This year, The Genesis Forum is taking a new approach by featuring one of the Jewish community’s great scholars as a presenter for the entire series. Dr. Erica Brown brings her many years of experience as writer, teacher and scholar to our community lunchtime learning.
Read on to get know Erica, and find out about this year’s topic, On the Use and Abuse of Power in Jewish Tradition. All sessions are held on Wednesdays at CJP from 12:00 – 1:15 p.m. Don’t forget to sign up – all are welcome, and the first session is Wednesday, October 21, 2015!
How did you become involved with The Genesis Forum?
I was part of the original team that taught and designed it. It was during Chanukah and my co-teacher and mentor, Rabbi Samuel Chiel, of blessed memory, tried out the idea of free public lunchtime learning. We bought donuts in case people didn't want to come for the learning! To our surprise and delight, ninety people showed up. They liked the donuts, and they liked the learning.
The focus of this Genesis Forum is On the Use and Abuse of Power in Jewish Tradition. Why is this topic of interest to you as a teacher?
Remember the Hebrew National commercial "We answer to a Higher Authority"? It was an immensely successful campaign developed in the mid-60s, and it had real staying power because I think it offered a deeply resonant message that spoke to the way Jews saw themselves - as having a really high moral bar. When I ask myself if we could air that commercial today, I am not sure we could. We've got a former president and prime minister of Israel in jail. We have so many high-profile Jewish criminals. It makes me wonder if, as a people, we can manage our current influence and affluence as responsibly as we should. It's time to talk ethics.
What should students expect from this 2015-2016 Genesis Forum? Do students need any background knowledge to attend?
We will weave classic and contemporary Jewish texts with leadership literature, philosophy and reflective questions. The idea is to facilitate a high level conversation that requires no background. Each session will also stand independently since we all lead busy lives and can't always be present.
What is your favorite part about teaching?
I love the interaction between people and ideas and the surprises that surface when people bring their own wisdom and life experience to texts. Something beautiful always emerges. Judaism speaks profoundly to the human condition.
Why is a program like The Genesis Forum important for the community?
It is important for Jewish institutions to support all efforts that strengthen Jewish literacy. Increasingly there are fewer and fewer places where adults can have safe and serious conversations on their inner lives: their intellectual, spiritual and emotional needs. CJP is providing a wonderful opportunity to take a break from work and think about what really matters in life in the context of a caring community.
You’ve received numerous awards and written many books. What area of focus are you currently writing/reading about?
Currently I am interested in approaching adult transitions from a spiritual perspective. I meet an incredible number of people who have a hard time keeping up with the pace and drama of change in their lives: marriage, parenting, empty-nesting, job change or job loss, retirement, divorce, illness, moving. I am also writing on Judaism and race and doing a lot of reading on people who leave strong faith commitments and why. This is a growing genre of memoir that both intrigues and pains me.