University launches new website on Jewish religion, culture
‘The Jewish Experience’ website, which launched in August, explores aspects of Judaism.
The University has recently launched the Jewish Experience — a website “dedicated to exploring the most pressing issues facing Jews and Judaism today.” The site is a direct result of the “Framework for the Future” report finalized in January 2020 that seeks to revitalize and improve the University community for years to come. Open to contributions from Brandeis alumni, students, staff and faculty, entries on the website range from light-hearted recipes to serious discussions focused on social justice.
One of the featured articles on the site is titled, “Sorry, So Sorry ... Did I Say I Was Sorry?” and is written by Josh Gondelman `07, an Emmy-winning television writer. In the article, the author details his personal take on Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of Atonement, this year beginning Sept. 15 of the Gregorian calendar. He notes, “Yom Kippur, the official Jewish festival of ‘I’m Sorry’ is coming up.” Gondelman explains how his identity as a “secular-leaning” Jew collides with the tradition of Yom Kippur to prompt his yearly apology tour concerning mistakes, be they large or small. While Gondelman’s tours often consist of nothing more than “mass-email apologies,” he emphasizes the opportunity that the High Holidays offer to “erase myself from various people’s enemies lists,” whether or not these lists include God’s, the customary recipient of atonement on Yom Kippur.
Elsewhere on the site is an interview with Reuven Kimelman, a professor of Classical Rabbinic Literature at the University. He offers a more academic, religious interpretation of another High Holiday, Rosh Hashanah. An uncredited author compiled excerpts from the interview with Kimelman into an interactive annotation of the central prayer of Rosh Hashanah, which celebrates the Jewish New Year.
Kimelman brings in an analysis of Biblical Hebrew and rabbinical history to his interpretation of the prayer, called the Amidah. He departs from the literal translation of promising endless supplication to God to highlight the prayer’s universality and its central focus on eradicating “tyranny” and “wickedness.” Kimelman explains that the prayer asks God to rid the entire world, not just the Jewish people, of political obstacles to spiritual harmony, in conjunction with a divine messiah that will come to save the world from these same ills.
When viewed with some distance from the religious language, Professor Kimelman’s interpretation of the Amidah exemplifies the Brandeis creed of tikkun olam, a secular “repairing of the world.”
All of the articles respond to the same central Jewish tradition and while they are written by individuals who lead very different lives, the commentaries find meaning in the millenia-old Jewish traditions in their own distinct ways.
The Jewish Experience concerns itself with the activities and insights of the Brandeis community, trying to cohere the disparate experiences of the contributors into something of an intra-cultural dialogue. As university president Ron Leibowitz writes, “the Jewish Experience seeks to illuminate the great wealth of scholarship and knowledge about Jewish issues and Judaism — in all its diversity and richness — on campus and beyond.”
The first articles were published in late August 2021, and the monthly newsletter curated by editor Lawrence Goodman promises an expanding repository of the “latest news, commentary and insight” for years to come.