ALEPH: The Institute of Jewish Ideas  is a community-wide Jewish learning initiative, supported by a community donor through their family fund at the Jewish Community Foundation, co-sponsored by the Mandell JCC and UConn Judaic Studies. The Institute chooses an annual theme and invites the community to join high-level educational programming that connects to this annual theme. 
The 2021 theme is The Jewish Roots of Social Justice. This year’s program will explore the pursuit of social justice as a core Jewish value through lectures, discussion, and cultural events that examine the history of Jewish engagement with social justice from the writings of the prophets to 21stcentury community activism, along with discussions of socially just ways to talks about Judaism, race, Israel, and more. 


For more information contact Avi Patt,



ALEPH 2021:
On Jews, Judaism, and
the Pursuit of Social Justice


Hosted and moderated by Avinoam Patt (Director, Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life, University of Connecticut)

Registrants will receive zoom links the day of: $5 for each program or $25 for the series > Buy Tickets Here


   EVENTS | All programs will be held via Zoom @ 7:30pm EST on Thursday evenings


Thursday, January 7, 2021

Prof. Deena Grant (Hartford Seminary)

The Biblical Prophets and Social Justice  


Biblical prophets, such as Amos, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, witnessed and called out systemic social injustices.  However, prophetic rebuke did not necessarily reform Israel’s behavior nor did it alter the course of the nation’s history.  In tonight’s talk we will explore the prophetic argument for social justice as well as the prophetic experience of failure, in order to understand the role of prophecy within the larger context Israel’s salvation, exile, and restoration. 


Deena Grant is Associate Professor of Jewish Studies at Hartford Seminary. She received her PhD from New York University in Hebrew and Judaic Studies, with a focus on the Hebrew Bible in its ancient Near Eastern setting. Her book Divine Anger in the Hebrew Bible (Catholic Biblical Association, 2014) explores varying expressions of God’s anger across major biblical collections. An observant Jewish scholar, Grant values studying and teaching the Hebrew Bible from a historical-critical perspective and also as it is interpreted and lived out by faith communities. Deena Grant is currently working on the concept of hate in the Hebrew Bible.



Thursday, January 21, 2021

Prof. Aaron Hahn Tapper (University of San Francisco)

A Pedagogy of Social Justice: Teaching Jewish Diversity, Dismantling the "White, Male Jew" 

  This session offers one way to both teach and deconstruct the dominant stereotypes that Jews reinforce when teaching about Jews and Judaisms. 
Aaron J. Hahn Tapper, the Mae and Benjamin Swig Professor in Jewish Studies and the founding Director of the Swig Program in Jewish Studies and Social Justice, has been at University of San Francisco since 2007. He completed his PhD in the Religious Studies Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he studied the History of Religions, the Sociology of Religions, Nonviolence and Religions, Politics and Religions, and Modern Islamic Movements. His Dissertation focused on the relationship between power, the sociopolitical context of Israel and Palestine, and Jewish and Islamic religious law (halachah and shari'a, respectively). In 2003 he founded Abraham's Vision, a conflict transformation organization that ran educational programs within and between the Muslim, Jewish, Palestinian, and Israeli communities, for whom he served as Co-Executive Director through May 2013. Currently, he is the Executive Director of the Center for Transformative Education, an educational initiative aiming to create empowering educational programs to transform societies into their potential, which he co-founded in 2008. He has co-edited two volumes -- Muslims and Jews in America: Commonalities, Contentions, and Complexities, with Reza Aslan (2011) and Social Justice and Israel/Palestine: Foundational and Contemporary Debates, with Mira Sucharov (2019) -- and written Judaisms: A Twenty-First-Century Introduction to Jews and Jewish Identities (2016).



Thursday, February 18, 2021

Rabbi Stephanie Ruskay (Jewish Theological Seminary)

Jewish Ethics, Social Justice, Community Organizing and the 21st Century Rabbinate

  Rabbi Stephanie Ruskay has made her career in the Jewish social justice sector. She directs field education and entrepreneurial endeavors at JTS and is focused on raising the scope and profile of social justice work and community organizing skills in the role of the contemporary rabbi. 

Rabbi Stephanie Ruskay has made her career in the Jewish social justice sector. Rabbi Ruskay has served in leadership positions at American Jewish World Service, Auburn Theological Seminary, AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps, and JOIN for Justice. Rabbi Ruskay is an alumna of JTS’s Joint Program, The Davidson School and The Rabbinical School. She directs field education and entrepreneurial endeavors and is focused on raising the scope and profile of social justice work and community organizing skills in the role of the contemporary rabbi. She also serves as faculty for JustCity Leadership Institute, JTS’s precollege program focusing on leadership and social justice. Rabbi Ruskay is a member of the social justice commission of the Rabbinical Assembly and of its Joint Placement Commission.



Thursday, March 4, 2021

Performing Judaism and Social Justice

with Kendell Pinkney, Avi Amon, and Rebecca S'manga Frank (this will be a Zoom-theatrical performance)

Rebecca S'manga Frank is an actor, writer, director, and passionate developer of new work. Her credits include projects with the Sundance Institute Theatre Lab in Morocco, the Humana New Play Festival at Actors Theater of Louisville, Berkeley Rep, California Shakespeare Company, New York Theatre Workshop, and she is a founding member of Society - a new repertory theatre company based out of New York. Her TV credits include Prodigal Son (FOX), Elementary (CBS), and an upcoming release on Apple TV+. More recently, she was featured in Paula Vogel’s INDECENT at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Rebecca holds a B.A. in Creative Writing from Mills College and an MFA from NYU’s Graduate Acting program at the Tisch School of the Arts. This summer Rebecca was commissioned by Hillel International to pen "A Psalm for Racial Justice" for the Days of Awe. Rebecca proudly creates work from a deep love of her Swazi and Jewish roots, and is committed to using her work as a force to advocate for the dignity of Black lives.
Avi Amon is a Turkish-American composer, sound artist, and educator. Recent credits include: THE COPPER CHILDREN (Oregon Shakespeare Festival), THE FISHERMAN (HBO Films), THE BLACK HISTORY MUSEUM with Zoey Martinson (HERE Arts Center), PAUL SWAN IS DEAD AND GONE with Claire Kiechel (Civilians), WE WERE EVERYWHERE with Shariffa Ali (Princeton), SALONIKA (Berkeley REP) and THE WHITE CITY with Julia Gytri (Yale Institute, O’Neill NMTC), RATED BLACK with Kareem Lucas (New York Theater Workshop). His sound installations in a 100-year old grain silo with Buffalo, NY-based Torn Space Theater were featured at the 2019 Prague Quadrennial. In development: INSHALLAH/MASHALLAH - a 3-D-audio opera re-imagining of the 1,001 Nights (Target Margin Theater), and scores for several films. He is a Jonathan Larson Grant winner, a Dramatists Guild Fellow, and has been in-residence with Exploring the Metropolis at JCAL, Hi-ARTS, Judson, New Dramatists, and Weston Playhouse. Avi is the resident composer at the 52nd Street Project and teaches a variety of collaborative art-making courses at NYU Tisch.
Kendell Pinkney is a Brooklyn based theatre-maker, Jewish-life consultant, and rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary. While he was most recently featured in Saturday Night Seder and on the Crooked podcast Unholier than Thou, his collaborative works have been presented at venues such as 54 Below, Joe’s Pub, the 14th St. Y, and Two River Theatre, to name a few. Kendell’s broader interest in racial and ethnic diversity among Jews led him to team up with spoken-word artist, Vanessa Hidary, to produce Kaleidoscope, a monologue showcase that foregrounds the stories of Jews of Color, and Jews from Sephardic and Mizrachi backgrounds. In addition to his creative arts work, he is the Rabbinic Fellow for the Jewish arts and culture organizations Reboot and LABA, and the Spiritual Director of Ammud: The Jews of Color Torah Academy.



Thursday, March 18, 2021

Prof. Susannah Heschel (Dartmouth College)

Blacks, Jews, and Black Jews  

  This lecture will explore three intertwined dimensions of relations between African Americans and Jewish Americans:  Jewish involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, Jewish memory of the Civil Rights Movement in recent decades in light of the rise of white nationalism, and scholarship on racism and what they might contribute to our understanding of antisemitism. Many American Jews turn with pride to the active participation of Jews in the Civil Rights Movement (CRM), in which numerous rabbis and Jewish students took part in disproportionate number – and some died. The Black Jewish bonds of the CRM days remain a powerful and inspiring memory, and many Jews long to revive those alliances. To revive the alliances of the past, Prof. Heschel suggests we need to incorporate new understandings of the nature of racism, and recover the prophetic traditions that forged the alliances in the past.
Susannah Heschel is the Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College. Her scholarship focuses on Jewish-Christian relations in Germany during the 19th and 20th centuries, the history of biblical scholarship, and the history of anti-Semitism. Her numerous publications include Abraham Geiger and the Jewish Jesus (University of Chicago Press), which won a National Jewish Book Award, and The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany (Princeton University Press). She has also taught at Southern Methodist University and Case Western Reserve University.
Heschel has been a visiting professor at the Universities of Frankfurt and Cape Town as well as Princeton, and she is the recipient of numerous grants, including from the Ford Foundation, Carnegie Foundation, and a yearlong Rockefeller fellowship at the National Humanities Center. In 2011-12 she held a fellowship at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin. She has received four honorary doctorates from universities in the United States, Canada, and Germany. Currently she is a Guggenheim Fellow and is writing a book on the history of European Jewish scholarship on Islam. In 2015 she was elected a member of the American Society for the Study of Religion. 
The author of over one hundred articles, she has also edited several books, including Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays of Abraham Joshua Heschel; Betrayal: German Churches and the Holocaust (with Robert P. Ericksen); Insider/Outsider: American Jews and Multiculturalism(with David Biale and Michael Galchinsky). She serves on the academic advisory council of the Center for Jewish Studies in Berlin and on the Board of Trustees of Trinity College.



Thursday, May 6, 2021

Prof. Gil Troy (McGill University)

Zionism, Israel, and Social Justice

  Zionism, more than most movements of national liberation, has long had its eyes on making Israel a model for the world, not just a refuge from the world: David Ben-Gurion called this fulfilling the covenant, not just building an ark. This lecture will analyze this central theme in Zionism ideology, assessing what Israel has achieved - and where it has fallen short -- in creating a nation that fulfills the Torah's commandment to seek justice, not just for yourself but for the stranger too.  

A Distinguished Scholar in North American History at McGill University currently living in Jerusalem, Gil Troy is an award-winning American presidential historian and a leading Zionist activist. In the Foreword to Troy’s latest book, The Zionist Ideas: Visions for the Jewish Homeland – Then, Now, Tomorrow, Natan Sharansky writes: “This magnificent work is the perfect follow-up to Arthur Hertzberg’s classic The Zionist Idea. Combining, like Hertzberg, a scholar’s eye and an activist’s ear, Gil Troy demonstrates that we now live in a world of Zionist Ideas, with many different ways to help Israel flourish as a democratic Jewish state.”
Recently designated an Algemeiner J-100, one of the top 100 people “positively influencing Jewish life,” Troy wrote The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, and ten other books on the American presidency. One leading historian called Age of Clinton “the best book on the man and his times.” Troy edited and updated another classic, the multi-volume History of American Presidential Campaigns, originally edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. and Fred Israel. He is now writing new essays on the 2012 and 2016 elections.
Troy’s book Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight against Zionism as Racism, describes the fall of the UN, the rise of Reagan and the spread of Anti-Zionism. Jewish Ideas Daily designated it one of 2012’s “best books.”
He appeared as a featured commentator on CNN’s popular multipart documentaries, The Eighties, The Nineties, and The 2000s. He has been interviewed on most major North American TV and Radio networks.
Troy has published essays in the American, Canadian, and Israeli media, including writing essays for the New York Times’ “Campaign Stops” in 2012 and 2016. He wrote a weekly column for the Daily Beast, “Secret Lives,” putting current events in historical perspective, and writes a weekly column for the Jerusalem Post.






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