Slifka Think Tank

Background: The Yale Jewish community includes many of the most compelling intellectual figures in today’s – and tomorrow’s – world.  At present, there is almost no organized effort to bring these talented, trained minds to bear on the urgent questions facing the Jewish people or to facilitate these scholars’ connection to the Jewish intellectual tradition in ways that could transform their intellectual lives. Furthermore, discussions that are currently available are limited to politicians, philanthropists, and professionals, which summarily exclude the college students who will ultimately determine whether these topics and solutions are relevant or meaningful in the not so distant future.

Synopsis:  The Slifka Think Tank at Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale seeks to fill this role. By convening scholars and students, it will realize the potential of the Jewish and American intellectual traditions to enliven one another.  The Slifka Think Tank aims to foster a set of conversations that are at once rooted in the present (by including current leaders in their fields), and informed by the future (by including the perspectives, questions, and values of current Yale students).  When successful, these conversations will be transformative for their participants, and will produce ideas that will be widely disseminated and influential.

This work will touch on the interaction of Jewish text/intellectual tradition and practices with five major areas:

  1.     Climate Change
  2.     The health of American civil society
  3.     Migration and Identity
  4.     Widening Economic Inequality
  5.     Gender and Feminism

Additionally, we will focus on applying the lessons of cutting-edge social science research to practice and theory of building Jewish community and identity on campus.

The modes the Slifka Think Tank will employ include gathering for evenings of conversation, multi-day intensives on the topics mentioned above, creating of academic articles, and much more. Long term, we aim to create a set of successful methods for how Elihu will best generate new intellectual material, which will go hand in hand with concrete intellectual output, such as webinars, conferences, and written publications.   

Modes Include:

  1.   Published Articles
  2.   YouTube Videos
  3.   Conferences
  4.   Lectures
  5.   Lunch and Learns
  6.   Immersive Experiences
  7.   Curated Art Exhibits/Artistic Creations
  8.   Debates/Discussions

Working Groups

The deepest learning happens when there’s real responsibility – when knowledge meets power. In that spirit, and inspired by the successes of Team Teva last year – we’re gathering three ‘working groups’ of students to help Slifka Center address urgent, thorny questions: racial justice, the environment, and Israel/Palestine. These groups – led by staff and composed of 8-10 students – will do three things: (1) learn deeply about the area in question, going beyond ‘intro to’ in substance and conversation; (2) develop programs and initiatives for the broader Slifka community – potentially including inviting speakers, organizing conferences, etc; and (3) help Slifka Center formulate its goals and values around these issues.

Racial Justice Working Group

The Racial Justice Working Group is designed to build up participants’ stamina to discuss race and combat racism. This group of students, staff, and Slifka board members will engage in bi-weekly dialogue. Together we will examine our own racial identities, unpack the roles we play in reinforcing systemic injustice, and build skills to live intentionally anti-racist lives. All are welcome to apply, and no background experience or knowledge is required. The best candidates for the fellowship will be those who are ready to push themselves out of their comfort zones. Application and attendance at all cohort meetings is required; any and all questions should go to Rabbi Isaama at isaama.goldstein-stoll@yale.edu or Rav Jason at jason.rubenstein@yale.edu.

Climate Crisis Working Group

We will sit with one another in the company of the hard questions, “How should we prepare for a world after climate catastrophe (or realize we’re already in one)?” and “Must we (not) bring children into a depleted, damaged world?” What can Judaism offer us as we confront the implications of a climate catastrophe we have failed to avert? How should Slifka balance our key function of providing kosher meat with our environmental values? What to do about reducing population growth and the continuity of the Jewish people? Are ‘sin’ and ‘penance’ helpful categories for environmentalism? What are the emotional practices that match the urgency on climate – without drowning in despair? Sign up here, or send questions to Rav Jason at jason.rubenstein@yale.edu.

Israel/Palestine Working Group

This is the hard one, the third rail. We’ll consider everything – from the complex histories of Zionism and anti-semitism to Mizrahi identity to co-existence efforts to religious and philosophical texts. Our goal will be to pierce the veil of mistrust that can make these conversations impossible, and to create the conversations you’ve always wanted, but haven’t been able to find. Sign up here, or send questions to Rav Jason at jason.rubenstein@yale.edu.

 

Examples of Slifka Think Tank Productions 

Panel Discussions 

Why we must (not) call us border camps concentration camps 

Yale Professors Carolyn Dean, Jason Stanley, Alicia Schmidt Camacho, and Michael Wishnie, moderated by Andrea Pitzer. November 15, 2019.

 

Articles

Abigail Pogrebin ’87 P’21 interviews Rabbi Jason Rubenstein, Howard M. Holtzmann Jewish Chaplain at Yale, in her piece: What If We Don’t Believe That God Exists (But Really Wish We Did)?

Tali Farhadian Weinstein ’97, ’03JD and Rabbi Jason Rubenstein, Howard M. Holtzmann Jewish Chaplain at Yale, on a Jewish approach to the rhetoric of law and order: Does Upholding the Law Require Punishment? Rabbinic Tradition Says No