The Impact of “Symposium One: Crafting Jewish Life in a Complex Religious Landscape”

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Symposium One: Crafting Jewish Life in a Complex Religious Landscape, a thought leadership event that attracted over 200 participants to an extraordinary two days of learning on HUC-JIR’s New York campus, focused on countering fundamentalism and enhancing progressive Jewish culture. Led ably by the team of Professors David Aaron and Alyssa Gray, and Vice President Liz Squadron, the event attracted alumni, lay leaders, and academics to grapple with some of the core questions of Jewish life in America.

Speakers included a broad range of fascinating individuals who lead their fields in creative, forward-looking ways. From Jewish halakhic and sociological thinkers to Muslim theologians, from experts on worship, music, and art to designers of sophisticated online Jewish gaming, and from thinkers who link poetry to social justice and covenant to the self, the two days were filled with deep thinking about the vital possibilities for progressive Judaism in the years ahead.  The broad range of contemporary issues included:

  • the challenges facing Progressive Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as these three Abrahamic religions address their changing communities
  • religion, contraception and the Supreme Court, an issue that takes on greater valence as we anticipate new appointments to the bench
  • Judaism in the digital age and new technology as a resource for deeper educational experiences and identity formation
  • feminism and pluralism, and how gender informs the complex religious landscape
  • transformative worship, where new liturgy, music, movement, and art can inspire our spirituality
  • theology, politics, and economics as factors in religious life today
  • covenant, communalism, and public policy as forces that shape contemporary religion
  • contemporary culture as an exciting portal to greater Jewish participation by unaffiliated audiences

Rabbi Aaron Panken, Ph.D., HUC-JIR President, noted, “Since 1875, HUC-JIR has stood for the Jewish and human values that have helped form open and meaningful communities over the centuries: inclusiveness, egalitarianism, respect for each and every human being, and helping those in need, all in the service of making the world a better place. As we apply the wisdom, creativity, and new ideas generated by the Symposium in communities far and wide, let us work together to further develop the innovative methods, platforms, and techniques that will have a meaningful impact. Together, let us apply our shared optimism towards strengthening progressive religious engagement today and for future.”

The presentations of HUC-JIR faculty and visiting scholars, and the active participation of clergy, lay leaders, and students energized all those who attended the Symposium to work toward positive action that can effect change. All of the talks will be available in future months to our community, with the hope that Symposium One will continue to have an important impact on congregations, organizations, and thinkers in the time ahead.

Read more in The Jewish Week: Gaming Maimonides at HUC-JIR


Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu