Evergreen Lessons from the Haggadah

Evergreen Lessons from the Haggadah

Apr 8, 2022 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Commentary | Pesah | Shabbat Hagadol

The Passover seder—the most celebrated Jewish ritual—serves as a symbolic reenactment of the journey of the Israelites from slavery to freedom. The Haggadah commands us to experience it annually as a way of developing historical empathy for all who are oppressed, enslaved, displaced, and hoping for liberation; we have ritualized the recounting of our people’s enslavement and deliverance in part to cultivate a sense of moral responsibility toward those suffering in our own day.

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From Podcast to Parashah

From Podcast to Parashah

Nov 26, 2021 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Commentary | Vayeshev

Many of us have become podcast connoisseurs during the pandemic. For me, the interview format has proven most appealing, and within that genre, The Axe Files stands out. Why? Like many interviewers, David Axelrod speaks to authors, politicians, thought leaders, and public figures. What sets his questioning apart is his ability to elicit the background story of his guests: Where were their grandparents from? Where did they grow up? What was their family life like? What challenges did they face in their early lives? And how did this impact the people they have become?

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Moses’s Journey, and Ours

Moses’s Journey, and Ours

Sep 9, 2021 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Commentary | Vayeilekh | Shabbat Shuvah

Whenever I read the opening verse of this week’s parashah, I recall the other parashah that opens with the same verb: לך־לך (“Go forth”). Told to go, Abram heeded God’s call, uprooting his life and journeying—both physically and emotionally—first to Haran and then to the land of Israel. And now, as we near the end of the Torah reading cycle, Parashat Vayeilekh begins by attributing that very same action of journeying to Moses, as he nears the end of his life. What can we learn from the parallel acts of journeying that these two great leaders of our people undertook?

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“If I forget Thee, O Jerusalem”: The Idea of the Retun to Zion in Jewish History

“If I forget Thee, O Jerusalem”: The Idea of the Retun to Zion in Jewish History

Jun 7, 2021 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Public Event video

Chancellor Shuly Rubin Schwartz explores the implications of living in a state of longing, how Jews attempted to reconcile the dream of return with the reality of Jewish exile, and how this dream was adapted and transformed with the emergence of modern Zionism and a thriving Jewish diaspora.

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Counting the Moments

Counting the Moments

May 14, 2021 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Commentary | Shavuot

Among the many ways that the pandemic has impacted us this past year has been our relationship to the passage of time. On the one hand, time felt like a blur, with one day bleeding into another. Save for Shabbat, each day looked like the day before and the day after. We wore the same clothes and interacted face-to-face with the same few people in our pods. We sharply curtailed, cancelled, or postponed the life-cycle celebrations, sporting events, live performances, and travel that would normally punctuate our year. Our lives constricted dramatically, as did our hopes and dreams, and even if we were fortunate enough not to suffer illness, death, or job loss, many of us experienced a sense of monotony or diminishment.

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A Holiday of Contradictory Emotions

A Holiday of Contradictory Emotions

Mar 26, 2021 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Commentary | Pesah | Shabbat Hagadol

Preparing to celebrate our second Pesah under the grip of a global pandemic, our hearts are filled with both sadness and hope. No one has been untouched by COVID-19. We’re grieving a loved one, friend, or neighbor whose life was cut short. We’re experiencing its social and economic toll—overtaxed first responders, teachers, and food providers; overwhelming social isolation; devastating financial insecurity—all exacerbated by underlying inequities. Thankfully, millions have received the vaccine, though many have yet to receive it, and new variants temper our expectations.

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The Future of the Seminary in a Dogmatic Age

The Future of the Seminary in a Dogmatic Age

Mar 18, 2021 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Public Event video

A conversation between Chancellor Shuly Rubin Schwartz and NYU President Emeritus John Sexton. Moderated by Krista Tippett.

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Chancellor’s 5781 Hanukkah Message

Chancellor’s 5781 Hanukkah Message

Dec 11, 2020 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Short Video | Hanukkah

Chancellor Schwartz shares her thoughts for Hanukkah.

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Miracles of Today

Miracles of Today

Dec 11, 2020 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Commentary | Hanukkah

One of the things I love most about Jewish holiday observances is their evolution over time and space even as core rituals remain. Hanukkah exemplifies this phenomenon. Established by the Hasmoneans to commemorate the victory of the Maccabees over Antiochus, Hanukkah in the Talmud (composed several centuries after these events) focuses on celebrating the miracle of the Temple oil lasting for eight days. With few prescribed mitzvot associated with the holiday, Hanukkah has long been ripe for creative interpretation: theological, sociological, culinary, musical, and artistic. The Hanukkiah itself illustrates its generativity, for it has been hewn from the humblest potato or the most ornate, intricately designed sterling silver; it can take the form of a tiny travel jigsaw puzzle or an enormous outdoor display.

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5781 High Holiday Message

5781 High Holiday Message

Sep 18, 2020 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Short Video | Rosh Hashanah | Yom Kippur

Chancellor Schwartz shares her thoughts on the 5781 High Holiday season.

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Tip the Scales

Tip the Scales

Sep 18, 2020 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Commentary | Rosh Hashanah | Yom Kippur

“—who will live and who will die . . . who will come to an untimely end . . . . who by plague . . . who will be brought low, and who will be raised up?” (U-netaneh Tokef, from the High Holiday liturgy)

In my earliest memory of this prayer, I am a young girl standing between my mother and grandmother in synagogue amidst hundreds of others. Both women are sobbing uncontrollably, as they recited these words. I was puzzled by their outward display of anguish but knew enough not to interrupt them to ask what caused it. They grasped in a way I had yet to comprehend just how tenuous life is; they understood that this one prayer more than any other captures the fragility of human life that the Days of Awe magnify.

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Fake News and the Resurgence of Antisemitism

Fake News and the Resurgence of Antisemitism

May 18, 2020 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Public Event video

How can we make sense of the resurgence of antisemitism from both right and left a mere 70 years after the Holocaust? Together we’ll examine foundational texts that gave rise to hatred of Jews and Judaism and reflect on what we can learn from them about how best to respond to today’s manifestations. 

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Human Lives and the Natural World

Human Lives and the Natural World

Oct 18, 2019 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Commentary | Sukkot

For many of us who live in dense metropolitan areas, spending time in national parks gives us a unique opportunity to experience in more immediate fashion the majesty of our world. Vacationing in the Canadian Rockies this past summer—hiking in the mountains, walking on glaciers, boating in deep blue lakes, cooling off in the spray of gorgeous waterfalls, identifying rare birds and seeing moose, elk, deer, and the occasional bear (thankfully from a distance)—I felt awed and fortunate to behold this.

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Anti-Semitism in America: How Did We Get Here and How Can We Move Forward?

Anti-Semitism in America: How Did We Get Here and How Can We Move Forward?

Dec 11, 2018 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Public Event video

What explains the persistence of anti-Semitism through the ages—even here, today, in the United States? Our noted experts explore anti-Semitism’s historical and theological origins and trace its changing nature over time. They also discuss efforts to counter its pernicious effects and enhance intercultural and interreligious understanding.

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Power and Gender in the Wilderness

Power and Gender in the Wilderness

Jun 15, 2018 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Commentary | Korah

Last month’s volcanic eruptions in Hawaii are just the most recent example of the violent displacement and destruction that natural disasters can cause. Looking at the photos, I was grateful to learn that no lives had been lost, but I couldn’t help thinking of the fate of Korah and his followers for spurning the Lord: “The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up with their households” (Num. 16:32). This strange parashah has always puzzled and disturbed me. What exactly did Korah and his followers do to merit such swift, cruel divine judgment?

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Adele Ginzberg’s Sukkah

Adele Ginzberg’s Sukkah

Oct 21, 2016 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Commentary | Sukkot

Such a luscious array of branches and gourds proudly displayed by Adele Ginzberg—wife of JTS Talmud professor Louis Ginzberg—as she prepared to once again adorn the JTS sukkah!

This photo from The JTS Library evokes for me the loving care with which many early twentieth-century JTS faculty wives cultivated religious spirit and community.

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Courses of Grief

Courses of Grief

Jul 15, 2016 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Commentary | Hukkat

Bereft, I combed through the grass in Central Park at dusk when I realized I had lost my late husband’s house keys. Yes, on some level, I knew it wasn’t about the keys. His sudden death two months earlier had devastated me in much more profound ways. And yet, I felt desperate to find those keys!

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Judging the Individual, Guiding the Community

Judging the Individual, Guiding the Community

Aug 21, 2015 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Commentary | Shofetim

The 2016 US presidential election primary season has begun with over two dozen potential candidates competing for our support. Keeping track of their positions on the issues feels impossible, but watching them as they present themselves to the American public helps sharpen our thinking, not only about the individual candidates, but also about the leadership qualities we both esteem and eschew in our elected officials.

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Taking Judaism Public: From The Maccabees To Adam Sandler

Taking Judaism Public: From The Maccabees To Adam Sandler

Dec 15, 2014 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Short Video | Hanukkah

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Life’s Journeys

Life’s Journeys

Jul 25, 2014 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Commentary | Masei

In a few weeks, thousands of US high school students will leave home to begin college or a gap year of study and/or service before entering college.

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