JCC’s New Approach
to Arts and Culture

This September, the JCC is launching a brand-new approach to arts and culture – Words and Ideas – that will bring films, performers, thought leaders and authors from all over the world into Baltimore homes. 

Words and Ideas, which positions the JCC arts programming on a national scale, features conversations with best-selling authors, deep dives with thought leaders on pressing issues of the day, such as social justice, and explorations of Jewish cultural topics in areas such film and comedy.  

What originally began has a concept for adult enrichment boomer engagement – based on surveys conducted prior to the pandemic – has since been transformed into a virtual platform to appeal to all ages. 

“People are looking for high-level, sophisticated, complex programming that intersects Jewish wisdom with art,” says Sara Shalva, Chief Arts Officer at the JCC. 

“The pandemic as caused us to think creatively and innovate, as we leveraged our expertise to forge partnerships with other cultural and Jewish organizations throughout the country.  As a result, we have developed an incredible virtual platform for the arts,” adds Randi Buergenthal, Chair of the Board. 

At the core of Words and Ideas is the Wisdom Studio of the Gordon Center for Performing Arts which integrates Judaism and Jewish culture on the page, silver screen and more. Like the New York Times speaker series and One Day University, the Wisdom Studio features master classes with nationally-renowned professors and thought leaders like Mark Oppenheimer, former religion columnist for the New York Times and host of Tablet magazine’s podcast, “Unorthodox.” 

This fall, Oppenheimer will explore the Jewish short stories and films that evolved from them. Other programs will touch on Jewish women in film and Millennial Jewish comedians. Each series will be held once a week for a month. 

“The Wisdom Studio creates an easy, low-barrier way for our community to have meaningful conversations about Judaism and Jewish culture. It is our hope that the Wisdom Studio is just the beginning and that participants will continue to have these conversations in their homes, schools, synagogues and in our community,” Buergenthal adds. 

Already, the concept is receiving national interest from JCCs and Federations across the country. Many are committed to purchasing the programming and offering to their communities. This includes the JCC in Toronto and Raleigh, N.C. and the Atlanta Federation. 

“We are very fortunate that our JCC has proven to be a national model in the JCC movement, as we are able to create and innovate due to our incredibly dedicated staff and leadership as well as the support of The Associated,” says Buergenthal. “It is my hope that the Wisdom Studio is just the beginning of the programming you will see in our Center for Arts and Culture, as we are committed to deepening our offerings to the Baltimore community. 

In addition to the Wisdom Studio, this fall, Words and Ideas will feature:  

Virtual Author Series and the Baltimore Festival of Jewish Literature 

Focusing on international bestselling authors in conversation with journalists, other authors and thought leaders, these intimate discussions explore the author’s writing process and their relationship with storytelling. Authors run the gamut from Ken Follett to Natan Sharansky. This is being offered in conjunction with the Atlanta JCC. 


Amplifying Voices 

Amplifying Voices will explore racial justice, marrying internal teshuva — personal pattern breaking, growth and reckoning — with a series of programs that reflect on race, religion and identity.  Topics offer multiple viewpoints and angles and offerings include a panel with Jews of Color discussing Jewish community diversity, a virtual civil rights tour and interactive discussion with civil rights activist T. Marie King. 


Partnership with Insight Israel Forum 

In addition, Words and Ideas is working in conjunction with The Associated’s Insight Israel Forum to provide programming that explores multiple viewpoints of Israel. Upcoming topics include “Are American Jews and Israel Heading for Divorce?” through the Wisdom Studio, and a new book club. The first book to be read will be City on a Hilltop by Sarah Yael Hirshhorn who will join the group for the conversation. 

Because the JCC is committed to providing ongoing content of interest to the Baltimore community, according to Shalva, these topics will continue to be tweaked to address local interests. 

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