Ever wondered what would happen if you take dozens of hyper-literate Jews and give them a microphone and five minutes on a stage to riff on the weekly Torah portion? Look no further than SermonSlam, a succinctly self-described “poetry slam, but for sermons,” which will be making its New York debut at Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope on Thursday night, January 22.
SermonSlam reorients the weekly sermonizing on the Torah portion, taking it from the pulpit and bringing it to the pews. Founded by David Zvi Kalman, a graduate student in Jewish-Islamic medieval studies at the University of Pennsylvania, SermonSlams encourage presenters to “slam” a thought or idea about a selection from the Torah, all the while interpreting “sermon” as they see fit.
All SermonSlam events are recorded live and presented online, in podcast and video format, after the event. SermonSlams have been held in Philadelphia and Jerusalem and events are planned for the next few months in Tel Aviv, Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Ann Arbor, Berkeley, Montreal and Toronto. Performers have included writers, poets, comedians and rabbis.
What can be expected? Snapping, shouting, pleading, praying — and all of it under five minutes from each performer. The theme for the New York slam is Sanctuaries and Tabernacles, corresponding to this week’s parsha (Torah portion) of Mishpatim, which includes some of the first commandments from God to the Israelites, including the famous “eye for an eye.”
What will the participants get out of SermonSlam? In addition to sharing their writing and performing, a prize will be awarded to the audience-selected winner.
SermonSlam NY will be held on Wednesday, January 22, 2014 at 7:30 PM in Congregation Beth Elohim(274 Garfield Place, Brooklyn, NY).
Elie Lichtschein is a NY-based writer currently pursuing a graduate degree in creative writing. He runs a monthly musical project called Celebrate Hallel.