YU Voices Brings Torah Umadda to Bear on the Present Moment

The Rabbi Arthur Schneier Program for International Affairs (Dr. Ronnie Perelis, director) and the Center for Israel Studies at Yeshiva University (Dr. Steven Fine, director), along with Dr. Jess Olson, associate professor of Jewish history, have teamed up to create YU Voices, a series of “teach-ins,” according to Dr. Perelis, “where we would consider how the past can help illuminate and energize our present moment.”

Dr. Perelis articulated the thinking behind YU Voices in a blog post on the Times of Israel. “We are living in unprecedented times, and yet, as historians, we know that the past can help us navigate the seemingly unknown terrain of a crisis,” he noted. “By looking to the past, with care, with critical thinking and with empathy, we can think in new ways about our present. By drawing on the range of expertise of our colleagues and friends we can create a forum for our students and the wider community to deepen their understanding and find the inspiration to engage with the great challenges of our moment.”

“YU Voices is a series on crisis and hope, a grassroots coming-together of faculty, particularly historians, to present thoughtful reflections on our moment,” said Dr. Fine. “YU Voices is Torah Umadda at the cusp of transformations within our Jewish community and the larger world communities of which we are a part.”

On Thursday, June 11, 2020, Rabbi Saul Berman gave the keynote address for this series: “Lessons from Selma 1965 for America in 2020.” Rabbi Berman offered a stirring reflection on his own involvement in the civil rights movement and explained the deep roots of Jewish activism and responsibility towards our neighbor in halachic [Jewish law] and Torah values. A recording of his talk is available here.

On Thursday, June 25, 2020, Dr. Jess Olson explored questions of art and identity with Jon Madof, the founder of the Jewish Afro-Beat orchestra Zion80 and the innovative music label Chant Records. Listen in on their conversation.

“Jon Madof is an important member of a New York Jewish arts scene generally referred to as ‘radical Jewish culture’,” explained Dr. Olson, “by which is meant exploration of culturally specific, avant-garde art and music to express Jewish identity. I invited Jon because as a jazz musician, and an Orthodox Jew, he combines, say, the Afrobeat style of Fela Kuti with the melodies of Shlomo Carlebach. His music and thoughts about culture, identity and art are very much of the moment and a perfect fit for YU Voices.”

YU Voices will meet every two weeks through the summer and into the fall. The next event, on Thursday, July 9, at 1 p.m. features Shulamith Berger, Curator of Special Collections and Hebraica-Judaica at the Mendel Gottesman Library, as she discusses “How Will We Remember COVID? A View from the Archives.” Event information can be found at YU Voices.

“We hope that these talks with YU faculty and prominent guests exploring moments of crisis, resistance and social and political change,” said Dr. Perelis, “will empower us to engage the challenges we face today.”