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14 Great Interviews with Jewish Personalities You'll Want to Know

14 Great Interviews with Jewish Personalities You'll Want to Know

Collage of various URJ Biennial speakers highlighted in this article

It’s almost time for the biggest, best Reform Jewish event in North America! Here at ReformJudaism.org, we’re counting down the days to the Union for Reform Judaism’s 2017 Biennial Convention, held Dec. 6-10 in Boston, MA.

In anticipation of the event, we’re sharing 14 interviews that have appeared on our site in the past few months, highlighting the work and worldviews of Jewish personalities worth knowing. Each of them will appear at the URJ Biennial in some capacity. Get to know them before you see them live – or read these interviews to feel like you’re there with us in person!

On Jewish Life, Generally

  1. Krista Tippett, creator and host of the radio show and podcast On Being, tackles “Why Religion Matters” and discusses what draws her to conversations about faith, ethics, and moral wisdom. (Tippett will host a live recording of On Being at the URJ Biennial on Sat., Dec. 9, from 4:00 – 5:30pm.)
  2. Professor Jonathan D. Sarna, a distinguished historian of American Judaism, explores the history of Boston’s robust Jewish community from the 17th century through today in “Boston: A Jewish Success Story.” (Professor Sarna will lead a Shabbat lunch session titled “Wondering Jews in a Changing America” on Sat., Dec. 9, from 1:30 – 3:00pm. He will also be doing a book signing in the Exhibit Hall on Friday, Dec. 8 from 12:15–12:45pm.)
  3. “How to Create an Epic Shabbat Experience for 5,000 People” goes behind the scenes of the process of organizing ones of the biggest Reform Shabbat experiences in North America – which attendees invariably name as one of the high points of their Biennial experience. Cantor Rosalie Boxt, Biennial worship director, shares her secrets.
  4. Bestselling author Bruce Feiler, whose post recent book is The First Love Story: Adam, Eve, and Us, traversed four continents and 4,000 years to explore the Bible’s first couple, which he tells us about in “Learning from Adam and Eve About Love and Relationships.” (Feiler will lead a Shabbat lunch session titled “The First Love Story” on Sat., Dec. 9, from 1:30 – 3:00pm.)

On the Jewish Future

  1. Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation league, talks about the rise of anti-Semitic incidents in “We Can’t Just Rely on Old Tactics” – and discusses what the future may hold. (Jonathan Greenblatt will be part of a forum titled “When Hate Comes to Town: Reflections and Strategies from the ADL and Charlottesville” on Friday, Dec. 8 from 2:00–3:15pm.)
  2. It’s a common question with difficult answers: “Who Is a Jew Today? It Depends on Whom You Ask.” Our interview with Professor Aaron Hahn Tapper talks about weaving together the multiple ways Jews identify in terms of culture, ethnicity, nation, nationality, race, and religion. (Professor Hahn Tapper will co-lead a learning session titled “That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Jewish: Jewish Identity in the 21st Century” on Friday, Dec. 8 from 11:00am–12:15pm. He will also lead a Shabbat lunch session titled “Determining Jewish Identity: Who Decides, Anyway?” on Sat., Dec. 9, from 1:00 – 3:30pm.)
  3. Entrepreneur Dan Libenson, founder and president of the Institute for the Next Jewish Future, calls for disruptive innovation in Jewish life in “Kickstarting the Jewish Future With Creativity and Innovation.” (Libenson will lead a Shabbat lunch session titled “How We Can Build the Jewish Future That Might Have Been” on Sat., Dec. 9, from 1:30 – 3:00pm.)

On Jewish Food

  1. Chef Michael Solomonov, James Beard Award-winner for best Mid-Atlantic chef, talk about the defining influences that shaped his career as a chef in “A Bit of Israeli Cuisine in Philadelphia.” He also shares his recipe for Pink Lentil Soup with Lamb Kofte! (Solomonov will co-lead a Shabbat lunch session titled “Eat Well, Do Right” on Sat., Dec. 9, from 1:30 – 3:00pm.)
  2. Hospitality entrepreneur Steve Cook, who comes from a family of numerous Reform rabbis and other Jewish professional, talks about how he found himself running a number of successful, Jewishly influenced restaurants in “From a Rabbinic Family Comes a Chef.” (Cook will also co-lead the Shabbat lunch session “Eat Well, Do Right” on Sat., Dec. 9, from 1:30 – 3:00pm.)
  3. In “The Making of an Ashkenazi Culinary Renaissance,” Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern, creators of The Gefilte Manifesto: New Recipes for Old World Jewish Foods, talk about how their passion for old-world Jewish food inspired them to attempt to spark a culinary revolution. (Yoskowitz and Alpern will co-lead a Shabbat lunch session titled “The Gefilte Manifesto: A New Wave of Jewish Cuisine” on Sat., Dec. 9, from 1:30 – 3:00pm.) They will also be doing a book signing in the Exhibit Hall on Friday, Dec. 8 from 3:00 – 3:30pm.)                                                   

On Interfaith Relations

  1. Rabbi Sarah Bassin, former executive director of New Ground, discusses “How to Transform Jewish-Muslim Dialogue.” New Ground is a Los Angeles-based organization dedicated to transforming the ways Jews and Muslims interact. (Rabbi Bassin will co-lead two learning sessions: “Social Justice: A Springboard for Meaningful Teen Engagement in Your Congregation” on Thurs., Dec. 8, from 11:00 am – 12:15pm, and “The Jewish Community in the Year 2050? Predicting the Jewish Future” on Fri., Dec., 8, from 11:00am – 12:15pm. She will also be a guest on the live recording of the radio show and podcast "On Being with Krista Tippett" on Sat., Dec. 9, from 4:00 – 5:30pm.)
  2. In “Overcoming the Obstacles to Effective Jewish-Muslim Dialogue,” Imam Abdullah Antepli, a Turkish-born cleric, shares his insights on the current state of Jewish-Muslim relations in the United States. (Imam Antepli will be part of a Shabbat lunch session titled “Reimagining Jewish-Muslim Relations” on Sat., Dec. 9, from 1:30 – 3:00pm. He will also be a guest on the live recording of the radio show and podcast "On Being with Krista Tippett" on Sat., Dec. 9, from 4:00 – 5:30pm.)
  3. Rabbi Reuven Firestone tells the story of “How Backgammon in Jerusalem Helped Me Choose My Career,” sharing the unforeseen events that, as a teen, found him playing a board game with two young Arab men in Jerusalem’s Old City. It was an experience that led, in part, to his rabbinical studies. (Rabbi Firestone will lead a learning session titled “Islam and the West: Is There a Clash of Civilizations?” on Thurs., Dec. 8, from 1:00am – 12:15pm. He will also co-lead the Shabbat lunch session “Reimagining Jewish-Muslim Relations” on Sat., Dec. 9, from 1:30 – 3:00pm.)

Whether or not you’re able to attend the URJ Biennial in person, we hope you enjoy reading these interviews with some of the most interesting names in Jewish life today. 

Kate (Bigam) Kaput is the digital communications manager for the Union for Reform Judaism, serving as a content manager and editor for ReformJudaism.org. She is a proud alumna of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s Eisendrath Legislative Assistant fellowship and also served as the RAC's press secretary. A native Ohioan, Kate grew up at Temple Beth Shalom in Hudson, OH, and holds a degree in magazine journalism from Kent State University. She lives in Cleveland with her husband, Mike. 

Kate Kaput

Published: 11/30/2017

Categories: Jewish Life, Arts & Culture
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