Faith in fantasy on Imaginary Worlds

Avatars-000270712412-sips6x-t500x500I'm a relatively new listener to Imaginary Worlds, a podcast about science fiction and speculative fiction and fantasy. But I've become a fan in recent weeks, which is especially delightful because I had the opportunity to be a guest on the podcast this week.

The latest episode -- episode 104 -- is a roundtable discussion featuring me, Alwaez Hussein Rashid (whom I've known for many years -- we first met in early blogging years, when he was posting at a blog called Islamicate), and Unitarian Universalist Minister Oscar Sinclair. Here's the description of the episode: 

Science fiction has not always been compatible with religion -- in fact many futuristic settings imagine no religion at all. But sci-fi and fantasy have long fascinated people of different faiths because the genres wrestle with the big questions of life. I moderated a discussion between Minister Oscar Sinclair, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat and Alwaez Hussein Rashid about why SF worlds intrigue and inspire them.

We talk about the stories that inspire us, religion in SFF worlds and in our own, faith and narrative, the big questions that SFF and theology both invite us to pose, and so much more. I get to give shout-outs to some of the works I've loved recently, including Becky Chambers' Wayfarers books (which imagine some beautiful religious rituals, especially in the third book), and Rihanna Emyrys' gorgeous short story Seven Commentaries On An Imperfect Land -- and to ponder theological questions like, is humanity on a trajectory toward redemption (and what does that even mean)? 

The episode is about half an hour long. You can listen at the podcast webpage (where there's also a list of all of the books and shows and movies and sources that we reference) or on soundcloud. I'm deeply grateful to Eric Selinsky for including me, and to my fellow panelists for a fabulous conversation!

Joyful Life As A Religious Minority - on Reports from the Spiritual Frontier

I was interviewed recently for the podcast Reports from the Spiritual Frontier. My episode is live now, and the host -- my friend and colleague Ben Yosua-Davis -- titled it "Joyful Life As A Religious Minority." Here's what he wrote about it:

Artworks_coverJoin us for a conversation with Rachel Barenblat, Co-Founder of Bayit: Your Jewish Home, blogger at Velveteen Rabbi, and Rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in North Adams, MA, as we talk about her experience of life as a religious minority. Hear about the gift of oddity, (9:30) the challenges and joys of being a religious minority (8:30), a more life-giving way to speak into Christian anxieties about Sunday sports, graying populations, and declining worship attendance, (15:00) and what it means to let new generations shape the tradition with their own hands (25:00). Hear more from Rabbi Rachel and other spiritual innovators by visiting us at or by subscribing to us via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or wherever else you acquire your best listens for your week.

On Facebook he added:

Three reasons why you should listen[...]:

1) She's a calm, deeply grounded presence. If you're panicked about all the change going on in our country right now, she'll help you take a deep breath.

2) If you're particularly anxious about Christian institutional decline, she speaks specifically to our concerns about: worship attendance, money, and graying congregations.

3) If you want a look at how a non-Christian tradition is teaching its young people to "shape the tradition with their own hands."

I'm deeply grateful to Ben for the opportunity and for the fabulous conversation! 

Listen to the podcast here: Rachel Barenblat: Joyful Life As A Religious Minority. (He'll be posting a "B-side" mini-podcast on Thursday, featuring two of my poems from my new collection Texts to the Holy, too.)  And here are all of the episodes.

Featured on Greylock Glass

Greylock-nation_FB_timeline_300x300I had the profound pleasure recently of sitting down with Kate Abbott of BTW Berkshires, and with Rabbi David Evan Markus (my dear friend and ALEPH co-chair), for a conversation that was both wide-ranging and deep.

Kate was interviewing us about ALEPH and Jewish Renewal for the Greylock Glass podcast. (Here's her archive at Greylock Glass.)

We spoke for more than an hour: about Judaism, Jewish Renewal, the legacy of Reb Zalman z"l (of blessed memory), the ALEPH / Jewish Renewal Listening Tour, deep ecumenism, and ALEPH's recent resolution that if President-Elect Trump should obligate Muslims to register as such with the government we urge all Jews (and all Americans) to register as Muslims to thwart that nefarious plan. We spoke about the evolution of religious tradition, about the life of the spirit, and about maintaining hope in dark times

This episode of the podcast is about a number of community efforts for solidarity and inclusion. In addition to conversations with us, the podcast includes Nick Cave's exhibit at MASS MoCA, Professor Moustafa Bayoumi coming to speak at Simon's Rock, and four young WordxWord poets reading as part of Othering, the November art show at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts.

Kate is a terrific journalist, and has a gift for eliciting deep answers to incisive questions. It probably also doesn't hurt that I've known Kate for many years (since the days when journalism was my own career, back when I was editor of The Women's Times, before Inkberry and before rabbinical school), and I've known David even longer. It's easy for conversations among old friends to go to meaningful places. 

The podcast episode that arose out of that conversation is now live, and you can listen to it online: Will Call #54: Standing Up Against Othering. (Our segment starts around 47 minutes in, and lasts for about half an hour, but I recommend listening to the whole thing.)

Jewish Renewal and the Jewish future on Judaism Unbound


A while back Rabbi David and I were interviewed for the Judaism Unbound podcast, wearing our ALEPH Alliance for Jewish Renewal co-chair kippot. Our episode is the first episode in a four-part series that will also feature The Kitchen (and its Hello Mazel initiative), OneTable, and (as always) podcast co-hosts Dan Libenson and Lex Rofes -- and it's now live and available for download and listening


At Or Shalom in Vancouver on the Listening Tour. 

We talked about the history of Jewish Renewal and its core tenets, about "inventing" one's own form of Judaism, about the tension between structure and flexibility in Judaism writ large, and what it might look like to give the next generations the "keys to the car" and let them shape the Judaism they most need. 

Here are a few teasers to whet your appetitite:

“What is the Judaism that you yearn for? What is the Judaism of the future that you want to see? And the follow-up question becomes ‘How can we help build that Judaism?’ ‘How can you help bring that about?’” -- Rachel

“There is no such thing as the Renewal prayer book. The Renewal prayer book defeats the point. You should be able to evolve a Renewal experience from any book or no book at all..."

"It’s not like you have to go to minyan three times a day or else you’re not a good Jew. What does it mean to evolve a Judaism where there are many [other] on-ramps? Well, some people are going to resonate with music. Some people are going to resonate with meditation. Or making a meal, or social justice. Whatever brings you to ‘wow,’ that’s the stuff that we work with." -- David

Judaism Unbound, a project of the Institute for the Next Jewish Future, describes itself as "a project that catalyzes and supports grassroots efforts by 'disaffected but hopeful' American Jews to re-imagine and re-design Jewish life in America for the 21st century." (Sounds right up ALEPH's alley, doesn't it?) Our conversation with Dan and Lex was terrific. I hope you enjoy: Jewish Renewal and the Jewish future on Judaism Unbound

On beginning a Torah podcast...with my students

Last week was the most fun, and possibly the most successful, week in my Hebrew school teaching career. And in some ways, I didn't even teach: I just set the stage, and let the kids roll.

I can't remember how the idea came up. Maybe it was when I asked my students -- I teach the fifth through seventh graders in our b'nei mitzvah prep program -- whether any of them might be interested in recording our services from time to time for those who are homebound. I think that's when the kids asked if they could make a podcast as part of their learning with me, and I said sure. This year we're studying Torah, writ large, so the podcast would have a Torah focus.

After that, they asked pretty much every week: can we make a podcast now? So I spent some time looking at the syllabus I'd put together for the year, and pondering when might be the right time to scrap the roadmap and go somewhere new. I decided the podcast should center around the story of Joseph. Working on it now is seasonally-appropriate (we'll start reading it in shul on December 8), it's a rich and multilayered story, and it's substantial enough to give them a lot to dig into.

Over the Thanksgiving break I asked the kids to read the Joseph story. (And some of them actually did.) When we returned to Hebrew school, I outlined the process I had in mind. The podcast would take place in four acts -- a structure I admit I borrowed from This American Life. Act One: the kids would retell the Joseph story in their own words. Act Two: midrashic explorations of the Joseph story, staying in the Biblical milieu. (They might write scripts where they explored one character's motivations, or another character's emotional reactions.)

Act Three: they could take the story as far-out as they wanted to go. Set it in a science-fiction future, make Joseph into Josie or Josephina, set it on a planet where everyone is a cow (yes, they actually suggested that last one): up to them. I knew that this was the part they were really excited about. When I asked them to write something creative about lulav and etrog, a while back, one of my kids wrote about a Quidditch game where Harry was riding on a lulav to chase the golden etrog. I knew they would find some goofy way to relate to Joseph.

The podcast would close with Act Four, in which I would interview them about what the process had been like and what they had learned from the experience of immersing in their own creative takes on the Joseph story.

We started last week with Act One, the retelling of the Joseph story. I asked them to tell me the story of Joseph, prompting them occasionally if they seemed likely to skip over an important plot point. I transcribed their words, printed copies of that script, and handed it around the room. We recorded the script together in class. For Act Two, I had anticipated that they would want to work in pairs or small groups to write short scripts which explored aspects the Joseph story in their own ways, but to my surprise, they wanted to work all as a single group, and to find their own responses in realtime, as a kind of improv theatre. So I pressed "record" and let them roll.

I spent a few evenings last week doing some technical work: going through each recording and boosting the sections of the audio which had been too quiet, finding a theme song through the Free Music Archive's list of Creative Commons-licensed material available for remix and reuse. (I chose a track by the Boston-based Debo Band - "Aderech Arada (Kiddid Remix)" -- you can learn more about the band and about the track here at the FMA.) This afternoon in class I'm planning to work on Acts Three and Four. Then I'll have some more editing work to do, and we should be able to release the podcast right around the time that congregations around the world are reading the Joseph story!

I'm not sure this podcast will be a major contribution to the world of Jewish commentary on Joseph. But the process of making it has gotten my students excited about Torah and excited about Hebrew school, and as far as I'm concerned, that's priceless. And their insights, and phrasings, are fresh and often surprising. (Did you know that Joseph's brothers failed to recognize him, when they met him as Pharaoh's vizier, because he was all decked out in bling?) I'm proud of my kids for embracing this Torah story, even if they're embracing it with silliness.

And I can't wait to see what they come up with next.


Edited to add: if you're curious, you can listen to the first Ne'arim podcast here at my congregational blog.

VR Podcast 5: Sukkot


VR Podcast Episode 5: Sukkot

Happy Sukkot!

In this episode of the VR Podcast -- live from our sukkah in our backyard -- I talk about the festival of Sukkot, interpretations of the sukkah, impermanence, integrating blessings, the Four Species, and more.




To listen online or download:  VR Podcast 5 - Sukkot.mp3

23 minutes, 8 seconds / 22.2 MB MP3 file

If you're so inclined, you can subscribe via iTunes.

All feedback is welcome and appreciated, always.


VR Podcast 4: Elul and Teshuvah


VR Podcast Episode 4: Elul and Teshuvah.

Tomorrow we enter the new lunar month of Elul -- a perfect time for a new VR Podcast!

In this episode of the VR Podcast I talk about the lunar month of Elul, explore some ideas about teshuvah (repentance / return), share Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi's translation of Psalm 27, and close with a blessing for you for the month to come.




To listen online or download:

18 minutes, 20 seconds / 17.6 MB MP3 file

If you're so inclined, you can subscribe via iTunes.

All feedback is welcome and appreciated, always.


VR Podcast Episode 3: A Shabbat Morning Service


VR Podcast Episode 3: Shabbat Morning Service.

This is an experimental edition of the Velveteen Rabbi podcast. Instead of featuring me talking about some aspect of Jewish life and spiritual practice, this is a prayer service podcast -- a recording of a Shabbat morning service at my shul. I co-led this service with ALEPH rabbinic students Rhonda Shapiro-Rieser and David Curiel.

The siddur we are using is Mishkan T'filah, the current Reform prayerbook, though hopefully this recording is enjoyable (and is something you could pray along with if you were so inclined) no matter what siddur you have on hand -- or indeed whether you have one on hand at all.

The only part of this recording which is bound to a certain moment in time is the Torah reading, which comes from last week's portion, Behar-Bechukkotai. If you find it disconcerting to hear a Torah reading after the assigned date for that portion is past, you can always fast-forward that part.

Several of y'all have asked if I might consider offering prayer podcasts in this way; I'll be curious to see if this works for you! I've edited out the weekly announcements (which come at the end of our service); the recording is otherwise unaltered. It was made in a rather unsophisticated way, so sound levels may vary.

My deepest thanks are due to David and Rhonda for leading the service with me, for sharing their voices and their ruach (spirit), for playing their instruments (ukulele and sruti box) alongside mine (guitar), and for giving me permission to share this service as a podcast here.


To listen online or download:

1 hour, 50 minutes, 30 seconds / 106.2 MB MP3 file


If you're so inclined, you can subscribe via iTunes.

All feedback is welcome and appreciated, always.


VR Podcast Episode 2: Bedtime Practices

I did warn y'all that the podcast was going to be "occasional," right? Though I'm not sure I realized, when I said that, that four months would go by between episodes...




VR Podcast Episode 2: Bedtime Practices.

The "angel song;" the ritual of the bedtime shema; a Bedtime Prayer of Forgiveness; making teshuvah each night; gratitude and release; why adults need this at least as much as children do; a blessing for the end of your day. Duration: 19:03.

To listen online:



If you're so inclined, you can subscribe via iTunes.

Give it a listen, and let me know what you think? All comments / feedback welcome!

VR Podcast Episode 1: Morning Practices

Several of y'all have asked, over the years, whether I have considered podcasting. This winter, I thought I'd give it a try.

I'm not promising that these podcasts will come out on any specific timetable. (I'm a congregational rabbi and the mother of a toddler; I've got all the deadlines I can handle!) I'll release them periodically. The first episode lasts just over 15 minutes; I'm guessing episodes will generally between 15 minutes and 30 minutes.

Subject matter: Judaism, spiritual practice, Jewish Renewal, prayer, the intersection of prayer and poetry, niggun and chanting, integrating spiritual practice with "ordinary life" -- in other words, the same stuff you already come to Velveteen Rabbi to find.



VR Podcast Episode 1: Morning Practices.

Three melodies for "Modah Ani," reflections on beginning the day with gratitude, the birchot ha-shachar / morning blessings, blessing yoga, prayer in the shower, and beginning the day how one means to go on. Duration: 16:06.

To listen online:


If you're so inclined, you can subscribe via iTunes -- for now, that link includes both the recordings of poems which I post here, and also formal podcast episodes; if/when that changes, I'll let y'all know.

Give it a listen, and let me know what you think? All comments / feedback welcome!

Velveteen Rabbi on Radio 613

I'm a big fan of Radio 613, "a collective and radio broadcast dedicated to Jewish politics, culture, and religious life. Diasporic tones find auditory homes through featured interviews, music, readings, discussion, and documentaries. Each week radio613 presents Jewish perspectives on religious/spiritual thought and practice, race and racism, gender and feminisms, anti-semitism, identity politics, colonialism and resistance… and more!"

A few days ago, they interviewed me -- and now that interview is online as an hour-long podcast, available to listen to online or to download for later listening. It's here: Episode 44: Velveteen Rabbi interview. We talked "about rabbinical school, High Holy day preparation, new translations, and the transformation of ritual to social justice." Also about the fundraising I recently did to help a New York City mosque. Tune in and enjoy!

Velveteen Rabbi on the Woodrat Podcast

My friend Dave Bonta is involved with all sorts of literary projects. He's one of the founders and managing editors of the literary journal Qarrtsiluni; he used to co-edit Postal Poetry, and he's also the guy behind The Morning Porch (daily micropoetry), The Woodrat Photoblog (photos and haiku), and of course his terrific personal blog Via Negativa.

Dave's latest project is a weekly 30-minute podcast called The Woodrat Podcast, which debuted two weeks ago. I've listened to the first two editions while nursing Drew. They've been thoughtful, eclectic, and interesting -- not surprising to anyone who knows Dave or reads his work.

Recently I strapped young master Drew to my chest in a Didymos wrap, walked around the house to lull him to sleep, and then stood in front of my computer (swaying gently from side to side to keep Drew dozing) and chatted with Dave via Skype. We talked about poetry, liturgy, the intersection of MFA and rabbinic school, beginner's mind, names for God, liturgical creativity, good religious poetry, writing habits, and more -- and now you can listen in, because our conversation has been excerpted in the Woodrat Podcast, episode 3:

Woodrat Podcast Episode 3: Embodied Miracles

(That link goes to Dave's blog, where you can stream the episode or download it; you can also opt to subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.)

Thanks for including me, Dave; it was a real treat to spend some time talking about a few of my favorite things. Maybe especially now, two months in to this parenting adventure, when it has become a delicious novelty to go an hour without discussing sleep or crying or bodily effluvia. And to everyone else: if you listen, let us know what you think!