Waltham, Mass. – The competition for Brandeis University’s new Charles R. Bronfman Visiting Chair in Jewish Communal Innovation has narrowed to five finalists, who will present their proposals for changing the way Jews think about themselves and their community at a symposium on campus February 24. The winner will be awarded two years to develop his or her ideas into a book.

The finalists were announced by Jonathan D. Sarna, Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History, who chairs the committee composed of Brandeis faculty that made the selections. The finalists and their topics are:

Ariel Beery, founder and publisher of PresenTense magazine, whose project is “Translating Judaism for the Post-Digital Age”

Shmuley Boteach, founder and executive director of the Jewish Values Network, whose focus is “Bringing Judaism to the Mainstream”

Anita Diamant, author of “The Red Tent” and numerous other books, whose project is “Minhag America”

Yehuda Kurtzer, PhD candidate at Harvard, whose emphasis is on “The Sacred Task of Rebuilding Jewish Memory”

Saul Singer, Jerusalem Post editorial page editor and columnist, whose project is titled “From Survival to Purpose”

The finalists were selected from among 231 people who submitted proposals to the committee of Brandeis faculty. Forty-nine were rabbis, 19 were lawyers and 50 were from outside the US, from countries including Israel, Italy, India, Australia and Sweden.

On Feb. 24, the finalists will be interviewed by the selection committee and will participate in a symposium for members of the Brandeis community and Boston-area Jewish leaders. Each finalist will make a 15-minute presentation and answer questions for 15 minutes.

The idea of holding a competition of ideas to reinforce the vitality of the Jewish community grows from an initiative by Sears Roebuck and Company chairman Julius Rosenwald in 1929. Rosenwald offered a $10,000 prize to the writer of the best answer to the question “How can Judaism best adjust itself to and influence modern life?” Participants had two years to prepare, and the competition was won by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan.

“Judaism as a Civilization,” the book Rabbi Kaplan published with help from the Rosenwald prize money, quickly became the most influential Jewish book of its time. It remains in print and continues to generate creative debate today.

The winner of the current competition, which is supported by philanthropist Charles R. Bronfman, will receive salary, benefits and research assistance for two years.

The winner will be expected to teach one course each semester at Brandeis, and to deliver lectures or seminars based on the project, but the bulk of the chair-holder’s time will be set aside for research and writing. The book that results from this effort will be published and promoted by Brandeis University Press.

Brandeis’ Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program, which is directed by Professor Sarna, will administer the chair.

Kol Hakavod to all five finalists!

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