Episode #2 – February 19, 2023

Jewish Almanac Podcast

Episode #2

(This is a machine-generated transcript with only minor editing, so there may be some errors)

This is the Jewish almanac podcast episode two with a release date of February 19 2023.

Your host is James M Branum.

On this weekly podcast, I explore resources for frugal DIY adult Jewish learning that I hope will be of interest to a broad range of listeners, including lifelong Jews converts, those studying for conversion, and of course non-Jews who are curious about our tradition.

In today’s episode, I will first be sharing some highlights of some of the best Jewish podcasts I’ve heard over the last week. After that, I’ll be discussing why affordable DIY adult Jewish education matters. Third, I’ll talk for a moment about a new Jewish (music) video that was recently released by Jew-grass band Nefesh Mountain. After that, I’ll give a quick nutshell summary of this week’s Torah portion for Parasha Terumah. And then to conclude, we’ll have the first edition of a new recurring segment, “the online service of the week,” in which I’ll give a sort of review of an online Jewish service that you might want to check out.

But first, let me mention that show notes with this, and our past episodes can be found on the podcast page at Our shows can be downloaded directly from the website but are also available on most of the major podcast apps.


This was a good week for podcast listening, so I’m gonna jump right into it. ,

On Judaism Unbound – Episode #366, this one was very exciting for me because Dan and Lex interviewed Michael Strassfeld, one of the co-editors of the classic Jewish Catalog. The interview was broad and far-reaching, asking questions about the need for disruption, but arguably not destruction of the role of liturgy, synagogues and other aspects of Jewish life. Also Strassfeld has a new book out and published by Ben Yehuda press entitled Judaism, Disrupted, which is going on my list of books I want to read very soon.

Also, going back in the archives of Judaism Unbound, I listened again to episode #3

, which featured Rabbi Benay Lappe discuss her crash theory and the three categories of how Jews respond to disruption. I listened to this one again, because Lappe’s theory keeps coming up again and again in conversations on the Judaism Unbound podcast, and I think arguably is central to the entire mission of unbinding Judaism, so I wanted to listen to it.

On Chutzpod – Episode #2.18, which I think I figured out their naming convention looks like that means season two episode 18. This week, regular co-host Joshua Molina was gone, rehearsing for an upcoming Broadway productions so actor, actor Sarah Podemiski filled his spot, alongside Rabbi Shara Stuttman. Most of the episode talked about Parasha Mishpatin, last week’s Torah portion. But there was there were some really good thoughts about the work in this about the ways the Jewish tradition, since at least the Talmudic era has sought to humanize and soften brutal mitzvot, such as the famous “eye for an eye” passage. In other words, Talmudicly and through to the present this text has not been interpreted as literally requiring the removal of an eye to punish an accidental injury that led to the the loss of an eye but rather, monetary compensation. And that’s been the norm since at least the town Talmudic era, and  probably earlier.

Along with it, I also appreciate hearing a little more about Sarah’s identity as a Jewish indigenous American person. Oh, I should say I guess she’s, I believe she’s Canadian, actually. So Jewish, indigenous Canadian person. And some of the questions about how identity works, including why phrases like half indigenous and half Jewish can be problematic. After all, she is fully an indigenous person. She is fully Jewish, and she has both heritages. That’s tricky, to encompass, but to just unpack that a little bit, I thought was very helpful.

In the Adventures in Jewish Studies, Season 4 Episode 7, do Jews believe in magic? This one was really interesting because it highlighted the contradictory and complicated ways the Jewish tradition has treated the concept of magic, but also how that many of the practices that we call today, magic wouldn’t have been thought of as such notion times.

Finally, on New Books in Jewish Studies podcast, host Schnarr Zalman Neufeld, talked with Dan Lasker about his book carry is an introduction to the oldest surviving alternative Judaism. This episode is admittedly a deep dive a little bit nerdy, but worthwhile as so little is known about the tradition of the Karaites by most mainstream rabbinic Jews, including myself. So I learned a lot and if you’re interested in the Karaites at all, I recommend that episode.

I want to talk for a few minutes about Jewish education, specifically adult Jewish education. Judaism is famously a religion that celebrates study so much that traditionally there was a blessing one says prior to engaging in Torah study:

“Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha’Olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu laasok b’divrei Torah” — Roughly translated, “Blessed is the the eternal one, ruler of the universe, who commands us to engage with words of Torah.”

Unfortunately, for many Jews, formal study and learning about Judaism is mostly restricted to certain stages of life to Hebrew school and preparation for B mitzvah, maybe a confirmation class or if one is particularly motivated, maybe some Jewish Studies classes in college. But after that, what happens then?

Not enough, in my opinion, at least for the majority of the members of the Jewish community.

The good news is that this is a fixable problem. When that does not require lots of money or an inordinate amount of time. The solution is DIY, frugal adult Jewish education.

The Frugal part is important because it ensures that this education is open for all, but also that this education be sustainable over the course of a lifetime. No matter what stage of life one is in no matter what your income may go up or down. No person should be denied their education. Of course, as the old saying goes, “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” Free resources might be free for the student, but still cost money to create. But I will argue that as much as possible, we need to make the barriers to adult education as low as possible, whether that means doing creative fundraising, or it means exploring options to keep costs down or even shifting resources from other areas. And more and more, thanks to the power of the internet, this is doable.

The DIY part of this equation is all about empowerment. Traditional formal education is all about a curriculum and a syllabi and syllabi imposed by a teacher or an administration. The driver of the educational vehicle is not the student, the student is just along for the ride. Sometimes the journey is a good one, sometimes not so much.

DIY, do it yourself, education, on the other hand, puts the student in the driver’s seat. They get to decide what is studied, how they study, who they study with, et cetera. DIY learning is all about empowerment.

Obviously, there are times when formal education is a good thing. I’m not going to deny that. For instance, having had the opportunity to be friends with and work alongside several rabbis over the last few years, I am convinced that rabbinic training in North America does an excellent job of training and equipping rabbis to be the subject-matter experts of our tradition. But I would argue that even these formally trained rabbis will spend most of their lives not in rabbinic school, but rather as lifelong DIY learners themselves.

The challenge for those who aspire to be DIY learners is is really about getting started, and then carving out the time in our busy lives. For it to happen, which is where this podcast comes in. My hope is is that by sharing many resources, including podcasts, online classes, YouTube videos, et cetera, that it will make it easy for folks to find things to engage with in the context of our busy lives.

Next, I want to share a tiny taste of a new song by Jewish bluegrass band Nefesh Mountain the new song is “revival.”


Do you want to hear the rest of this song? The good news is that you can watch a video for the song on YouTube that plays the song alongside a visually stunning, animated video that is deeply calming and joyful. You could find a link to the video in the show notes for this episode at Or by searching for “Nefesh Mountain revival.” I can’t say enough good things about Nefesh mountain I, I just adore them.

This week’s Torah portion is Parasha Terumah, which is in Exodus 25:1-27:19. The portion gets its name Terumahm from the word for donation or offering, appropriate as this book discusses the many donations for the building of the Mishkan, also called the tabernacle, and the precise instructions provided by God through Moses for the construction of the Mishcon.

For those who want to dig into the text for the coming week, I would strongly suggest starting with Wikipedia, I know that many teachers don’t like Wikipedia, many argue that Oh, anyone can edit it. But there’s some tremednous power that comes from collaborative efforts and the power of consensus and when it comes to the Wikipedia articles on the Torah portions, I’m deeply impressed, and hope, I think you too. Give it a try. Just search for the Torah portion’s name, and you’ll find it. There’s a lot of good stuff there.

To close for today, I have a new recurring segment to introduce, “the online service of the week.” For this segment, I’ll be discussing one of the many opportunities that are available for engaging in online Jewish services. It won’t be so much a review like a clinical book or movie review, but rather is more of a preview. So for this week, I want to share the online services from the The Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas, in the US Virgin Islands, the second oldest synagogue in the United States. It is affiliated with the Reform movement, but like many synagogues in areas with small Jewish populations, it serves a broader Jewish community.

I first got to know this community when I visited St. Thomas on a cruise ship stopped several years ago, and I’ve enjoyed participating in their online services several times since they are a small community and have had to weather recent changes and rabbinical leadership and of course, the challenges of the COVID pandemic. But I really appreciate your earnest and thoughtful services. Most of the services are live streamed on YouTube and Facebook but are also available for via zoom for a more interactive experience.

I also want to mention that for folks who are looking for an online community to be formally affiliated with, the St. Thomas’s synagogue’s Chai membership program might be worth considering. The cost is extremely reasonable, $36 a year and enables one to be an active supporter of this community.

In fact, I’m remembering that I’m overdue to pay my own dues for this year.

And that brings us to the end of episode number two. We would love to hear any comments, suggestions, critiques, etc. You can leave them on social media on our Facebook page look for, or on the mastodon social media platform or you can email me directly at JMB at jmb dot bike, again that is J M B at JMB dot B I K E.

Shavurah Tov! Have a good week!

We actually have another minute left. So to close this out, we’ll play a little bit of F minor klezmer from the Underscore Orchestra.

(NOTE: Other musical selections included excerpts from Nefesh Mountain “Revival,” Gillicuddy “Instrumental #2 Revisted,” The Underscore Orchestra “New Town Klezmer,” and “Wedding Dance” by the Jewish Russian Orchestra.)

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