Reclaiming Time, Self and Voice: Counting the Omer with the Creativity Braintrust - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Reclaiming Time, Self and Voice: Counting the Omer with the Creativity Braintrust

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Covenant Foundation Partnership

A Digital Learning Series brought to you by HUC-JIR’s School of Education and the Covenant Foundation

Navigating to Passover in the Age of COVID-19 seemed insurmountable enough; having “crossed the sea” we now face a new uncharted wilderness ahead. The Omer is a period when we are encouraged to mark time differently, a mashup of the mundane and the mystical. Join us for a weekly series of explorations of themes of the omer with the artist-scholars of HUC-JIR’s Beit HaYotzer/The Creativity Braintrust, where we will access our capacity for counting and recounting through various intellectual, creative and artistic modalities. 




“Reclaiming Time, Self and Voice During the Omer” Series Introduction 

Dr. Miriam Heller Stern

April 23  

Storytelling, Counting, and Illuminating the World

Ariel Burger

April 24

We are in the mysterious period of the Omer, the seven weeks between Passover (the holiday of our liberation) and Shavuot (the holiday of receiving the Torah), when we count each day, and each week, from 1 to 49. What does it mean to reclaim this ancient practice and renew it for our times? What does it mean to count our days? How might storytelling help us to find or create light during challenging moments?

Join Ariel Burger, who will share an original illustrated storybook that retells a Hasidic tale about tales, one that draws new connections between Jewish practice, the power of story, and our lives. 

Ariel BurgerARIEL BURGER is the author of Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel's Classroom, which won the 2019 National Jewish Book Award in Biography. He is also an artist and teacher whose work integrates education, spirituality, the arts, and strategies for social change. An Orthodox rabbi, Ariel received his PhD in Jewish Studies and Conflict under Elie Wiesel. A lifelong student of Professor Wiesel, Ariel served as his Teaching Fellow from 2003-2008, after which he directed education initiatives at Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston. A Covenant Foundation grantee, Ariel develops cutting-edge arts and educational programming for adults, facilitates workshops for educators, consults to non-profits, and serves as scholar/artist-in-residence for institutions around the U.S. When Ariel's not learning or teaching, he is creating music, art, and poetry. He lives outside of Boston with his family. 


Writing Meditation: Your Personal Narratives of Wilderness and Redemption

Aaron Henne

May 1

In this session, Aaron Henne, Artistic Director of theatre dybbuk, will help you to find your own stories connected to journeying through the unknown on the way towards redemption. As we navigate our current reality while also moving, in our Jewish tradition, between Egypt and Sinai, we will discover how our personal narratives can help us to understand what we have left behind and that which is still to come.

This 40-minute workshop is designed to give you a place to process your experience, while reflecting and writing. We encourage you to find a quiet space, if possible, to immerse in the activity.

This session will take place on the HUC-JIR Facebook page:

Aaron Henne

AARON HENNE is the artistic director of theatre dybbuk, a company whose work focuses on Jewish folklore and history and whose projects include cave...a dance for lilith, exagoge, and lost tribes.  In addition to his work as theatre dybbuk's Artistic Director, Henne’s plays include King Cat Calico Finally Flies Free! (published by Original Works Publishing) and Sliding Into Hades (LA Weekly Awards for Playwriting and Production of the Year). His exploration of machines and their relationships to humanity, Body Mecanique, was developed and produced by LA Contemporary Dance Company (LACDC). Henne was commissioned by The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County to create new pieces about the natural world for that institution’s family audiences.

His multimedia adaptation of a 12th Century epic poem, collision/ theory’s Blood Red Lost Head Dead Falcon: The Nibelungen, was a partner in the LA Opera’s Ring Festival LA. Mr. Henne’s investigation of Kafka’s novel The Castle, called A Man’s Home, as well as his play Mesmeric Revelation (SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award for Original Script), a clash of science and mysticism, were both developed and produced by Central Works in Berkeley, CA.

He teaches storytelling throughout the country and has designed and facilitated workshops for Lucasfilm, Pixar and Dreamworks. He was a Pilot Wexner Field Fellow, an American Jewish University Dream Lab Fellow, and the Diane Luboff Scholar at the Cutter Colloquium at HUC-JIR. Aaron has also served as a professional mentor at Otis College of Art and Design, as faculty for the Wexner Heritage Program, and as a consultant for a wide variety of organizations.


Making Art in the Wilderness, Making Sense of Confusing Times

Alicia Jo Rabins 

May 8

How can centering beauty, creativity and pleasure help us through a bewildering time? How can we engage with our own creativity through a heart-centered, open-ended approach, rather than a lens of productivity and outcomes? How can poetry and music help us understand our own experiences? In this session, Alicia Jo Rabins will read poems written through the pandemic experience, as well as performing songs from her Girls in Trouble song cycle about women in Torah - focusing on moments when these characters lived through their own challenging situations. We'll consider the Mishkan, the travelling tabernacle the Israelites built in the desert, as a model for creativity during challenging times. The chat field will be open for questions and comments throughout.

ALICIA JO RABINS is a writer, musician, performer and Torah teacher. The New York Times calls her voice “gorgeous”; the San Francisco Chronicle calls her writing “a poetry page-turner.” Rabins is the author of Divinity School (2015 

Alicia Jo Rabbins

APR/Honickman First Book Prize) and Fruit Geode (finalist for the 2018 Jewish Book Award). She has released three albums with Girls in Trouble, her indie-folk song cycle about women in Torah, and with the support of a Covenant Foundation grant, is in the process of creating a curriculum for teens and adults around the songs, which is already being used in schools, synagogues, universities and prisons.

A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff, Rabins' one-woman chamber-rock opera about the intersection of finance and spirituality, debuted at Joe's Pub, toured nationally, was named one of Portland's best theater shows of 2014, and is currently being made into an independent feature film. She also toured for eight years playing klezmer fiddle with pioneering klezmer-punk band Golem, and traveled Central America and Kuwait playing old-time and bluegrass music as a cultural ambassador for the US State Department. Rabins lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, bassist Aaron Hartman, and their two children.

Putting it Together 

Jon Adam Ross

Jon Adam Ross (Live) on Zoom 

May 15

After counting with Ariel, writing with Aaron, and reading poetry with Alicia, this workshop with The In[HEIR]itance Project's Jon Adam Ross will be a chance to weave a new story out of the ones we've already explored, from the inherited ritual of the Omer to the lived experiences we shared in our writing workshop, adding in the beauty and artistry of poetry and song. This will be a dramaturgical experiment, inviting us to become editors of our own, new sacred text for this moment of plague. When we're done, we will have a document that includes our voices, our shared inheritances, our artistry, and our hopes for what's next. Creating anew in a time of pause, in a time of spring and nature's natural rebirth, can be a fun and exciting exercise!

JON ADAM ROSS is the managing director of The In[HEIR]itance Project, a national arts organization that collaborates with communities using a unique methodology of collective artmaking that puts lived experiences in relationship with sacred texts to instigate engagement around challenging civic conversations. Jon has spent nearly 20 years making art with religious communities around the country as an actor, playwright, and teaching artist.

He has served as an artist in residence at Union Theological Seminary, The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and many other religious and educational institutions. Jon was a Spielberg Fellow in Jewish Theater Education with the Foundation for Jewish Camp and received a Fellowship from the Covenant Foundation to create the In[HEIR]itance Project in 2015. As an actor, Jon has performed his solo shows in over 90 cities around the globe. Notably, Jon has performed at the Guthrie Theater (MN), Playhouse on the Square (TN), and in NYC where his stage credits include: a dog, a 2,000-year-old bird, an elderly orthodox Jew, a spurned housewife, a horse, a British naval officer in 1700’s Jamaica, a goat, Jesus Christ, a lawyer, a wrestler, a hapless police chief, and a cyclops. Jon holds a BFA in Acting from NYU/Tisch.

In Search of Revelation: a conversation for creative seekers and teachers, with Alicia Jo Rabins, Ariel Burger, Aaron Henne and Jon Adam Ross

Moderated by Miriam Heller Stern

May 22

An honest conversation about creativity under COVID, the future of Jewish education, and how we will continue to be inspired and co-construct as Jewish artists, educators and dreamers amidst the chaos of 2020. 


Beit HaYotzer/the Creativity Braintrust is an incubator designed to catalyze Jewish creative thinkers – artists, practitioners, and academics – in collaborative experimentation around what Jewish teaching, educational leadership, and learning can become in the creative age, and disseminate the teaching and the artistic works to individuals and communities everywhere. The initiative provides collegial support for the artists’ emerging creative projects while providing sustained opportunities for them to teach creative practice and Jewish texts, history, ethics, and culture in HUC-JIR’s graduate programs in education. In the words of project director Dr. Miriam Heller Stern: “Our moment in history is filled with uncertainty and opportunity, and we want to foster a Jewish educational enterprise that prepares this generation of learners to think and act creatively as they face challenges and imagine a world they want to see.”

Launching the project with Dr. Miriam Heller Stern, National Director of the School of Education and Associate Professor (blended track), are Rabbi Dr. Ariel Burger, author of Witness: Lessons for Elie Wiesel’s Classroom; Aaron Henne, founder and artistic director of theatre dybbuk; singer and songwriter Alicia Jo Rabins; and actor Jon Adam Ross, founder and Managing Director of the in[heir]itance project. Additional creative collaborators will participate in the initiative as well.

Beit HaYotzer/the Creativity Braintrust is a proud recipient of a 2019 Signature Grant from the Covenant Foundation.