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Rabbi Stephen Greenberg

Dan Oren



March 6, 2013


[This is part one of Jane Enkin's review of the Limmud Festival March 1-3]

Limmud Winnipeg 2013 provided a satisfying taste of learning from many Jewish perspectives. An over-arching theme of my experience this year? Questions are better than answers.

The first Orthodox Rabbi To Come Out of the Closet

Rabbi Steve Greenberg, one of many distinguished out of town teachers at Limmud 2013, is the author of Wrestling With God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition, and was featured in the influential film on gay Orthodox Jews, Trembling Before God. I had the pleasure of hearing Rabbi Greenberg first in an informal setting, at a Limmud Friday night dinner swith members of Winnipeg's Jewish GLBT group, Anakhnu. The first Orthodox rabbi to come out as gay, and a pioneer in many areas of gay Jewish life, Greenberg is a hero to many who attended, and yet they were excited to challenge him in discussion. The arguments were intense, fascinating, open-hearted and respectful on all sides – it was wonderful to watch a teacher who is actively engaged in learning as he teaches.

For information about Anakhnu events, go to contact Tamar Barr [email protected]
This July, Winnipeg hosts the 21st World Conference of GLBT Jews. For info and schedule,

My husband, Justin Jaron Lewis, told me Rabbi Greenberg's final session on Sunday was a teaching using the imagery from an ancient midrash about the moon and the sun. In a paradigm based on hierarchy, one member of a pair has to be more powerful than the other, and so the moon had to be less powerful than the sun. In the midrash, this is seen as hurtful to the moon, and a problem for the whole world that requires atonement and repair. Rabbi Greenberg presented same sex marriage as a potential model for non-hierarchical relationships, with the hope that everyone could be inspired to live in a world that transcends relationships based on domination.

Rabbi Greenberg works with the LGBT organization Keshet, addressing the wider Jewish community,www.keshetonline.organd is co-director of Eshel, working within the Orthodox community,

I also attended Rabbi Greenberg's Limmud session called Diaspora Zion. This was an incredibly idea-filled session – my account here barely touches on the range of Rabbi Greenberg's explorations. His subject was Jewish connection to land, both in the diaspora and in Israel. We were encouraged to think very personally about our sense of home, and then introduced to Biblical and 20th century texts that looked at questions of responsibility and attachment to the land. We were asked to see complexities where simple answers might be tempting. In one story, a farmer asks a young Jewish man, “Don't you hear the land singing?” The young man can't hear it, and the farmer responds“ Ah... It's not your land.” For the young man, this experience led to fervent Zionism and the need to farm our ancient land. For others, the same understanding can lead us to listen to the land respectfully wherever we find ourselves in diaspora. Greenberg invited Winnipeg's Alon Weinberg to expand on these concepts. He spoke about Jewish responses to living on Canadian land, about what he has learned by studying with Native Canadians, and about ecologically sound approaches to farming and working with the land.

Rabbi Greenberg works with the Jewish Environmental organization Hazon,
For more information about AdaMah'nitoba, a project joining ecology and Jewish spirituality in Canada, contact [email protected]

Joining the Clubs: The Fall and Rise of Jews at Yale and Other Elite Universities.

Dr. Dan Oren, a psychiatrist, is a dynamic, energetic speaker – I think I'd find him exciting on any topic. I heard him teach "Joining the Clubs: The Fall and Rise of Jews at Yale and Other Elite Universities."

In an interview by the Massachusetts School of Law that is on the internet, Oren explaines how he decided to begin reserch into  his book "Joining The Club". In 1976, he was an undergraduate at Yale when there was a one-time course that was being offered on the subject of American Jewish history.

"Being of Jewish background and being an American, I realized when I saw that listing in the college catalogue that I knew next to nothing about the subject... So I took the course...the entire grade for the course, was going to be based on one paper of our choice, any subject in anything in American Jewish history, with one requirement: that it had to be based on original research. .. So I spent weeks thinking about it in the back of my mind.... And one day, one of the books assigned for the course struck me...a book by John Higham called “Send These To Me,”... and one sentence in that book leapt out at me... where he writes something to the effect of “After 1900, few Jews were accepted into the fraternities at Yale and the clubs at Princeton and elsewhere.” And when I read that sentence, it was like a thunderbolt hitting me because in 1976 as a Jewish student at Yale, I felt that there was no discrimination." 

" So to hear that once upon a time, there had been such discrimination was a shock to me," Oren addedin the interview.

In his presentation, Oren used fascinating slides really contributed to our understanding of the motivations of the powerful White Anglo Saxon men who put in place quotas, often covertly, to keep down the proportion of Jews in Ivy League schools. A photo of New Haven, for example, showed that the poor immigrant neighbourhood was right next to the Yale campus. High-achieving young Jewish men, from poor families who valued education, would naturally apply to the highly esteemed university in their home town. Establishment university men would just as naturally feel uneasy about the high numbers of qualified outsiders right at their gates. There's a happy ending to the story. After World War II, returning soldiers didn't want to support discrimination. More importantly, the US was in a space race with the Soviets and there was a perceived need for top students, no matter their background, and so barriers fell.

When asked by the interviewer for the Massachusetts School of Law about the contents of the book he wrote, Oren said,  "It’s honest. It gives Yale praise where it’s due, but also holds it accountable. And certainly, President *Giamatti [of Yale University], as the president of the university, could have used his influence, if he wanted, to say that Yale will not publish this book. Instead, he read through the manuscript. I met with him. He was actually very kind. He allowed me to interview him on several occasions in the writing of it. And he said that this is a story that fairly and accurate reflects Yale’s history, and it’s going to be something negative, it’s far better that we say it ourselves, that we accept it ourselves than let the dirty laundry be done elsewhere."





In the Berney Theatre on Saturday evening  March 2, Larry Jay Tish and Ron Jones presented their show The Black Jew Dialogues. It was fascinating to watch these two talented comic actors show us the questions and dilemmas they confronted in trying to understand each other's cultures, and their own – this was a play about process rather than conclusions and answers. Although they were dismayed at the impact that stereotypes have on individuals, over and over they reached into stereotypes for laughs, and for keys to their own identities. In a lesson about “how to answer a question with a question”, the Jewish Tish pushed the Black Jones with the question“How do you feel?” until the appropriate response came out: “How the hell am I supposed to feel?” With so much to say, Tish and Jones sometimes tipped the balance toward the didactic. Still, their multi-media approach was fun. I liked their self-portrait puppets, seen on stage and in large screen videos in “person on the street”interviews. I was touched by the image of the black puppet in a tangle of blue cloth, sinking in a sea of oppression, rising briefly with civil rights gains over the decades, only to go down again. “Why can't you swim? I've got nothing left to give you,” sighs the liberal Jewish actor. Reminded that he can't just dismiss the Holocaust and current antisemitism because Jews in North America are doing better on the whole, the Black actor acknowledges, “How can any group tell another that's been brutalized 'Get over it.'?” Of course, the actors ended on a positive note, reaching beyond issues of Black and Jewish identities to prejudices in general, to call for America as a grand experiment, somewhere no one will claim, “If not for those people this would be a better place.”

Tish and Jones presented their dialogues after Limmud Winnipeg 2013  at the Asper Campus opened with welcomes and a friendly, upbeat havdalah in the Berney theatre. While the mood was warm, for me, the mood was less intense and prayer-filled when the musicians were on stage and “audience” in seats –I felt the havdalah more deeply when we gathered together more closely at the previous two Limmud Festivals.

[More of Jane Enkin's Review of Limmud to  Follow]

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Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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