gaza strip, and her relationship and travels with Yasser Arafat. Alex's work has appeared inTime, Life, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, National Geographic and dozens of other leading publications.

September 11, 2011: Rabbi Blecher will lead a Yahrzeit memorial observance on the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks. We will join together for remembrance and spiritual healing in the all-purpose room, with the program to begin at 11:15 a.m. sharp. Following Rabbi Blecher's introductory message, we will take time for silent meditation and the sharing of thoughts and feelings.

May 1, 2011: Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) Program: "Focusing on Identify Through the Lens of Threat." How did Jews living under the Nazis feel about the part of their identity that imperiled their existence? How central was being Jewish to the notion each had of who he or she was as an individual? These questions have, oddly enough, seldom been systematically examined by Holocaust scholars. But asking them can raise questions that may help us understand not only the reality and variety of Jews' experiences and emotions during the Holocaust, but also what it means to each person to be Jewish and, in general, how much a group identity can shape one's individual identity. Beth Chai Program Co-chair Ken Jacobson, whose 1994 book "Embattled Selves" used individual oral histories to look at these themes, will talk about the light that exceptional circumstances can shed on universal concerns, describe some of those who told him their life stories, and lead a discussion of what their accounts can teach us for our own lives today.

April 10, 2011: When Sufism Met Kabbalism. Author Thomas Block will recount the little-known story of how the Islamic and Jewish mystical traditions influenced the course of each other's development over 1,000 years, as chronicled in his recently published book Shalom/Salaam: A Story of a Mystical Fraternity. Hardly had Islam appeared in the seventh century when its mystical ideas began to be woven, at first knowingly but later unwittingly, into the fabric of Jewish mystical thought -- so that, after a millennium of what Block describes as "respectful and loving interfaith relations," vestiges of Sufism's influence reverberate in the practice of Judaism today. This tale reaches beyond its past to contribute a fresh perspective on the social, religious, and political issues that have complicated Jewish-Muslim relations since the founding of Israel.

April 3, 2011Jews' Taboos -- Part 2: Facing up to Domestic Abuse. Elissa Schwartz, executive director of the Rockville-based Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse (JCADA), will be the speaker at the second session of a series looking at universal issues that Jews have had difficulty addressing either collectively or individually because of a belief that these are somehow "not Jewish problems." She will talk about the harmful consequences of the persistent myth that "Jews are not supposed to be victims of abuse," the cultural roots of this denial, the ways in which it has been or can be overcome, and the extent of the progress that has been made in the Jewish community in overcoming it. The first program in the Jews' Taboos series, "Facing up to Substance Abuse and Addiction," took place on March 13.

March 13, 2011: Jews' Taboos, Part 1. Facing up to Substance Abuse and Addiction. Howard Reznick, the senior manager for prevention education at Baltimore Jewish Services, will present the first session of a new series on universal issues that Jews have had difficulty addressing either collectively or individually because of a belief that these are somehow "not Jewish problems." He will talk about the cultural roots of this denial, the ways in which it has been or can be overcome, and the extent of the progress that has been made in the Jewish community in overcoming it. Mr. Reznick, a clinical social worker, will also speak on Jews and Altered States of Consciousness, asking the question: Is it the pursuit of happiness and spirituality or is it addiction? A second program in the Jews' Taboos series, "Facing up to Domestic Abuse," is scheduled for April 3.

March 6, 2011: The Middle East in Flux. Beth Chai Programs Co-chair Mark Bauman will discuss events in the Middle East through the prism of former years running ABC News's war coverage in the region and his dealings with the governments of Egypt and Libya while representing his current employer, National Geographic. Themes will include possible outcomes in the various nations now in upheaval, the challenges and opportunities the changes may bring for U.S. policy-makers, and the internationalization of modern Islam. Questions and contributions from other members of the congregation will be encouraged. 

February 27, 2011: Obligation, Guilt, and Redemption in Judaism (Part 4). Judaism's uncompromising ideals of social responsibility and moral obligation to others are familiar to many people, as is the sense of guiltiness that often accompanies them. Less familiar are the equally strong statements in classical Hebrew literature about the individual's obligations to self. Rabbi Blecher will lead the group in an exploration of central Jewish teachings about the importance of enjoying life, the value of self-esteem, and the sense of empowerment and healing that accompanies them.

February 13, 2011: Obligation, Guilt, and Redemption in Judaism (Part 3). Inherent in the human condition is being obligated to others -- individuals as well as institutions. Obligations are such an important feature of relations between parents and children that how they are handled may have a lifetime of consequences. Similarly, we are all confronted with obligations to our partners (be they business partners or life partners), to our spouse, to our friends.  Then there are institutional obligations: those binding the citizen and the state, those shaping the conduct of individuals and representatives of authority toward one another. Rabbi Art Blecher will help us look at and discuss some of daily life's central obligations, and how we deal with them or could deal with them, in the light of Jewish cultural influences and religious traditions.

February 6, 2011: Obligation, Guilt, and Redemption in Judaism (Part 2). This week, Rabbi Art Blecher will move from prohibitions and the guilt that may arise from violating them -- the subject of last week's opening session of this series -- to the nature and origin of Judaism's positive obligations. What, according to Jewish religion, tradition, and culture, is expected of a child? of a parent? of a member of the community? of a decent human being? How did these obligations originate? What is their significance in religious and/or social terms? What influence do they have on our feelings and values today? These are among the questions we will discuss as we continue our investigation of the existence of a "Jewish guilt," its manifestations, and some traditional and non-traditional ways of dealing with it.

January 30, 2011: Obligation, Guilt, and Redemption in Judaism (Part 1). The notion of "Jewish guilt" is often joked about, and its existence is almost universally taken for granted, but do we really know what's behind this concept? Does a "Jewish guilt" really exist? If so, where does it come from and what are its manifestations? What are some traditional and non-traditional ways of dealing with it? To get at these questions, we will take several Sunday mornings to talk about the nature and sources of obligation in Jewish religion, history, and culture; the way in which guilt is connected to obligation; and possibilities for leaving guilt behind. In this first session, Rabbi Art Blecher will talk about the historical sources of obligation in Judaism and then examine some classical texts that focus on moral obligations in Jewish tradition.

January 23, 2011: "Salvaged Pages: Young Writers' Diaries of the Holocaust" In 1992, Alexandra Zapruder began researching diaries written by young people during the Holocaust. Ten years later, her work resulted in the publication of "Salvaged Pages," which won the National Jewish Book Award in the Holocaust category. This morning, the author will talk to us about her book and related experiences. Alex has served as a member of the founding staff of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and as a guest curator for an exhibition of original young writers' Holocaust diaries, entitled "Private Writings, Public Records," which was on view at Holocaust Museum Houston from October 2001 to February 2002. She also wrote and co-produced "I'm Still Here," a documentary film for young audiences based on "Salvaged Pages," which aired on MTV in May 2005.  The film was awarded the Jewish Image Award for Best Television Special by the National Foundation for Jewish Culture and was nominated for two Emmy awards. Alex's presentation will be followed by ample time for questions and discussion, and she will also have autographed copies of "Salvaged Pages" for sale to those who are interested. 

January 16, 2011: Special MLK Day Program on the Immigrant Experience. This year, our annual Martin Luther King Day program examines immigration and the idea of "Americanness." Our guest panelists--from three different parts of the world -- will each discuss their roots in their countries of origin, their journeys to the United States, and their feelings about their status in today's America. As always, there will be ample opportunity for questions and comments from all in attendance. Our guests are

December 19, 2010 Values Traditional and Modern: Respect for Authority. As part of an occasional series on values that began with an examination of courage, we will look at how Jewish tradition has defined and regarded respect for authority and at the prism through which we view this concept today. First, Rabbi Art Blecher will present passages from classic Jewish texts that demonstrate what it means to respect, and when it is proper not to respect, several sources of authority: 1) parents, teachers, elders, and sages; 2) the state; 3) the Torah, Jewish law, and Jewish tradition; and 4) oneself. Then, Beth Chai members will offer the views they hold on respecting authority based on their own experiences, and we will explore possible connections between traditional attitudes and our own current thinking.

December 12, 2010: Jewish Life-Cycle Practices: Relevance for Us Today. Rabbi Art Blecher will wrap up his series on classic Jewish life-cycle rituals with a thoughtful look at what these traditions--many of them truly ancient--have to offer in a secular, contemporary context. To what extent did these practices arise from fundamental human emotions and concerns? How do they reflect, reinforce, and even teach values that have shaped Jewish thought and action for centuries or millennia? Rabbi Blecher will offer his own thoughts and lead us in discussing these issues. He will also entertain questions that may remain from this session or earlier discussions in the series.

December 5, 2010: I.L. Peretz and the Challenge of Modernity. We will read and discuss a brief passage from the work of I.L. Peretz (1852-1915), described by Rabbi Max Ticktin at our Oct. 10 session as one of the three founders of the secular literary tradition in Yiddish. Themes contained in the passage are among those that most troubled, and most motivated, this beloved writer: the conflicts raging in his age between the religious and the secular, and between tradition and modernity. The discussion will be facilitated, but there will be no authority figure in attendance, as Rabbi Blecher will be absent on this day. (The formal adult ed session will run from 10:15-11 a.m. only, after which the Hanukkah party will take over the all-purpose room. Those wishing to continue the discussion after the break will repair to a quiet spot.)

November 21, 2010: Jewish Life-Cycle Practices ... Part V. Rabbi Art Blecher will continue his series on classic Jewish life-cycle rituals, moving from practices surrounding marriage and divorce, the subject of the two previous sessions, to the practices surrounding illness and death. In addition to examining how the traditions and practices associated with the critical moments of our lives convey meaning on both individual and communal levels, this series focuses on the interpretations and adaptations that may help make such practices relevant, even useful, for Beth Chai members today.

November 14, 2010: The Origins and Development of Secular Yiddish Culture (Part 2: Contemporary Currents). Following up on his presentation of Oct. 10 on the literary origins of secular Yiddish culture, Rabbi Max Ticktin will focus on the evolution of the concept of secularism among Jews and its meaning for us today. His talk will explore the phenomenon of cultural pluralism and consider the future of Jewish identity in the United States. Rabbi Ticktin teaches Yiddish and Hebrew literature at GW.

November 7, 2010: Jewish Life-Cycle Practices ... Part IV. Rabbi Art Blecher will continue his series on classic Jewish life-cycle rituals by completing the discussion of practices surrounding marriage and divorce. In addition to examining how the practices associated with the critical moments of our lives convey meaning on both individual and communal levels, this series focuses on the interpretations and adaptations that may help make such practices relevant, even useful, for Beth Chai members today. 

October 24, 2010: Jewish Life-Cycle Practices ... Part III. Rabbi Art Blecher will continue his series on classic Jewish life-cycle rituals by moving from the period of coming of age, which was the subject of last Sunday's session, to the practices surrounding marriage and divorce. In addition to examining how the practices associated with the critical moments of our lives convey meaning on both individual and communal levels, this series focuses on the interpretations and adaptations that may help make such practices relevant, even useful, for Beth Chai members today.

October 17, 2010: Jewish Life-Cycle Practices ... Continued. Picking up where he left off in an adult ed session earlier this month, Rabbi Art Blecher will explain some of the classic Jewish life-cycle rituals connected with critical moments in our lives-including marriage, divorce, illness, and death. In addition to examining how these practices convey meaning on both individual and communal levels, we will discuss the interpretations and adaptations that may help make such practices relevant, even useful, for Beth Chai members today.

October 10, 2010: The Origins and Development of Secular Yiddish Culture. This will be the first of two presentations this fall by Rabbi Max Ticktin, who teaches Yiddish and Hebrew literature at GW. Rabbi Ticktin's past speaking appearances have made him very popular among Beth Chai members.

October 3, 2010: Jewish Life-Cycle Practices--Birth and Coming of Age. 
Most of the days of our lives are recurrence and sameness. But certain days are unique, occasions that are never repeated. The civilization of the Jewish people provides traditions that touch the special moments and critical junctures in our lives. In this session, the first of a multi-part series, Rabbi Art Blecher will explain the classic Jewish life-cycle rituals connected with birth and coming of age, as well as the way in which they convey meaning on both individual and communal levels. We will discuss the interpretations and adaptations that may help make such practices relevant, even useful, for Beth Chai members today. 

September 19, 2010: Humanistic Judaism Continued--Beth Chai and the Vocabulary of Religion. 
Owing to the enthusiastic response to last Sunday's program, we'll carry the discussion forward this week by considering the implications of some of the terms that framed it. Do the meanings and nuances of words--such as secular, theistic, belief, atheistic, non-theistic, spiritual , God, prayer, blessing, commandment--clarify or confuse our discourse? In the first hour this Sunday morning, Rabbi Art Blecher will talk about the terminology of religion and some of the assumptions it carries with it, kicking off a discussion that we will carry through on our own in the second hour.

September 12, 2010: Humanistic Judaism

May 9, 2010: Build Your Own Midrash (Part 2)

May 2, 2010: Build Your Own Midrash (Part 1) 
Modern Judaism is based on a rich and extensive body of classical Hebrew literature--the oral Torah--whose origins are as old as the Torah's written text and whose content was shaped over a millennium of Jewish history. The oral Torah consists in part of Midrash Aggadah, a form of discussion used by scholars to interpret biblical passages. After Rabbi Art Blecher introduces the conventions and techniques of this ancient discourse, we will break into small groups and try our hand at constructing contemporary interpretations of Torah verses in the classic Midrash format. The exercises will start from familiar verses from the creation story that are particularly suited to small-group creativity. At the end of each session, the results of the various discussions will be shared with the entire group and crafted into a brief Beth Chai Midrash.¶

April 11, 2010: Yom Hashoah Discussion: "Personal Perspectives on the Holocaust"
Holocaust Remembrance Day is this Sunday, and, to help us reflect on and discuss this overwhelming chapter in Jewish history, four Beth Chai members of varying backgrounds have agreed to tell us about their own relationship to it. Having grown up in pre-Holocaust America, Flora Wolf will talk about her discovery of what happened to the Jews in Europe and about whether the world looked different to her before and after she knew. Ela Koniuszkow, who spent her first decade in post-Holocaust Poland before coming to the U.S., will provide a glimpse of how the Holocaust looked from within the two different societies. Born in Lithuania shortly after the Holocaust but raised in Israel, Mike Wexler will reflect on being the child of survivors in the newly independent Jewish state. Dan Schweitzer, the son of a survivor who emigrated from Poland to the U.S., will describe growing up amidst an "extended family" of survivors in New York. After their short talks, there will be a chance to ask questions and to offer personal experiences and observations.

March 21, 2010: Exploring the Nature of Courage
Our recent discussions of the "Righteous Gentile," and especially the appearance of a woman whose parents are about to receive this honor, have raised a number of questions regarding the nature of courage. Are there different types of courage--physical, for instance, in contrast to moral? What causes people to take extraordinary risks, sometimes on behalf of those they don't even know? How do the risk-takers understand what led them to act? Do they look upon themselves as courageous? From what sources do they draw support amid danger? As a way into this complex topic, Rabbi Art Blecher will provide a brief reflection on the meaning of courage in Judaism, calling upon examples from classical texts and Jewish history. He will then facilitate a discussion in which those who wish will have a chance to share their own views, speculations, and questions about what courage is and where it comes from.

March 14, 2010: The Righteous Gentile: Contemporary Perspectives (Part 2)
As a follow-up to last week's session, Programs Co-Chair Mark Bauman will lead us in a look at how the prior notion of the Righteous Gentile was changed both by the Nazi persecutions and by the rise of secular values, so that today the term is generally reserved for non-Jews who risked their lives to save those of Jewish descent during the Holocaust. Mark will discuss how this change mirrors a change in emphasis from faith to common values and, in this context, talk about what holds Beth Chai together as a community.

March 7, 2010: The Righteous Gentile: A Contemporary Perspective (Part 1)
We learned about the traditional perspective of the "righteous gentile" in earlier sessions (see Feb. 21 for details), and now it's time to get the contemporary perspective. Programs Co-Chair Mark Bauman will lead us in a look at how the prior notion of the righteous gentile was changed both by the Nazi persecutions and by the rise of secular values. Today, the term is generally used to refer to non-Jews who risked their lives to save those of Jewish descent during the Holocaust. Mark will discuss how this change mirrors a change in emphasis from faith to common values and, in this context, talk about what holds Beth Chai together as a community.

Feb 21, 2010: The Righteous Gentile: Traditional Perspectives (Part 2)
According to the Talmud, seven commandments were given to the descendents of Noah that apply to Jews and gentiles alike. In a multi-part series, Rabbi Art Blecher will provide the background to these Noahide laws and place them in relationship to the traditional concept of the "righteous gentile." Since the Noahide laws were elaborated through Midrash, Rabbi Blecher will take the occasion of exploring this topic to instruct us in the techniques of that ancient form of discourse, which was used by scholars to interpret biblical passages. Exercises in Midrash, which involve discussion in small groups, were a big hit when we tried them at adult ed a number of years back.

This examination of traditional perspectives is planned for three parts, with this second part twice postponed due to snow. Part 3 will be scheduled soon. We'll offer a contemporary perspective on this subject on March 7.

Jan 24, 2010: The Righteous Gentile: Traditional and Contemporary Perspectives (part 1)  
According to the Talmud, seven commandments were given to the descendents of Noah that apply to Jews and gentiles alike. In a multi-part series, Rabbi Art Blecher will provide the background to these Noahide laws and place them in relationship to the traditional concept of the "righteous gentile." Since the Noahide laws were elaborated through Midrash, Rabbi Blecher will take the occasion of exploring this topic to instruct us in the techniques of that ancient form of discourse, which was used by scholars to interpret biblical passages. Exercises in Midrash, which involve discussion in small groups, were a big hit when we tried them at adult ed a number of years back. 
 
A contemporary perspective will be added in a session led by Programs Co-Chair Mark Bauman on how the prior notion of the righteous gentile was changed both by the Nazi persecutions and by the rise of secular values. Today, the term is generally used to refer to non-Jews who risked their lives to save those of Jewish descent during the Holocaust. Mark will discuss how this change mirrors a change in emphasis from faith to common values and, in this context, talk about what holds Beth Chai together as a community.

Jan 17, 2010: Martin Luther King Jr. Day Program
“The civil rights movement’s triumphs set a shining example for other groups seeking their right to pursue the American dream. Few, if any, people were ever as historically demonized and disenfranchised as African Americans -- yet they slew Goliath and cast off their chains, at least the legal ones. What an indelible message for their brothers and sisters: If you’re of Hispanic or Asian heritage, you don’t have to muffle your native language or be ashamed to celebrate your cultural holidays. If you’re a young schoolgirl, you can grow up to be anything you want to be, not just a nurse or a librarian. If you’re gay, you don’t have to spend your life in denial, cowering in the darkness of the closet. If you use a wheelchair, you can still attend that concert, that ballgame, or that presidential inauguration. This is your country too.”December 13, 2009: Tyrants, Priests, and Guerilla Warriors: Hanukkah and the Quest for Power in Ancient Judea

It is in this spirit that Beth Chai will hold its annual Martin Luther King Holiday program. We will be focusing on issues of gay equality, from the perspective of panelists from the community. There will also be a brief update on the legal status of these issues. Please join us as we celebrate the continuing struggle for freedom and nondiscrimination -- memorialized in Beth Chai’s mission statement -- as it resonates in today’s world.

Jan 10, 2010: The Enlightenment and the Emergence of Modern Jewish Identities
In the last of three talks, journalist and historical scholar Milton Viorst will address the topic: "European-Jewish Life in the Enlightenment's Wake."

The profound intellectual upheaval that transformed European institutions in the 18th century was a turning point for the continent's Jews. The Enlightenment and its specifically Jewish counterpart, the Haskalah, undercut forces that had shaped European-Jewish life and values for centuries. In many places, forms of social organization that had traditionally held together Jewish communities were destabilized at the same time that Jews' relations to the non-Jewish world were being redefined. The effects would prove irreversible. 
  
Focusing on the Enlightenment as a watershed in Jewish history helps illuminate both what Jewish life in Europe had been like before the period and how and why it would change. For this reason, we are presenting a series of programs aimed at deepening Beth Chai members' knowledge of European-Jewish history--and generously sponsored with that purpose in mind by the Molly and Joseph Herman Foundation--with this set of talks by Viorst, the author of an exceptional 2002 book treating the subject, "What Shall I Do with This People?" (2002).

 

If you thought the legend of the cruse of oil was interesting, the facts will knock your socks off. Rabbi Art Blecher will discuss the historical background of Hanukkah, describing how belief, bloodshed, and betrayal produced the most intense political struggle in the history of Judaism.

December 6, 2009: The Enlightenment and the Emergence of Modern Jewish Identities
In the second of three talks, journalist and historical scholar Milton Viorst will address the topic: "The Enlightenment and the Haskalah: Roots, Features, and Impact."

The profound intellectual upheaval that transformed European institutions in the 18th century was a turning point for the continent's Jews. The Enlightenment and its specifically Jewish counterpart, the Haskalah, undercut forces that had shaped European-Jewish life and values for centuries. In many places, forms of social organization that had traditionally held together Jewish communities were destabilized at the same time that Jews' relations to the non-Jewish world were being redefined. The effects would prove irreversible. 
  
Focusing on the Enlightenment as a watershed in Jewish history helps illuminate both what Jewish life in Europe had been like before the period and how and why it would change. For this reason, we are presenting a series of programs aimed at deepening Beth Chai members' knowledge of European-Jewish history--and generously sponsored with that purpose in mind by the Molly and Joseph Herman Foundation--with this set of talks by Viorst, the author of an exceptional 2002 book treating the subject, "What Shall I Do with This People?" (2002).

November 22, 2009: Exploring Shabbat Blessings
What are some Shabbat blessings that Beth Chai members might want to use in their homes? You'll come away with several ideas from this morning's program. Rabbi Art Blecher will present some history of how the Shabbat table blessings came into being, what the traditional blessings mean, and his liturgical process in crafting new blessings for our communal use. In addition, Education Director Rain Zohav will offer some alternative Shabbat blessings inspired by feminist and other post-modern theologies. There will also be time for members to share what they do or don't do in their homes, and why.

November 15, 2009
In and Out: Conversion and Excommunication in Judaism
When is a Jew not a Jew? When is a non-Jew a Jew? These questions are the subject of current public debates in France and England over allocation of government funds to religious institutions. The same issues affect the daily lives of Jewish households in America, from cemetery restrictions to congregational membership. Rabbi Art Blecher will address these questions as he traces the history of the Jewish community's definition of itself and the changing pathways in and out of membership.

November 8, 2009
The Enlightenment and the Emergence of Modern Jewish Identities
Guest Speaker: Milton Viorst. The profound intellectual upheaval that transformed European institutions in the 18th century was a turning point for the continent's Jews. The Enlightenment and its specifically Jewish counterpart, the Haskalah, undercut forces that had shaped European-Jewish life and values for centuries. In many places, forms of social organization that had traditionally held together Jewish communities were destabilized at the same time that Jews' relations to the non-Jewish world were being redefined. The effects would prove irreversible. Focusing on the Enlightenment as a watershed in Jewish history helps illuminate both what Jewish life in Europe had been like before the period and how and why it would change. For this reason, we are beginning a series of programs aimed at deepening Beth Chai members' knowledge of European-Jewish history--and generously sponsored with that purpose in mind by the Molly and Joseph Herman Foundation-- with this set of three talks by the author of an exceptional work treating the subject, Milton Viorst. A noted journalist and historical scholar, Viorst has traced the Enlightnment's impact in "What Shall I Do with This People?" (2002) and is currently at work on a related book.
 
October 11, 2009
The Power of Names in Jewish Tradition
During Simchat Torah, Jews around the world celebrate their literary heritage and express their veneration for the written text of the Torah. On this joyous occasion, Rabbi Blecher will lead an exploration of Jewish civilization's fascination with the spoken and written word in general, and the psychological power of names in particular. The discussion will include the symbolism of the names of patriarchs, prophets, and monarchs in ancient Israel, the mystery of the unpronounceable name of God, and the significance of Hebrew names for Jewish children in America today.

September 27, 2009
Cleansing the Soul: Psychodramatic Rituals in Judaism
Rabbi Art Blecher will describe the many rites of personal purification practiced within Jewish tradition. Some, such as casting bread into a stream during the High Holidays or clearing out leaven before Passover, are familiar. Others, such as swinging a live chicken over the head to cast away sins or throwing a small batch of Challah dough into a fire, may be less well-known. Can these private ceremonies serve a healing function for people today? Rabbi Blecher will invite attendees to share their own recollections and experiences and will lead a discussion of their role in modern life.

September 13, 2009
Beth Chai 101
We'll spend time getting acquainted and reacquainted with each other and the Beth Chai "way." We'll introduce this year's teachers, meet the congregation's leadership, discuss ways to get involved, and ask everyone to offer a brief comment about themselves, their families, and/or what brought them to Beth Chai.

May 31, 2009
Jews in American Sports
No, it's not an oxymoron. Jews haven't just been commissioners, owners, sportswriters and broadcasters. Beth Chai member David Elfin will educate us on the glories of such Jewish athletes as Mark Spitz, Sandy Koufax, Sid Luckman, Sarah Hughes and Kerri Strug as well as such innovators as Red Auerbach, Al Davis, Sid Gilman, Nancy Lieberman, Abe Saperstein, Shirley Povich and Howard Cosell.

May 17, 2009
A Field Guide to Judaism – North American Varieties
Rabbi Blecher will present an overview of the wide range of Jewish congregational life in America, from major denominations to havurot and other independent communities. He will outline the essential history and defining characteristics of the various American approaches to Judaism today, focusing on their similarities and their differences.

April 26, 2009
Demystifying Jewish Prayer – Part II
Complementing the discussion he began on March 22, which examined the development, structure, and literary content of prayers that make up synagogue services, Rabbi Art Blecher will turn to a similar analysis of the nature, meaning, and function of prayers that traditionally have played a role in Jews’ daily lives or been used to mark special occasions.

April 19, 2009
Al Jazeera – an Insider’s View
Joanne Levine, who has covered world events for top U.S. newspapers and television networks, will discuss her current job overseeing programming for Al Jazeera's English-language service, offering an exciting window onto perspectives on Gaza, Israel, and Iran at the most cosmopolitan news service in the Arab world. Among the questions she will address: What biases exist? How is it to be a woman and a Jew working at an Arab news network? And what's it like representing the most visible Arab media organization here in the United States? Those who are curious to know more about Jo before the session can access her Washington Post op-ed, "Al Jazeera, As American As Apple Pie," at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/23/AR2006062301367.html.

March 29, 2009
What Makes Jewish Art Jewish? 
Jewish art as we know it today - non-ritual objects made for non-ritual purposes - dates no further back than the end of the 17th century.  Before that, artwork of a Jewish character was limited to ritual objects: And even these were more than likely produced by non-Jews, since Jews were not normally allowed to be silversmiths or goldsmiths, being excluded from membership in the guilds.  Thus, many of the ceremonial objects in Judaica collections, though used by Jewish communities, were made on commission by non-Jewish manufacturers or artisans.  It was these objects' function, not their provenance, that made them specifically Jewish. It was only with Jewish emancipation in Europe, which began a little over 200 years ago, that the activity of Jewish artists creating "art for art's sake" went into full swing.  This development has raised a thorny issue, exemplified by such questions as: Is a portrait of a Jew by a Jewish artist more a work of "Jewish art" than the portrait of a non-Jew by a Jewish artist? With the aid of a projector and many carefully chosen illustrations, Joyce will discourse on and lead a discussion of this topic.

March 22, 2009
Demystifying Jewish Prayer - Part I
Rabbi Art Blecher will discuss the development of the Hebrew Prayer Service, its basic structures, and its classical formats. He will describe how the traditional liturgy serves as a record of Jewish history throughout the ages, while illustrating how Hebrew prayers were used as literary containers for the expression of human experience. This Sunday's session will focus on prayer that takes place during synagogue services. Part II of the series, scheduled for April 26, will be devoted to prayers said in the home and on special occasions.

March 8, 2009
Dress and Undress: Jewish Traditions about Clothing and Sexuality
This one-hour Adult Ed session, which will take place from 11:15- noon, will be led for adults only by Rabbi Art Blecher, who prefers to keep his lesson plan secret, leaving the content to your imagination.

March 1, 2009
Must Discussing the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Be So Difficult?—Part II
Having helped the congregation lay a foundation for taking on this question at our December 7 Adult Ed session, Adina Friedman, an Israeli expert in conflict analysis and resolution, and George Gorayeb, an Arab-American with extensive experience in Jewish-Arab dialogue, will return to lead us onward. In this session, we will apply some of the exercises in listening to others’ concerns and points of view that we did on December 7 to explicit discussion of the current situation in the Middle East – while pausing intermittently to reflect on the dynamics at work as we confront disagreement over this conflictual and sensitive topic. The attempt, as we venture into the actual subject matter, will be to deal with the same basic questions raised in our initial session: 
    -- Do we actually hear others when they express opinions different from our own?
    -- Can we truly understand why someone might have another point of view?
    -- What does real dialogue entail?
    -- What is at stake if we choose to engage in dialogue – and what is at stake if we don't?
    -- How can we find the common ground with others with whom we believe we have none?
    --Why does the Israeli-Palestinian conflict mean so much to many of us, and what is at stake when we engage in dialogue about this particular topic?

February 22, 2009
The Essence of Beth Chai – Spirit and Practice
As members of Beth Chai, we’ve devoted much discussion time to what it means to us to be Jews, but far less to what it means to be a member of our own congregation. This special session of Adult Ed is meant to bring the latter issue to the fore. What do members expect of and want from Beth Chai? How involved do they feel in the congregation’s operation and governance, and in what ways do they want to participate? What do they believe is expected of them as members, and how well do they feel this has been communicated to them? Such questions will be addressed in the first hour of this session, which will be led by Rabbi Art Blecher. In the second hour, members will have a chance to speak individually or in small groups with the representatives of Beth Chai’s Parents’ Council and members of the board, including leaders of such activities as Social Action, Volunteer Coordination, and Liturgy.

February 1, 2009
The Secularist Enterprise in America – and Jews’ Relationship to It
What are Secularism and Secularist Humanism? What are their stated values and practical goals? What are the limits of their adherents’ integration into mainstream U.S. culture and political life? Do American Jews face different – and perhaps lower – barriers in reconciling secular and religiously based identities than Jews in other places, or than their non-Jewish fellow citizens? Jacques Berlinerblau, Professor of Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University and a double PhD in Sociology and Ancient Near Eastern Languages and Literatures, will suggest some answers to these questions and raise a few of his own regarding the current vitality of American Secularism and potential alternative avenues for its energies. The author of The Secular Bible, Berlinerblau will also follow on Rabbi Art Blecher’s January talks on why humanists need to read the classical texts by discussing the significance of understanding Judaism for secular Jews. [Copies of The Secular Bible will be available for sale and signature.]

January 25, 2009
Why Do Humanists Need to Read the Classical Religious Texts? – Part II
A vast rabbinic literature, compiled over a thousand-year period beginning a few centuries before the Common Era, records the daily workings of Judean society. More than that, it documents the moral, intellectual, and legal principles that determined the course of Jewish history. The pages of the voluminous Midrash and Talmud contain the central concepts that informed the decisions of Judea’s leaders as they confronted conquering empires and internal factions. Led by Rabbi Art Blecher, we will explore the patterns of thinking in these works, which – though they may seem quaint to many of us today – were critical to determining the outcome of real events, including civil wars and revolutions.

January 18, 2009
Martin Luther King Jr. Day Program
At Beth Chai, this day not only marks Dr. King’s birthday, but honors all those who participated in the popular movement for civil rights. For the 2009 event, the theme will be civil rights and the future of our multicultural society, in light of the election of Barack Obama, from the perspective of two generations. Our presenters will be Gloria Mobley, former executive director of Leadership Greater Washington, and a consultant on multicultural issues; and her daughter, Izetta Mobley, chief diversity officer of College Summit, a college access organization, and a contributor to N.P.R. and other media outlets. Please join us for this annual tribute to the progress toward equality and justice that is central to the mission of Beth Chai. There will be ample opportunity for members to participate.

January 11, 2009
Why Do Humanists Need to Read the Classical Religious Texts? – Part I
Found in the Hebrew Bible are the oldest known cultural artifacts of Jewish civilization. Whether or not its stories took place just as described, they reveal much about our ancestors’ daily lives. Moreover, as foundational myths of our culture, they provide a window onto our people's emotional lives, embodying their values, fears, and aspirations. Rabbi Art Blecher will guide us through an examination of how the varied and rich material of the Bible, in the absence of physical markers of our origins, serve us as an intellectual, spiritual, and historical anchor.

December 21, 2008
Jewish Tradition and the Human Psyche – Wrap-up
Rabbi Blecher will take questions that may have emerged from Part I of this series, much of which was devoted to traditional views of whether humans have inherent characteristics and what implications the answer has for free will, and from Part II, which is described above. If there’s time – or a lack of questions from the congregation – we may even break some new ground by considering such issues as:
     -- Do people tend to be a certain way at different stages of life (e.g., sweet, pure, or unruly as children; rambunctious, impulsive, or rebellious as adolescents; wise in old age)?
     -- Do Biblical characters (and perhaps later important Jewish figures) show a capacity for introspection? for personal intimacy with others?

December 14, 2008
Jewish Tradition and the Human Psyche – Part II
Is there a distinctive picture of human nature in classical Jewish literature? Have Judaism’s ideals about desirable human qualities changed over the centuries? Drawing upon examples from classical texts, Rabbi Art Blecher will lead an exploration of what both Biblical and later sources have to say about such questions as:
    -- What human traits does Judaism admire?
    -- How is individual success to be measured?
    -- What are the qualities of a parent? a spouse? a leader?

December 7, 2008
Must Discussing the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Be So Difficult?
Even in a community as open to ideas as Beth Chai, the current Middle East at times seems a topic too hot to handle – to the point that we have tended to keep it at arm's length. But now, to look this hesitance in the eye, we've enlisted experts in conflict resolution for help confronting some basic questions: 
    -- Do we actually hear others when they express opinions different from our own?
    -- Can we truly understand why someone might have another point of view?
    -- What does real dialogue entail?
    -- What is at stake if we choose to engage in dialogue – and what is at stake if we don't?
    -- How can we find the common ground with others with whom we believe we have none?
Adina Friedman, an Israeli who holds a doctorate from the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University, and Rawhi Afghani, a Palestinian from a refugee camp in the West Bank who is completing his PhD in Conflict Analysis and Resolution, will apply their expertise and vast experience leading workshops for Israelis, Arabs, and Americans to aid us in strengthening our ability to deal with one of the world's most delicate subjects.

November 23, 2008
It Takes a Shtetl, Part I - Talking to Your Child(ren) About Jewish Identity
What constitutes Jewishness and what makes one a Jew are tough enough questions for many adult members of Beth Chai.  But what answers are the parents among us to give our children when they put such questions to us, as they do already or almost certainly will?  This Adult Education session will aim to take advantage of the rich palate of backgrounds, experience, and insight resident in Beth Chai members - single, with kids at home, empty nesters, or childless; intermarried or not; believing, agnostic, or atheist - to provide our young parents a chance to compare notes, receive some advice, and explore new ideas. With Beth Chai Member Stacy Downey and Program Co-Chair Ken Jacobson facilitating, we'll have a wide-ranging discussion of how to navigate the labyrinth of ethnicity, tradition, religion, and mainstream expectation in ways that make sense to the coming generation of largely unconventional Jews that we are raising.  This will be the first in a series of Adult Ed programs in which the community will reflect together on how to speak with children about complex or sensitive topics.

November 16, 2008
Jewish Tradition and the Human Psyche (Part I)
Is there a distinctive picture of psychology and human development in classical Jewish literature?  Drawing upon examples from the texts, Rabbi Blecher will explore what both biblical and rabbinic sources have to say about such questions as:  Are humans born good or bad?  What parts are played by nature, and by nurture, in shaping our development as individuals?  Are character, morals, and beliefs fixed throughout life?  If they change, what makes them change?  Are there ideal characteristics?  Are people born with these, or can they be acquired?

November 9, 2008
The Role of Environmental Stewardship in Judaism
Beth Chai Education Director Rain Zohav will, in the course of the first hour, introduce us to Torah and rabbinic texts upon which modern Jewish environmentalists base their work, which include several key passages that can be expanded and reinterpreted for our day.  In addition, we will experiment with our own interpretations and expansions, comparing what we come up with to those that guide existing Jewish environmental programs. In the second hour, Mark Bauman, Beth Chai's program co-chair and an executive vice president with National Geographic, will demystify the "carbon footprint," beginning with a short cartoon by Robert Krulwich and Odd Todd, then unveil the newly conceived "blue footprint," which highlights water-use issues.  He'll also discuss a few simple factors to consider as we all struggle to achieve the right balance between environmental stewardship and the practical demands of everyday life in the new millennium.

October 26, 2008
Jewish Tradition and the Human Psyche
Is there a distinctive picture of psychology and human development in classical Jewish literature?  Drawing upon examples from the texts, Rabbi Blecher will explore what both Biblical and Rabbinic sources have to say about such questions as:  Are humans born good or bad?  What parts are played by nature, and by nurture, in shaping our development as individuals?  Are character, morals, and beliefs fixed throughout life?  If they change, what makes them change?  Are there ideal characteristics?  Are people born with these, or can they be acquired?

October 19, 2008
How Many Lightbulbs Does It Take to Change a Jew?  
Even casual observers of Judaism can be overwhelmed by the diversity of practice.  The major denominations had their origins in doctrinal differences, but as the set of Jewish ideologies seems constantly to expand, new questions arise:  Does Judaism tolerate – or even celebrate – new ideologies and practices?  How does the traditional structure of Judaism accommodate the apparent mutability of Jewish law?  Can changes in practice be seen as being both radical and traditional?  What are the “lightbulbs” – ideas, teachers, outside influences – that have helped change Jews?  Where does Humanist Judaism stand in all this diversity?  Led by Avi West, the director of the Shulamith Reich Elster Resource Center and Master Teacher at Rockville’s Partnership for Jewish Life and Learning, we will explore such questions in reflecting on the exciting threads that, woven together, form the beautiful fabric called Judaism.

October 5, 2008
What Do Beth Chai Members Mean by God?  
Some of our members do not believe in God, while some do believe and others continue to ask questions.  In this open discussion, led by Rabbi Art Blecher, all will be free to share or not share their thoughts and feelings about this ageless and fundamental issue, which has also become a hot-button topic in American life today.  What image, notion, or conception does each of us have of God?  Do some see God as a metaphor? an ideal? a force? an actual being? a presence? an absence?  Do some of us attribute particular characteristics to God, have feelings about God, grant significance to God? Does the concept of God – as each of us understands it – have meaning or lack meaning for us?

September 21, 2008
Getting to Know You, Getting to Know All About You
Two years ago, we planned to devote the first half of a Sunday Adult Ed session to personal introductions. Beth Chai members would spend 45 minutes, we thought, talking briefly one by one about such things as their education, job, family, and hobbies; their Jewish background and interests; and their path to Beth Chai’s door – whatever each wished to impart. But our members’ life histories, pursuits, and accomplishments turned out to be so interesting, diverse, and often downright surprising that we barely got around the circle before noon. It’s about time to do this again but, having learned from experience, we’re setting aside the entire morning for it. Say as much or as little as you like – but be prepared for the variety.

September 14, 2008
The West Bank Crossing – A Rare Perspective
Beth Chai member Robert Rosenberg visited crossing points between Israel and the West Bank in late spring as an official of a DC-area software company that works with governments to reduce congestion, facilitate trade, and improve cargo security at national borders. His firm is looking into applying its technological expertise to help mitigate what, along the West Bank, is commonly referred to as the “Movement and Access Problem”: the impact of the rules, regulations, and infrastructural barriers put into place by the Israeli government in an attempt to ensure Israel’s security. Robert will speak to us about what he learned – logistically, politically, and emotionally – from his own observation and from meeting with both Israeli and Palestinian officials during his stay, which included specialized tours of the Allenby and Tarqumia crossings.

September 7, 2008
Judaism’s Major Holidays Through the Ages
To get Adult Education off on a scholarly yet typically unconventional foot for the new school year, Rabbi Art Blecher will speak to us about the origins, meanings, and evolution of the major Jewish holidays. He will trace the paths that Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot have traveled, from their roots in the cycles of nature, to their historical and Biblical meanings, and then their transformation – even replacement – by meanings imparted to them by the Rabbinic tradition. The session will conclude with a discussion of the essential meanings of these holidays for us in America today.

June 8, 2008
Receiving Torah at Sinai -- Its Meaning Then and Now
In a special program led by guest speaker Rabbi Leila Gal Berner, we will explore with the help of midrash what happened on Shavuot, the day on which the people of Israel arrived at Mount Sinai and received the Torah. After looking at how events unfolded then, and what they might have meant and felt like to our ancestors, we will discuss the relevance that "receiving Torah" may have for members of Beth Chai and for those who come after us. 

May 18, 2008
Midrash – Reflections on Human Nature
Every generation grapples with essential questions about the nature of human existence and the world in which we live.  Are people basically good or evil?  Is life meaningful or madness?  Led by Rabbi Art Blecher, we will discuss excerpts from Midrash that, compiled within the unspoken context of Roman persecution and emerging competition from Christianity, address these issues with wit and poignancy. 

May 4. 2008
The Paradoxical “Likeness of God”  
During a recent Adult Education session, we were exposed to an impressive line from the great 20th century Jewish thinker Abraham Joshua Heschel: "Man's dignity consists in his having been created in the likeness of God." But what is the "likeness of God”? How can human beings know it? And how can we, who are mortal and corporeal, be said to be “created in the likeness” of one that our tradition appears to regard as eternal and infinite? Rabbi Art Blecher will lead us in an exploration of these challenging questions and present a midrash that offers one possible resolution of the contradictions they suggest.

April 27, 2008
Israel at 60, Part IV – Israel and the Dilemma of American Jews
How does language influence American Jews’ attempts to come to grips with the complex reality of the Middle East? What is the difference between being “critical of Israeli policy,” “anti-Israel,” “anti-Semitic,” and “a self-hating Jew”? How are such labels used to shape – or limit – discussion of the options that may be open both to American Jews and to Israel itself? What effect do they have on how we interpret information and positions articulated by the U.S. Jewish leadership, U.S. academics, and the U.S. media? Noted author and Middle East expert Milton Viorst will explore this pivotal topic against the background of U.S. reaction to The Israel Lobby and Foreign Policy, a controversial study of the making of American Middle East policy by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. The latest of Mr. Viorst’s numerous books, Storm from the East: The Struggle Between the Arab World and the Christian West, will be offered for sale and signing at the session.

April 13, 2008
Israel at 60, Part III – Rethinking Israel’s History 
In the past two decades, many Israelis have come to see crucial chapters of their nation’s history in a new light. This owes partly to historical writings based on archival material that has become available only since the mid-1980s, and partly to a process of societal maturation that has enabled Israelis to take a more critical view of themselves and their past. National myths and long-held beliefs are now portrayed with more nuance in school curricula and textbooks, in the media, and in political and popular discourse. Dr. Adina Friedman, a native Israeli currently teaching at George Washington University, will guide us through Israel’s painful and difficult process of re-examination. She will talk about what it has entailed on both a collective and an individual level, and about its ramifications for the Israeli-Palestinian/Arab-Israeli conflict.

April 6, 2008
Israel at 60, Part II – New Visions of the State and the Holy Land
It has become clear to many in Israel that an entirely new vision of the Palestinian and Israeli-Jewish relationship to the Holy Land will be necessary if both communities are to survive and flourish in the future. Dr. Marc Gopin, a rabbi who is professor of World Religions, Diplomacy, and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University, will speak about his work with an unusual group of spiritual peacemakers who have had a vital but little-known impact on those future visions – and are among the very few who are deeply engaged with each other even in the midst of violence. His talk will present implications this work has for what Diaspora Jews should – and should not – be doing right now when it comes to their own relationship to Israel.

March 16, 2008
Purim Special: Jewish Ideas of Misconduct
Secular American Jews are likely to have assimilated taboos surrounding such things as cursing, scatology, and sexuality that are current in the majority (Christian) culture. But where does Jewish tradition, influenced by the unique vision and priorities of Jewish law, place the limits of acceptable behavior? And how have these limits changed with the times? In our abbreviated Purim session of Adult Ed (11:15 – noon), Rabbi Art Blecher will lead a discussion of these questions, topping it off with some examples of latter-day risqué Jewish humor from Heeb magazine, www.Jewcy.com, and other sources. In the holiday’s spirit of misbehavior, this session will be ADULTS ONLY.

March 9, 2008
Taking Stock of Israel at 60 – Part I
In a series of programs honoring the 60th anniversary of Israel’s statehood, we will look at some aspects of its history and culture that tend to be obscured by the headlines – but that may well help put the headlines into sharper focus. The first of these sessions, which are to run through April, will be led by Israeli anthropologist Naomi Gale, this year’s Schusterman visiting professor at American University’s Center for Israeli Studies. Among the topics to be considered during the series are: the recent reappraisal of Israel’s early history and its impact on the current political debate; the evolution of the definition of diversity in the Israeli context and of Israelis’ attitudes toward the Jewish “other”; and the history of American Jews’ bonds with, attitudes toward, and support for Israel.

February 24, 2008
The Torah, Then and Now – Part II, Implications for Today
Following up on Part I’s examination of the Torah’s moral vision in its original context, Rabbi Blecher will guide us in exploring the question of how later Judaism has translated that vision for a different and non-priestly spiritual grounding. We will also look at that vision’s implications for our lives today and address the ways in which scripture is used – and misused – by contemporary preachers.

February 10, 2008
The Torah, Then and Now – Part I, Channeling Our Ancestors
The moral vision of our Jewish forebears as codified in the laws of the Torah was based on a system of ritual purity that is no longer part of Judaism. The laws, therefore, can only be appreciated by understanding the original context and the unique world view in which they were created. In the first of two sessions on the Torah, Rabbi Blecher will explain how the priestly system pervades its laws and present concrete examples of the range of legal statements it contains.

February 3, 2008
Heschel’s Views on Education and the “Segregation of Youth”
Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the great Jewish thinkers of the 20th century, was dogged by a concern about "the separation of young and old" that so often characterizes contemporary education. Heschel’s words — accurate, chilling, and profound — prompt us to look squarely at the way we educate, at our views about Judaism, and at our society. In this session, Beth Chai Education Director Rain Zohav will guide us in exploring the many challenges that Heschel frames regarding the education of children, youth, and adults alike.

January 27, 2008
Reclaiming Jewish Identity Across Centuries, Continents, and Civilizations
As a girl of nine, Carolivia Herron learned from the mouth of her 103-year-old great-grandmother of their Sephardic ancestor: Kidnapped from Italy by Barbary pirates and rescued by Libyan Jews, Sarah Shulamit ultimately escaped with the help of U.S. Marines to Georgia’s Sea Islands, where she settled among the Gullah-speaking Geechees. This story is one thread on the award-winning African American Jewish author’s path to Judaism that was to weave in later years through Jewish responses to her controversial 1997 book Nappy Hair. Carolivia will recount her remarkable family history, the subject of her newly published children’s book Always an Olivia, and lead a discussion on such themes as identity, multiculturalism, and race. Copies of Always an Olivia and her other books will be available for sale and signing.

January 20, 2008
Martin Luther King Day Program
Beth Chai’s annual Martin Luther King Day program presents Daryl Davis, author, teacher, and lecturer. Daryl’s unique perspective on civil rights and discrimination is exemplified in his book, Klan-Destine Relationships, which recounts the amazing story of how Daryl, an African-American, succeeded in getting hard-core Ku Klux Klan members to renounce their views, through intense personal dialogue.  Daryl’s approach, which has been characterized as classically Christian, or New Testament, in nature, relies on a “love-thy-neighbor” philosophy, in which prejudices are confronted, and ultimately overcome, through one-on-one relationships.  

January 13, 2008
Modernizing Jewish Ritual Practices – Adaptation, Reform, or Cheating? (Part I)
There are observant Jews who pin their handkerchiefs to their sleeves – ostensibly turning the handkerchiefs into “apparel” that they “wear” – in order to get around the Shabbat prohibition on carrying objects outside the home. In a similar vein, some who keep kosher kitchens will eat in non-kosher restaurants, although they may leave pork and shellfish aside. Whereas our recent discussions have focused on whether Beth Chai members’ individually chosen paths have implications for our identity as Jews, we haven’t looked at our own actions and beliefs along a continuum spanning the wider Jewish world. In this multi-part series, Rabbi Art Blecher will situate our discussion within the broader context of Jewish history and practice, raising questions that include: Do all branches of Judaism modify tradition in some way? Deviations in practice vs. deviations in belief: which trump which? How do communities and individuals validate their systems of belief and practice? Is there a tipping point where authenticity is compromised?

December 16, 2007
The Messianic Tradition in Judaism – Part II/III
After we round out the discussion begun on December 9 of the journey of the Messianic ideal through the latter Rabbinic period, Rabbi Blecher will press on to Part III of the series.  Looking at modern Judaism’s understanding of Messianism, will explore ways that Judaism and Christianity can find a common ground as prophetic voices within contemporary society.

December 9, 2007
The Messianic Tradition in Judaism – Part II
Rabbi Art Blecher will pick up the historical narrative of this somewhat neglected subject – which, however, serves as the foundation for the utopian aspirations expressed in the oft-invoked concept of tikkun olam – in the later phases of Judaism’s Rabbinic period.  He will focus on changes in earlier Jewish notions of the Messiah and on how the Jewish and Christian concepts of Messianism diverged over time. 

December 2, 2007
Judaism in Beth Chai Homes – Theory Meets Practice
From time to time, we’ve heard ideas from both Rabbi Art Blecher and Education Director Rain Zohav for borrowing from or adapting traditional Jewish practices for use in humanistic observance.  This session will provide Beth Chai members a chance to compare notes on what we actually do, and what it means to us. What is the variety of Shabbat practice in Beth Chai homes?  How do the traditional and the modern, even the original, mix in our Passover Seders?  How do we address the meaning of Chanukah?  The lively discussion we’re expecting is also likely to touch on the roles played by various influences in shaping our choices and our feelings: family background; individual searching; Beth Chai; and mainstream Jewish denominations’ claims that only they represent “authentic” Judaism.

November 18, 2007
The Messianic Tradition in Judaism – Part I
The subject of the Messiah represents the historical critical nexus of Judaism and Christianity.  Our different understandings of the meaning of the Messiah simultaneously connect and divide the two communities.  In this session, the first in a three-part series on Messianism within Judaism, Rabbi Art Blecher will introduce the basic terminology and Biblical origins of the Jewish concept of the Messiah.  He will discuss the historical and political background to Messianism, emphasizing the Biblical period and the birth of Christianity.  Sessions two and three are scheduled for December.

November 11, 2007
Jewish Identitiy:  Beth Chai Members’ Personal Definitions
The Adult Ed discussion of this past Sunday (Oct 28th) brought to the fore a question that often haunts non-conforming Jews:  Is there a sine qua non of being Jewish?  Striking while the iron is hot, we’ll devote this session to talking about what each of us views as the essence of her or his own Jewish identity.  In the process, we may also acquire a perspective on the external standards against which, knowingly or not, many of us measure the legitimacy of our claim to Jewishness.

October 28, 2007
Intermarriage Through the Ages – Part III, Non-Jews’ Needs and Contributions
Our third session on intermarriage will be devoted to exploring the everyday dynamics of intermarriage households.  Rabbi Blecher will lead a discussion of the specific needs and concerns of the Gentile members of Beth Chai.  Finally the group will formulate ways that the Gentile members of Jewish households can make important contributions to the American Jewish community.

October 21, 2007
Jewish Genetic Diseases – One Family’s Story
In 1995 the first son of Laurie Strongin, sister of Beth Chai President Andrew Strongin, was born with a fatal Jewish genetic disease.  The story of Laurie’s son, Henry Strongin Goldberg, and her family is one in which science, love, genes, reproductive rights, ethics, and politics colllide.  Laurie, founder and co-president of the Hope for Henry Foundation, will tell this rich and affecting story while also providing information about the genetic diseases that primarily affect Jews.

October 7, 2007
Intermarriage Through the Ages – Part II, Modern Institutions and Attitudes
This second part of our series on intermarriage will focus on contemporary American Jewish institutions.  Rabbi Blecher will discuss the similarities and differences among the major denominations and the independent communities.  The session will cover changes in the community’s outlook toward Jews who intermarry, comparing current attitudes with both earlier generations of American Jews and Old World Jewish Judaism.

September 30, 2007
Introduction in Parable and Practice
Judaism’s rich mystical tradition contains a parable about the founder of the Kabbalah, Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer, known as the Baal Shem Tov.  According to the story, when Rabbi Yisrael introduced himself to Rabbi David, he removed the “mask” that he was wearing to reveal his true identity and thereby establish Rabbi David as his colleague.  The lesson for all of us today is that it is possible to establish meaningful relationships through even the briefest of introductions – if we are willing to reveal what we ordinarily hide.  Rabbi Blecher will provide a brief analysis of this psychological insight from the Kabbalah as we get the new year off to a good start by introducing ourselves to one another. 

September 16, 2007
Intermarriage Through the Ages – Part I, Biblical & Rabbinic Times
Gentiles have married into the Jewish community since its earliest days, but the community’s attitudes toward intermarriage have differed from era to era.  Initially, intermarriage occasioned little notice, although positions both for and against received expression in the Torah and in the books of Ruth, Ezra, and Nehemiah.  In this first part of a two-part series, Rabbi Art Blecher will show us how intermarriage was portrayed in the Bible and how the community’s attitudes toward it were affected by the early rabbis’ decision to base Jewishness on the mother’s bloodline.  The second part, scheduled for October, will examine current views of intermarriage and the important things that non-Jewish members of Jewish households have to contribute to the Jewish community.

September 9, 2007
From Africa to Zion and Back – DNA & Human Migration     
How humans spread around the globe and how we became such a variety of peoples present an enormous puzzle – especially since, according to our DNA, we are all descended from a common ancestor who lived as recently as 60,000 years ago.  To map this genetic journey through the ages, the National Geographic Society is spearheading an unprecedented study, the five-year Genographic Project.  Beth Chai member Mark Bauman, National Geographic’s vice president for Media, will outline this effort and bring us up to date on its findings – which include interesting clues to Ashkenazic-Jewish identity and to the terrestrial and genetic dispersion of the priestly caste, the Kohanim.  

May 20, 2007
Jewish Demographics in the DC area
How has the Jewish population of our area evolved in recent times, and what is its composition now?  A representative of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington who has been heavily involved in the most recent local demographic study will talk about such attributes of area Jews as origin, age, education, and wealth, as well as discussing their implications for the types of services local Jewish institutions offer.

May 6, 2007
The Other Sons – Rejection, Disinheritance, and Chosenness in Jewish Tradition
In the first two generations descended from Abraham, it was the second son rather than the first-born son who became the heritor of the Covenant.  Rabbi Art Blecher will discuss what Genesis says about two pairs of brothers – Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob – with a focus on the stories’ implications for Jewish identity and for Jewish-Gentile relations today. Preparation is not indispensable, but those who wish to get a head start might look at the following passages, all from Genesis:  Birth of Ishmail, 16:1-16; Isaac and Ishmail, 21:1-3, 9-21; Ishmail, 25:12-18; Jacob and Esau, 25:19-28; Jacob Takes Birthright from Esau, 25:29-34; Esau Marries, 26:34-35; Jacob Takes the Blessing, 27:1-46; Jacob Meets Esau, 32:4-21; Jacob and Esau Reconcile, 33:1-16.

April 22, 2007
Background to Islam – The Construction to Identity
Following on the two-part exploration of the Islamic and Jewish traditions led by Beth Chai member Karim Chaibi and Rabbi Art Blecher, Karim will elaborate upon some of the beliefs, attitudes, and practices that help make Muslims who they are.  Among the subjects considered will be:  the religious and practical rights and duties of men and women; the connection between sexuality, in its various forms, and sin; concepts of faith and apostasy, including the limits and consequences of irreverence; and the organization and power of religious authority.

March 25, 2007
Archaeology and Politics in Israel and Palestine
Archaeology in the Holy Land began as a political venture and continues to have political overtones and implications to this very day, Jerusalem-based archaeologist David Ilan will argue in a follow-up to his enthusiastically received January talk on Archaeology and the Bible.  He will relate how archaeology in the region began in the 19th century with a political agenda, how Zionism and then Palestinian nationalism have used archaeology to further their agendas, and how archaeology is embroiled in the modern conflict – as illustrated by recent headlines devoted to the Temple Mount, or Haram es Sharif.  He will also discuss how archaeology can do its own small part in healing the social and psychological wounds of conflict in the Middle East. Dr. Ilan directs the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology at Jerusalem’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

March 18, 2007
Judaism Meets Islam, Part II – Prophecy and Statecraft
In the second of a multi-part exploration of the two traditions, Rabbi Art Blecher and Beth Chai member Karim Chaibi will look at the meaning of Moses’ and Muhammad’s contrasting fates:  the latter founded and ruled a state, while the former was kept from even entering the Promised Land.  Each speaker will talk about the connection between religious authority and the exercise of temporal power in his own tradition, as well as the consequences of this link for both religious and political life.  General discussion will follow.

February 11, 2007
Judaism Meets Islam, Part I – People of the Book
Beth Chai Rabbi Art Blecher and member Karim Chaibi, who holds a degree in Islamic theology, will embark on a multi-part exploration of similarities and differences between the two traditions as belief systems and guides for living. In this first session, they will talk about the parallel relationship of the two religions to a founding text that is attributed to a divine author and was transmitted through a single prophet.  The implications of this relationship for the character of each religion and culture will be addressed, with special attention given to the role of textual interpretation.  Each speaker will make a separate presentation on his own tradition, with general discussion to follow.

February 4, 2007
The Rabbi in America, Part III
In the finale of a three-part series on the evolving role of the American rabbi, Beth Chai’s own rabbi, Art Blecher, will talk about the challenges faced by rabbis in the current era of innovation and diversity that began with the 1970s revival of Jewish interest. Amonth the topics addressed will be:  how well formal training prepares rabbis to serve the congregations that employ them; the attitudes of rabbis of the various denominations toward sharing the Jewish knowledge they have acquired; and the public postures assumed by rabbis in dealing with their congregants, their colleagues, and the wider world.

January 28, 2007
East European Jewry’s Passage into Modern Times
Rabbi Max Ticktin, the associate director of George Washington University’s Jewish Studies Program, will return to lead us in a discussion of the Jews’ confrontation with modernity as depicted in works of the great Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem. Copies of the three stories we will consider – On Account of a Hat, The Yom Kippur Scandal, and If I Were a Rothschild – will be available at Adult Ed on Jan 7th, 14th, and 21st.  Those attending on Jan 28th are asked to make every effort to read these brief works in advance of the session.

January 21, 2007
The Bible & Archaeology – Where They Meet, Where They Don’t, and Why
Until two decades ago, archaeologists working in Israel, the Occupied Territories, and Jordan regarded the Bible as an historical text in the modern sense, a view that prejudiced their interpretations of the archaeological data.  Today’s researchers take a far more circumspect attitude when relating to Biblical texts. Dr. David Ilan, who directs the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology at Jerusalem’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, will explain the shift in outlook that has taken place, in the process evaluating the historical and theological implications of several Biblical stories against the background of archaeological data.

January 14, 2007
MLK Day Presentation:  The Long Road to Justice in the South
We are very fortunate to welcome Juanita Evangeline Moore, whose parents were killed in a Ku Klux Klan bombing in Mims, Florida in 1951.  Harry Moore was the state NAACP president, extremely active in early voter registration and school desegregation efforts.  When he and his wife Harriette were killed on Christmas Day (also their 25th wedding anniversary), they became the first martyrs of the Civil Rights movement. Ms. Moore will recount her 55-year struggle to identify her parents’ killers, which finally culminated in official findings this summer.  Ms. Moore has previously spoken at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Maitland, FL – her parents’ murders were part of a statewide Klan bombing campaign which also targeted synagogues.  She will also discuss and take questions and comments on the current state of the movement for equality for all Americans.

January 7, 2007
The Rabbi in America – Part II
In the second of a three-part series on the evolving role of the American rabbi, Beth Chai’s own rabbi, Art Blecher, will offer reminiscences of his years studying at the Jewish Theological Seminary, an institution of the Conservative Movement.  He will focus on tensions surrounding the issues of belief and observance and of sexuality that confronted rabbinical students in the 1970s, a decade of reawakening of Jewish interest, while also commenting on Conservative Judaism’s December actions regarding the ordination of gays and same-sex commitment ceremonies.  In the final meeting of this series, to take place in February, Rabbi Blecher will outline the current challenges for rabbis that stem from innovations ushered in during the ‘70s.

December 17, 2006
The Rabbi in America – Part I
In the first of a three-part series on the evolving role of the American rabbi, Beth Chai’s own rabbi, Art Blecher, will lead a discussion of how rabbis are trained by the various Jewish movements in this country today and of how their training is thought to prepare them for the job they are expected to do.  To put the present into perspective, he will describe rabbis’ traditional training and functions in the Old World, as well as the abrupt changes that took place in both as Jews began arriving en masse in America.  In Part II, scheduled for January 7th, Rabbi Blecher will offer reminiscences of his years at the Jewish Theological Seminary, focusing on tensions around the issues of belief and observance and of sexualilty confronted by rabbinical students in the 1970s, a decade of reawakening of Jewish interest.  He will outline in Part III the current challenges for rabbis arising from innovations ushered in during the ‘70s.

December 10, 2006
The Changing Image of the Arab in Modern Hebrew Literature
Returning as a guest lecturer will be Rabbi Max Ticktin, the associate director of George Washington University’s Program in Judaic Studies, whose talks in 2003 and 2004 are warmly remembered by Adult Ed veterans.  Rabbi Ticktin will discuss how Hebrew-language writers have portrayed the Arab - other - from the 1890s to the present.  Spotlighted will be the quarter-century following Israeli independence in 1948, when Jews exercised temporal power for the first time in nearly two millennia, and the current period, beginning with the 1973 October War and marked by Israel’s continuing occupation of Arab territories.  Works by Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua, and David Grossman will be among those considered in exploring how the Israeli artist/intellectual has confronted the treatment of minorities by the Jewish state.

December 3, 2006
Jewish Culture Day at Rockville JCC
Thanks to a special “cluster grant” from the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, we will do another joint program with the Bethesda Chevy Chase Community Group.  This year’s program focuses on the various ways that Jewish culture has been influenced by the surrounding cultures where Jews have lived.  It will feature a performance by Yesodot, a wonderful High School Israeli Dance Troupe.  During the second hour, there will be workshops that teach about both Chinese and Sephardic Jewish culture.

November 12, 2006
Judaism and Islam: Confluences and Conflicts
Two new Beth Chai members, Karim Chaibi and Lora Berg, will guide us through the complex relationship between two great traditions based on experiences they have had individually and as a Jewish-Muslim couple. Karim, drawing on his years as a student of Islamic theology and an Islamist, will talk about how Judaism is perceived through an Islamic lens and about how secularism has affected his view of the dialogue between Jews and Muslims. Lora will elucidate the perspective of a Jewish woman who worked, married, gave birth, adopted, and raised children in the Muslim world over more than a decade, then experienced life for three years in a land that was deeply scarred by World War II and the Holocaust.  As she examines how her worldview changed during that time, Lora is seeking effective ways to promote tolerance in future generations, a project in which she is joined by Karim and for which she is receiving support from and through her employer, the U.S. Foreign Service.

October 29, 2006
Mitzvah Day – Looking at Disability Through a Jewish Lens
Adult Ed will feature a presentation by Lenore Layman, the Special Needs Chair of the Partnership for Jewish Life and Learning.  For the first hour, she will lead study and discussion of Jewish texts dealing with disabilities issues.  The second hour will be given over to a discussion of what Jewish congregations have been doing to insure they are welcoming and inclusive, with some suggestions for what Beth Chai might do in this regard. 

October 22, 2006
Humanism and Judaism – When Parallel Lines Meet
Inherent in much of what we do at Beth Chai is the idea that Humanism and Judaism are compatible, even complementary – that Judaism can contribute to our lives as individuals, that humanism can throw light on the Jewish tradition.  Rabbi Blecher will lead a discussion of the following questions:  What is Humanism?  How do it and Judaism relate?  Where do the two overlap, where not?  Can we locate Jewish roots in Humanism?  Can we integrate Humanism into Judaism?  What do they impart, alone and together, to our identities, our values, our aspirations – to the way we live?

October 15, 2006
A Humanistic View of Simchat Torah 
Traditionally, Simchat Torah is the joyous holiday accompanying the completion, and resumption, of the annual cycle of Torah reading.  What significance can it hold for Humanistic Jews?  Beth Chai Education Director Rain Zohav will talk about the history of Simchat Torah and the practices that have been associated with it, while at the same time putting forward a Humanist perspective on the holiday.  To get the ball rolling, we’ll adapt one custom – that of calling all children, from babes in arms to pre-Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, to recite a blessing from the Torah – to the reality of Beth Chai today.

October 1, 2006
Debate in Israel As Seen Through Its Press
At times, events in the Middle East have produced a rigid unanimity in the U.S. Jewish community that has sharply contrasted with a multi-sided – and impassioned – debate in Israel.  Is this one of those times?  To help us find out, we’ll hear a number of brief reports from Beth Chai members, each of whom has followed an Israeli publication over the Internet in the preceding weeks.  Then, of course, we’ll discuss what we’ve heard.