I.a. Jewish Renewal in Poland: A Progressive Jewish Umbrella for the Future
My work in Poland and the revival of Jewish life in Poland is a major effort involving hundreds of people. Here is a link to the Jewish Renewal in Poland web site and my blog. My main website is locate here.
There are a number of items that would make good topics.
- The creation of the first Progressive Prayerbook in 85 years in Hebrew and Polish.
- An innovative lay cantor’s program for Polish speaking leaders.
- The documentary Bogdan’s Journey which portrays a courageous struggle for historical acknowledgement and reconciliation related to the Kielce Pogrom July 4, 1946 led by Polish psychologist Bogdan Bialek;
- The new movie and detective novel, A Grain of Truth
- The film Aftermath confronting the ‘dark past’ including discussion guide to it and soon a discussion guide for Bogdan’s Journey.
- A unique introduction to Judaism curriculum in Polish for “Step by Step” classes parts which are recorded and edited for use in Polish high school classes to re-introduce Judaism to a new generation of young people.
- There are dozens of topics on the web site.
I.b. “A Jewish Planter and Port Society – Suriname: A Semi-independent Jewish entity in the Caribbean”
In my travels to Suriname and service there for three months as a rabbi I encountered a world unlike any I experienced before. I learned about race relations and planter culture under the Dutch aegis; the tremendous influence of Jewish culture on this tiny place “next” to Devil’s Island; and the incredible world of 600 Jewish plantations, mostly abandoned. Jewish Portuguese planters and later port traders constituted the “white” majority in this tiny society until the mid-19th Century at the time of emancipation.
The synagogue which stands at the head of “Jewish Broadway” Street is an incredible place with its sand floors and ancient customs. There is a kosher mikveh on the premises… perfect for destination weddings and nature explorers. I have tons of slides;
II. The Jewish Return to History Fosters a “Jewish Voice” in Philosophy: Emmanuel Levinas
- “Levinas’ Turn to Ethics of the Other ”
- “The Sagacity of Wisdom in Emmanuel Levinas: a General Introduction to His Thought”
- Levinas’ Philosophy: A Response to Heideggarian Barbarity
III. “Great Trials and Disputations in Jewish History”: A series of talks about key moments in Jewish history as reflected in cultural and aesthetic memory
All of these topics can be separated into one-time lectures or a mini-series. All of them can involve movie clips and other materials that enliven the format. All can be elaborated further. Each has been given as part of a lecture series for lay people at JCCs and universities.
“Modern Scholarship by Jews on the Trial of Jesus” narratives in Christian sources portray a series of procedures and events that resulted in a collective accusation of deicide. Modern scholars – Jewish and non-Jewish – have constructed exculpatory narratives to explain the trial and other events. These scholarly and popular reconstructions begin in the 19th Century with work of Abraham Geiger (1810 – 1874). At mid-20th century a stream of books appeared including the works of Israeli Supreme Justice Haim Cohn’s The Trial and Death of Jesus (1963); Historian Solomon Zeitlin’s Who Crucified Jesus?(1947); Israeli historian David Flusser’s Jesus…The Crucified One and The Jews; Yiddish novelist Sholom Asch’s The Nazarene (1949); and contemporary Americans Rabbi/Professor Michael J. Cook’s Modern Jews Engage the New Testament; and Amy-Jill Levine’s The Jewish Annotated New Testament;
“The Dreyfus Affair” and the subsequent impact of the trial of a French Jewish military officer on charges of treason is a key event in shaping modern Jewish consciousness. An assimilated Theodor Herzl writing as journalist was so shocked by the anti-semitic invectives from the gathered crowds that he began efforts that led to the 1896 founding of Modern Political Zionism. French society, too, viewed this trial as a watershed moment and even after the 1894 conviction and the subsequent 1906 “resolution” French society remained divided. Dreyfus served prison time but was restored to the French Army ranks. What are the reverberations of this trial today?
“Leo Frank” was convicted of murdering Mary Phagan in Georgia in 2013. After serving two years of his sentence Frank was lynched, August 17, 2015. In 1982 Alonzo Mann provided a “deathbed” testimony claiming that James Conley, a black man and Frank’s chief accuser was the perpetrator. The echoes of Frank’s lynching reverberated through the 20th Century. The founding of the Anti-Defamation League was key result of the trial.
“The Jew Shylock in the docket: Ingmar Bergman’s 1982 film vindication through “Fanny and Alexander.” Bergman’s focus on theater, art, and family devotion portray a sympathetic “Shylock” in Isak Jacobi who wins redemption through artifice. The focus on the character of Shylock as an ally of love and devotion is a fascinating construction by Bergman creating a vehicle for an important subplot and rehabilitation.
“Eichman on trial in Jerusalem and as remembered in Vienna” is a fascinating look at the on-going interest in the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichman, a central administrator of the murder of Europe’s Jews. Rabbi Benjamin Mermelstein negotiated face to face with Eichman beginning with the German takeover of Austria in 1938 and later in his position as head of the Judenrat of the show camp, Teresenstadt, Rabbi Benjamin Mermelstein was not called as a witness in the 1961 Eichman Trial. Why was he not called to testify? What would his testimony reveal? That witness is largely contained in a Claude Lanzman film: Last of the Unjust.
“Holocaust Denier David Irving sues Professor Deborah Lipstadt” for libel and loses in a British court. While the case is of enduring interest, little is understood about the enormous effort of historian expert witnesses Richard J. Evans, Christopher Browning, Robert Jan van Pelt, Peter Longerich and Dr. Lipstadt, herself. Each of them developed detailed historical evidence that was prepared for the trial. Justice (Sir) Charles Gray wrote a 365 page decision considered a master piece of legal reasoning in its own right. David Irving was convicted of being a Holocaust denier. In a presentation of the issues of the trial and the scholarly efforts that were produced by necessity for setting the record straight we gain a special insight into historians and legal minds working together.
Additional lecture topics include:
“The 1983 Kahan Report on Sabra and Shatilla” is often forgotten in today’s discussions of the Middle East. For our purposes the discussion will focus on the judicial reasoning of the report’s main author Israeli Supreme Court Justice, Yitzhak Kahan. The Kahan Commission’s findings set important precedents.
“In 1953 two different judicial procedures concluded.” One, in the United States, was the trial and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for spying for the Soviet Union. Also, in 1953 in the Soviet Union the “Doctors’ Plot” concluded with the doctors being exonerated in the wake of Stalin’s death. These were two radically different outcomes. The trial and the execution of the Rosenbergs in the 1953 had an impact on post-World War II American Jewish perceptions of the potential for anti-semitism in post-war American society. At virtually the same time the “Doctors’ Plot” ended with the death of Stalin but it did not put an end to Soviet style anti-semitism.
“Rudolf Kastzner: collaborator or rescuer?” Gaylen Ross’ dramatic documentary Killing Kastzner” focuses a lens on a man, Rudolf (Rezo) Kastzner, who rescued as many as 20,000 Jews but died in Israel at the hands of an assassin in 1957, almost universally scorned man. What did Kastzner do that gained him ignominy and death? How did this event impact the young Israeli society of the 50s?
“The Trial of the Talmud: Paris 1240”
The Yom Kippur ‘Trial’ – Spies and Golden Calves: a reflection on the liturgy
The Ramban vs The Church in Barcelona 1263