“Writing the Next Chapter: Jewish Identity and Renaissance on the Horizon” is the title of this year’s Connie Spear Birnbaum Memorial Lecture. The program, which is free and open to the public, takes place on Sunday, April 23, at 7 p.m. at Temple Emanuel in Newton. This is the 20th anniversary of the lecture series, which this year features a panel of community leaders who will focus on Jewish identity and engagement for young Jews and others in the Jewish community.
The lecture series honors the memory of Connie Spear Birnbaum, who was unity associate at the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts for seven years. “A genuine presence with a magnetic personality, Connie was a natural at building relationships,” said Dr. Herbert Birnbaum, who was married to Connie. “Everything she did, she did with sensitivity, composure, and a sense of humor. Connie was a leader with vision and a genuine concern for all people.”
The panel will be moderated by Rav Hazzan Aliza Berger of Temple Emanuel. She is the founder of Yisod, a community of young adults who participate in programs around Boston. She also serves as director of young family engagement and programming at Temple Emanuel. Panelists are: Anita Diamant, author of “The Red Tent” and nonfiction focusing on contemporary Jewish practice, who also founded Mayyim Hayyim; Joshua Foer, journalist and founder of several Jewish organizations, including Sefaria, an online platform of Jewish textual and conceptual sources, and co-founder of Lehrhaus in Somerville; and Rabbi Charlie Schwartz, former senior director for Jewish education for Hillel International, writer and founding director of Lehrhaus, a new kind of gathering space for 21st-century Jews and people interested in Judaism. A performance by a chamber ensemble will precede the program, and the Zachor Choral Ensemble will present three musical numbers during the lecture program.
The Birnbaum lecture is being organized by Alan Teperow, who served as executive director of the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts for 33 years, and Dr. Birnbaum, who has been active in the Jewish community for many years. He is an assistant professor of restorative dentistry and biomaterials science at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine and president of the American Academy of Dental Science.
“We’re looking honestly at the realities of contemporary communal Jewish life,” said Teperow. “There are concerns that young people are mostly absent from the halls of synagogues and organizations, and our boards and committees are rapidly graying.” The panel will address this issue, but not, says Teperow, “as a gathering for mutual hand-wringing, but as an opportunity to meet Jewish leaders who are doing something about it.”
The richness and diversity of the Jewish people has been reflected in the array of previous Birnbaum series speakers, from the U.S. and Israel. Noted Dr. Birnbaum, “Our speakers come from the right, left and center and from different streams of Judaism. We have hosted leaders in religion, diplomacy, government, academia, journalism, and the battlefields of military conflict and social justice.”
Since the program’s inception, thousands of people have learned from prominent scholars and community leaders, including Rabbi Harold Kushner, Natan Sharansky, Yossi Klein Halevi, Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg, Malcolm Hoenlein, and Ron Dermer.
“Through our work since 2004,” Birnbaum continued, “we have strived to model for the Jewish community and beyond how much can be gained by embracing what we have in common, rather than allowing our differences to divide us.”
For more information, visit connielecture.com.
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