Winter Education Series: Tensions of Religious Life in the Jewish Experience - A Poetic Exploration

posted Dec 9, 2020, 10:22 AM by Congregation Leyv Ha-Ir   [ updated Jan 31, 2021, 10:19 AM ]
Leyv Ha-Ir's Education Committee is pleased to present our Winter Education Series, led by educator and poet, Ross Weissman. 

Throughout the centuries, Jews have used poetry to sing praise, to ponder evil, to shout souls’ desire, and to dwell in the profane of the day-to-day. Poems tell stories-- Jewish stories -- and they capture the richness and complexity of Jewish experience, intellect, and spirit. 

In this series, we will explore Jewish religious life through the reading of American and Israeli poetry. We will delve into the contemporary writing of Orthodox and Reconstructionist rabbis; professors and community leaders; Hebrew and English speakers.  We will unravel the layers of human and cultural complexity held within their poems: the tensions, ambivalences, and paradoxes of Jewish life and religious thought. 

While each poem tells a story, it can also reveal aspects of our own experience and narrative. In each session, we will read the work of a different contemporary poet, paying special attention to the art, the religious commentary within, and its resonance with our lives.

You need not attend all sessions to participate.  

Reading material, including poems to be discussed, will be distributed before each session.

Sessions run 1 hour, 15 minutes every two weeks:  Tuesday January 19, 2021; Wednesday February 3, 2021; Wednesday February 17, 2021; and Wednesday March 3, 2021.

Session I:  "Loneliness" - Tuesday January 19, 2021:

While Jewish religious life is deeply communal, it is oft-experienced alone. This is in part due to the nature of people’s inner and private lives, but also due to social tension and pressure that drive people to hide parts of themselves. In this lesson, we will explore the work of Israeli writer Elhanan Nir, and his poetic exploration of religious loneliness in the modern world.

Session II:  "Conversation Not Submission" - Wednesday February 3, 2021

Jewish tradition engages in recurring dialogue with those that came before. We recall memories of those passed, and we read and reread texts that have been studied for generations. While these sources can be stabilizing in offering a steadying comfort, they can also simply be one voice to consider amongst the multitudes-- akin to the reconstructionist principle of “a vote, not a veto.” In this session we will explore the poetry of Israeli poet Linda Zisquit, to step into some of her experiential and theological conversations. 

Session III:  "Insider and Outsider" - Wednesday February 17, 2021

For many, religious life is not static. It waxes and wanes in intensity, in traditional commitments and curiosities. David Caplan writes frequently about the Baal Teshuva experience-- the process of a deepening religious commitment in Jewish life. While religious life can change incrementally and subtly, often a Baal Teshuva’s experience can be marked by sharp contrasts to one’s life prior. In this session, we will explore Caplan’s poetic rendering of one’s simultaneous inspiration and alienation from community and theology -- with a special focus  on 20th century hassidus.

Session IV:  "Middle-ways" - Wednesday March 3, 2021

Reconstructionist Judaism speaks of living in two civilizations -- this can be a conscious or unconscious activity. This session will explore a middle-path, living in a Jewish reality and American one, with poet and Rabbi Josh Bolton. This session will include an appearance of the guest Rabbi and poet, with an accompanying poetry reading.

Ross Weissman is a life-long educator and student of poetry, currently serving on the teaching team of Poetry in America. His poetry and translations have appeared in Exchanges,Caliban Online, Lunch Ticket, Pusteblume, Mizmor L’ David Anthology, and elsewhere. Ross holds a master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he also served as a Teaching Fellow in classes on human development. He has completed graduate coursework in Judaic Studies at Bar-Ilan, Harvard, and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.

Participation for LHI members is free of charge.  We ask non-members to consider making a suggested minimum donation of $18 per person for the series,which you can make through PAYPAL on LHI’s website or by check payable to Leyv Ha-Ir, P.O. Box 15836, Philadelphia, PA 19103.

Information for this and all virtual events will automatically be sent to LHI members.  If non-members would like to participate, please email us at, or call us at 215-629-1995, to request that the remote access information be sent to you the day before each session.