While trips to far-off lands or public symposiums may still be off the table for many, Baltimore Hebrew Congregation is working to bring the insight of distant intellectuals and speakers to a living room near you through their new series, “Wisdom Around the World.”
“This series is a wonderful opportunity to learn with scholars and teachers we would not otherwise have access to,” said BHC’s Rabbi Elissa Sachs-
Kohen. “We’re reaching as far around the world as Germany, Israel, Brazil and Australia. None of these teachers would be in reach without this series.” Through the series, BHC hopes to engage viewers with Jewish culture, ideas, tradition and arts, she said.
“I think the goal is to give people in the Jewish community the opportunity to hear from speakers that they may not have normally heard from,” said Sharon Mond, the program’s project coordinator and a BHC congregant. “To bring to people different aspects, different thoughts about Judaism, the expertise of different people all around the world.”
The series began in January, and came about as an extension of previous online programming BHC began instituting once the pandemic began, Sachs-Kohen explained. She noted BHC’s “Fill Your Cup” program, in which BHC clergy would teach about the subjects they were interested in. Eventually, BHC staff realized that there were few practical reasons why these discussions could not include or be led by teachers and experts from outside the Baltimore area.
“BHC clergy are far from the only teachers in the world,” Sachs-Kohen said. “At some point we realized that there were literally no distance limits on who might share wisdom with our community if being in Baltimore wasn’t a condition for it.”
Speakers BHC has hosted for the program so far have included Rabbi Naamah Kelman of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Jerusalem, said Mond. In addition to being a descendant of 10 generations of rabbis, Kelman is also the first female rabbi ordained in Israel, Mond explained.
Other speakers have included Vanderbilt University Professor Amy-Jill Levine who gave a talk on how Jews and Christians read scripture differently, Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz of Arizona on mystical approaches to ethics and Rebecca Sykes of Jerusalem on her experiences as an artist, actor and yoga teacher, said Mond.
Viewers can catch the series on Thursdays at 1:30 p.m. via Zoom, with a rebroadcast shown later that day on Streamspot and Facebook at 7:30 p.m., Sacks-Kohen said. The Zoom broadcasts typically have interactive elements such as Q&A sessions, while the rebroadcasts are viewing only.
Attendees for the afternoon Zoom sessions tend to be individuals who are not presently working, Sachs-Kohen said. While unsure of the makeup of the audience for the rebroadcasts, she noted that some sessions have been viewed a hundred times or more.
Sachs-Kohen believes that the series will continue even as the promise of vaccines begins to bring life back to normal, saying that “the key factor in the series is not the attendance of the participants, but the distance presence of the teachers. Also, as people get out and about more, there might be a higher percentage watching the rebroadcast, but we think that’s great, too!”