College Commons Book Club - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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College Commons Book Club

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College Commons Book Club

Starting after the 2020 election, join us every month for real conversations at the intersection of Jewish and American values. You can create your own group or let us find you one now. 

Register here to talk about things that matters as an individual or as an organization. 

We’ll provide:

  • a syllabus of books from which to choose 
  • a monthly unscripted online event with diverse intellectuals, activists and thought leaders that you can stream live or view on-demand
  • an intimate group of 6-12 fellow Jewish learners with whom you can dig deeper - and even take action

Design your own experience, as an individual or a group. A complete schedule of events will be posted in time for our November 11th Launch hosted by HUC-JIR President Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D.

What is the College Commons Book Club?

We are better together, as long as we have spaces to be curious and experience new ideas. So that’s what this is. A space to listen, to learn. To talk about stuff that matters. With new people or with those you could stand to know more deeply. This is the airport lounge before cell-phones. The coffee shop before wireless internet and laptops. Except...via the treasure that is Zoom.

Why now?

We see now that our country is struggling to listen and talk, challenge and be challenged. We need spaces where we get to the stuff that matters, through real connection and conversation. With climate change confronting us, that could even mean talking about the weather.

Ok, so what books will we read?

We are constantly in search of new authors and ideas (we’re a college after all). So we’ve asked leaders at the intersection of Judaism and social justice to tell us what they are reading. These ‘hosts’ helped us create our syllabus of books and will also stream live conversations about the books they’ve chosen with guests that challenge and strengthen their own minds. If you sign up to be matched with a group, your group leader will customize the syllabus for your group, based on your interests and how tall you want the stack of books on your nightstand to be.

We are working hard and taking our time to make sure we have a diverse group of authors and hosts. By November 1st we will be excited to share the syllabus with you. Topics will range from criminal justice reform, to public health and political theory. There will be fiction, non-fiction and more academic options.

Here are some of our hosts so far: 

Dr. Andrew Rehfeld, President of HUC-JIR on Representative Democracy
Cheryl Cook, CEO of Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps on the criminal justice system.
Rabbi Joel Simonds, Director of Jews United for Justice on the legacy of James Baldwin
Sasha Joseph, Sr. Regional Director for BBYO on historical trauma
Rabbi Jocee Hudson on the role of women's anger in activism
April Silva Ryan of TriFaith Initiative in Omaha Nebraska
And more to come…

What is required of me?

We ask that you sign up ready to connect and be a part of your group. That means being ready to partner with your group leader by:

  • doing your best to attend each meeting of your group,
  • reading the books your group picks,
  • sharing feedback with your group leader and responding to their emails about scheduling and logistics,
  • Asking questions you might be afraid to ask in other spaces,
  • Taking risks by sharing your voice and your ideas still in-formation,
  • Stepping forward and stepping back: creating a space where others can hear and be heard

How will I find a group?

Give us a little info and we will do the rest. We will try to connect you around geography and other factors. If you sign up by November 1st, you’ll get paired with a group in time for our first book conversation.

How often will we meet?

Think about how superficial conversations are with family you only see twice a year. Or how tough talking about stuff that matters a lot to you can be when there’s no real relationship. It’s hard to get to the good stuff. So we recommend groups meet once a month. But beyond that, this model is flexible. You might do it as a sprint and meet every other week for a few months. You might spread things out and meet monthly November - May, savoring those books like a fine...seltzer.

My community is creating our own College Commons Book Group, how do I make sure I’m placed in that group?

Some organizations, synagogues and communities are creating their own Book Club groups. If that’s you, sign up with the code your organization has provided. Can’t find the code? We’ve got you covered, just email Rachel Katz

Wait, my organization/community can create our own group so we can deepen our connections and our conversations?

But of course! If you want to respond to this moment and provide a space for grounding conversation and serious engagement, create a College Commons Book Club for your people.

We’ll provide a syllabus of books for you to customize, paired with monthly online conversations with leaders in the Jewish Justice world. We can even provide a facilitator if you need (though we love when participants step up for leadership). Email Rabbi Rachel Gross-Prinz to start your organization’s group.

Where can I buy these books?

We recommend the public library via the Libby App, to support local bookstores, or these BIPOC owned bookstores that carry each of our books so far: Harriet’s Bookshop and Black Pearl Books.