While packing for a trip to Ghana eight years ago, numerous observant Jews dissuaded me, arguing I could not volunteer abroad and maintain full, authentic observance. I knew that I had multiple identities and this trip gave me no pause. Since then I have worked in ten countries learning that I can be an observant Jew and a global citizen.
Remember that Pew survey a few weeks back with the surprising conclusion that Americans, while claiming to be oh-so-religious, don't know very much about religion, and that the folks who seem to know the most are atheists?
That was the motion of a fascinating, highly charged debate last Wednesday night at NYUs Skirball Hall sponsored by Intelligence Squared, whose series of topical debates with experts in the field are always timely, lively and thought-provoking.
In case you missed it, The New York Times snagged a quick but worthy Q&A with Woody Allen today, a week before his new film comes out. Allen told the Times' Dave Itzkoff that his film, titled "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" and featuring Josh Brolin, Naomi Watts and Anthony Hopkins, was his way of exploring the nature of belief.
The month of Elul is a time in which we pause and reflect upon our past year to engage in teshuva (repentance). I often ask myself: Are we alone in our attempts to change and grow? The Talmud suggests that God actually engages in teshuva (Megillah 29a). Can this radical suggestion that God grows, evolves, adapts with the times, and experiences redemption pass as an authentic Jewish theology?
Now that the Russian government permits the practice of religion, I often wonder what is happening to the Jews of Russia. This past May I found out. I spent the month in Moscow teaching Talmud at the Moscow State University for the Humanities.