Conference to Explore the Future of the Jewish People


Mordecai M. Kaplan Center for Jewish Peoplehood, RRC, Temple, and McGill's Department of Jewish Studies are holding a conference on Jewish identity.

People today no longer identify simply as Orthodox, Conservative or Reform, but instead many are progressive liberals where intermarriage, race, sexual orientation or a Jew by choice have shaped their Jewish values. 

To discuss the evolution of Jews, luminaries from the fields of academia, Jewish communal life, philanthropy, the arts and the media will gather in Philadelphia to address these questions at a conference, “Wrestling with Jewish Peoplehood.”

It will take place April 10-11 at the National Museum of American Jewish History.

The event is being organized by the Mordecai M. Kaplan Center for Jewish Peoplehood in Evanston, Ill., the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) in Wyncote, Temple University’s Feinstein Center for American Jewish History and the Department of Jewish Studies of McGill University in Montreal.

“We know that Jewish identities are shifting,” said Elsie Stern, the RRC vice president for academic affairs. She is part of the steering committee planning the conference.

Stern said the goal is to hold a conversation among attendees and speakers, rather than a lecture.

“I think that we are noticing more and more the diversity of the Jewish community, and we are asking how that diversity creates new and different forms of Judaism,” she said.

Prominent thinkers and activists such as Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg,

Rabbi Deborah Waxman, journalist Peter Beinart and Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, as well as Forward editor Jane Eisner, John Ruskay, Frank London, April Baskin, Shaul Magid and Deborah Dash Moore, will address the issue of peoplehood through the lenses of theology, sociology, history, politics, fundraising and the arts.

Among the topics that will be discussed are to what extent is the term “peoplehood” inclusive and exclusive, the role of Israel and Zionism in understanding Jewish peoplehood, global perspectives on peoplehood and the degree to which dissent and disagreement exist without splintering the group.

They also will ask whether it is possible for a new set of values and beliefs to give the peoplehood concept renewed meaning.

“This conference is a chance to bring people together and ask those questions,” Stern said. 

One speaker will be Lila Corwin Berman, who directs Temple’s Feinstein Center. She believes the conference can inspire important conversations among scholars, activists and the general public.

She will moderate a session called “The Price of Peoplehood: Philanthropy, Tzedakah and Resource Distribution.” She organized this group because she is researching and writing a book called The American Jewish Philanthropic Complex: The Formation of a Multi-Billion-Dollar Institution.

Some questions she will discuss with the attendees are: Who funds Jewish peoplehood? How has the concept of Jewish peoplehood served as a fundraising tool and to what ends? And in what ways are Jews and Jewish organizations looking to expand the boundaries of peoplehood by rethinking how the resources supporting Jewish peoplehood are raised and distributed?

“The conference is about giving everyone who attends space to reflect upon, enrich, and share their own understanding of Jewish peoplehood, “Corwin Berman said. “Many of the sessions are designed as workshops, with text study and facilitated conversation so that everyone together learns with and from one another. In my mind, this is the truly important work that the conference will do.”

The conference also includes a musical note, featuring a concert by Hankus Netsky, scholar, composer and author of “Music and Community in Twentieth Century Jewish Philadelphia.” Also performing will be the Philadelphia Klezmer Heritage Ensemble featuring Elaine Hoffman-Watts, Susan Watts and Daniel Blacksberg.

To sign up go to

Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0747 


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