Sinai and Synapses, fiscally sponsored and housed at Clal – The National Center for Learning and Leadership, has selected 12 synagogues for its initiative “Scientists in Synagogues.”
The project is a grass-roots program to offer Jews opportunities to explore the most interesting and pressing questions surrounding Judaism and science. Both rabbis and scientists will be sharing how they integrate Judaism and science, and will model productive conversations about some of the most crucial and thought-provoking issues of the day. Its funding comes from The John Templeton Foundation and other donors, and it is run in consultation with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion (DoSER).
55 congregations applied from 21 states, plus Washington, DC, Israel and Canada, and the selected synagogues represent a diverse cross-section of the Jewish community: six Conservative synagogues, four Reform synagogues, one Orthodox, and one Reconstructionist. Through programs and ideas that the synagogues themselves chose, they will explore topics such as the science of doing good, teaching Jewish holidays through STEAM, and the role of Judaism in a technological age. They will all receive funding for their programming, along with mentorship and guidance, through both Sinai and Synapses and DoSER.
The first round of Scientists in Synagogues, which just completed its programming, reached over 5500 people from all over the United States and Canada. Speakers included Dr. Roald Hoffmann, recipient of the 1981 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Dr. Jeremy England, professor of physics at MIT, Megan Powell Cuzzolino, a Harvard graduate student, and Dr. Jeremy Wertheimer, vice president at Google. The results from the first round of Scientists in Synagogues showed a tremendous impact on the attendees — in post-program surveys, 96% of those who attended programming called it “good” or “excellent,” 93% “definitely” or “probably” wanted more, and 95% said they would recommend it to friends and family.
“Clearly, the Jewish community has tremendous interest in science,” said Rabbi Geoffrey A. Mitelman, Founding Director of Sinai and Synapses and project leader. “We often say that the challenge is not to get Jews excited about science — it’s to get them excited about Judaism. Scientists in Synagogues uses science as an entrypoint in the Jewish community, and asks the scientists to share their work and their passion in the context of a Jewish setting. Even more importantly, in a world of sound-bites and ideological silos, we are deepening the conversations on some of the most important and dynamic questions we are facing today.”
This new round of Scientists in Synagogues will begin with a workshop at Clal at the end of June, where members of the selected congregations will learn from experts on science and religion, such as Dr. Jennifer Wiseman, Professor Noah Efron, Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson and Professor Michael Zimmerman. This will inform programs they will run and the content they will create between July 2018 and December 2019.
“Science and technology are shaping nearly every aspect of life and human identity as never before,” said Dr. Wiseman, who is also the DoSER Director. “We look forward to rich explorations into the implications of forefront science through these diverse lenses.”
Ultimately, the work of Scientists in Synagogues will bridge the worlds of Judaism and science, showing how we can use the wisdom from both realms in the service of enhancing individuals, communities, and the world at large.
Below are the selected congregations.
Beth Israel Center, Madison, WI
Congregation Beth Shalom – Chevra Shas, Jamesville, NY
Congregation Emanu El, Houston, TX
Congregation Har HaShem, Boulder, CO
Congregation Mishkan Tefila, Brookline, MA
Congregation Shearith Israel, Atlanta, GA
Congregation Shir Hadash, Los Gatos, CA
Skokie Valley Agudath Jacob, Skokie, IL
Sutton Place Synagogue, New York, NY
Temple Beth Israel, Eugene, OR
Temple Beth Or, Raleigh, NC
The Jewish Center of Princeton, Princeton, NJ