What Now?

After tragedy, what happens next? How does Jewish tradition help us respond? To put to rest her own years of turmoil, alum Sara Beth Berman interviews faculty members of the Jewish Theological Seminary to finally get some answers. 

New episodes to be posted on Thursdays. Find What Now? A JTS Podcast wherever you listen.

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Produced by Michal Richardson
Cover art: Aura Lewis
Theme music: “Jat Poure” by Blue Dot Sessions
Funding: Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious & Social Studies


Episode 1: We Suffer Because We Care—Alan Mittleman

In this opening episode, host Sara Beth Berman tells her story and speaks with Dr. Alan Mittleman, Aaron Rabinowitz and Simon H. Rifkind Professor of Jewish Philosophy at JTS. Prof. Mittleman shares his own experiences with loss, framing tragedies as taking place in a world that is nevertheless good and that gives us reason for hope. We also learn why giving Professor Mittleman advice is never a good idea. (transcript)

Listen to “We Suffer Because We Care—Alan Mittleman” on Spreaker.

Episode 2: Talking Back to God—Benjamin Sommer

Sara Beth talks to Dr. Benjamin Sommer, Professor of Bible and Ancient Semitic Languages at JTS. Professor Sommer takes us back to Ancient Israel, and explains how Psalms can validate our anger with God, and even help us find support from our community. He also shares how the reference to his work he’s most proud of is the one that ended up in the footnotes to a book about Bruce Springsteen. (transcript)

Listen to “Talking Back to God—Benjamin Sommer” on Spreaker.

Episode 3: Mourning in Public—Shuly Rubin Schwartz

Sara Beth talks with Dr. Shuly Schwartz, Provost of JTS, Irving Lehrman Research Associate Professor of American Jewish History, and Sala and Walter Schlesinger Dean of the Gershon Kekst Graduate School. Dr. Schwartz shares the mourning and remembering practices, some innovative and some ancient, that have supported her family through even the most wrenching of bereavements. We also learn why Henrietta Szold insisted on saying kaddish herself, in 1916. (transcript)

Listen to “Mourning in Public—Shuly Rubin Schwartz” on Spreaker.

Episode 4: The Wholeness of a Broken Heart—Mychal Springer

Sara Beth talks with Rabbi Mychal Springer, founding director of the Center for Pastoral Education at JTS. Rabbi Springer shares her insights about living with brokenness derived both from her own losses, and from a career of helping others in crisis. And Sara Beth reveals why she’s been avoiding Rabbi Springer for all these years. (transcript)

Rabbi Springer is leaving JTS this summer to become Manager of Clinical Pastoral Education at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

Listen to “The Wholeness of a Broken Heart—Mychal Springer” on Spreaker.

Episode 5: Getting Honest With Yourself—Eliezer Diamond

Sara Beth talks to Rabbi Eliezer Diamond, Rabbi Judah Nadich Associate Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at JTS, about the power of acknowledging all the parts of ourselves in order to move forward. We also learn what happens when a Catholic priest walks into a rabbi’s hospital room. (transcript)

Listen to “Getting Honest With Yourself—Eliezer Diamond” on Spreaker.

Episode 6: We Were Strangers—Abigail Uhrman

Dr. Abigail Uhrman, assistant professor of Jewish education in the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at JTS, explains how to have difficult conversations with children (and adults), and why we need to channel our tragedies into change. She also shares her passion for increasing access to Jewish education for all students and families. (transcript)

Listen to “We Were Strangers—Abigail Uhrman” on Spreaker.

Episode 7: Sympathetic Teachers and Rebellious Rabbis—David Kraemer

Dr. David Kraemer, Joseph J. and Dora Abbell Librarian and Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics  at JTS, combs the canon of Jewish wisdom to find the right theological insights—and the right books—for the individual who has suffered a tragedy. And Sara Beth and Professor Kraemer found the first rabbinic motorcycle club. (transcript)

Listen to “Sympathetic Teachers and Rebellious Rabbis—David Kraemer” on Spreaker.

Episode 8: From Loss to Action—Stephanie Ruskay

Sara Beth talks to Rabbi Stephanie Ruskay, associate dean of The Rabbinical School, associate director of the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies, and executive director of the Hendel Center for Ethics and Justice, all at JTS! Rabbi Ruskay shares her journey to becoming a leader in the world of Jewish social justice, guided by a monumental loss—and some very tiny tragedies along the way. (transcript)

Listen to “From Loss to Action—Stephanie Ruskay” on Spreaker.

Episode 9: Restoring Balance—Julia Andelman

This week’s guest, Rabbi Julia Andelman, Director of Community Engagement at JTS, explains kapparah (atonement) and the ruptures in the cosmic equilibrium created by sin and suffering. She and Sara Beth discuss how these ruptures can be repaired in our post-sacrificial era. (No livestock was harmed in the production of this episode.) (transcript)

Listen to “Restoring Balance—Julia Andelman” on Spreaker.

Episode 10: This One Goes to Eleven—David Fishman

Sara Beth talks with Dr. David Fishman, Professor of Jewish History and Director of Project Judaica at JTS, about a tragedy that’s an 11 on a scale of one to 10. Professor Fishman describes the inspiration he’s found in the Vilna ghetto heroes of his recent book, who risked their lives daily to save artifacts from destruction, and who refused to let their tragedy define them. (transcript)

Listen to “This One Goes to Eleven—David Fishman” on Spreaker.

Episode 11: On a Scale of One to Ten—Sarah Wolf

In this season finale, Dr. Sarah Wolf, Assistant Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at JTS, talks with Sara Beth about the impact of inherited tragedies, from her own family’s losses to the destruction of the Temple. And Sara Beth reaches the end of her journey (for now). She shares what she’s learned this season, and discovers the rabbinic wisdom of reframing our suffering by taking our lives’ narratives by the horns. (transcript)

Professor Wolf recently published an academic paper on this topic: “Suffering and Sacrifice: The Hermeneutics of Yisurin in the Babylonian Talmud”, Studies in Late Antiquity, Vol. 3 No. 1, Spring 2019 (56-76)

Listen to “On a Scale of One to Ten—Sarah Wolf” on Spreaker.