AVI CHAI concluded its general grant making on December 31, 2019.

What's in an ELI talk?: Recipe from a Talker

Posted by: Deborah Fishman

May 8, 2012

This Monday, May 14, we will hold the first New York ELI talks (see event details here). But what’s in an ELI talk?
ELI talks: Inspired Jewish Ideas are 10-15 minute talks in which commitments to Jewish literacy, Jewish religious engagement, Jewish peoplehood, and love of Israel are central. ELI talks hope to illuminate these ideas and celebrate expressions and enactments of these commitments. ELI stands for Engagement, Literacy, and Identity.
Here Micah Lapidus, Director of Judaic and Hebrew Studies at the The Alfred and Adele Davis Academy, shares observations following his experience giving an inaugural ELI talk at the North American Day School Conference in Atlanta. He spoke on “The Unbearable Lightness of Judaism,” and you can view his talk here.

First, a definition. ELI Talks = 1 part TED + 1 part Torah. Blend, pour, edit, and produce. Recipe courtesy of The AVI CHAI Foundation.
Second, an anecdote. When I was invited to be part of the inaugural round of ELI Talks at the 2012 North American Jewish Day School Conference I was fairly certain that there had been a mistake. This notion continued to haunt me until I walked off the stage (unsure of what I’d actually said, versus what I’d intended to say).
Third, a related anecdote. Because the Day School Conference was in my hometown of Atlanta, GA I decided to run home to freshen up and collect my thoughts in the hours leading up to my talk. My wife and daughter were out of town, and the promise of a quiet, familiar place seemed a nice alternative to the bustling conference. Refreshed and ready to go I walked out of my house, pulled the door shut, and realized that I’d left my keys inside! Thankfully I had my cell phone and was able to contact the 1 reputable cab company in my area. I arrived back at the conference unscathed but suffered on the back end of things when the locksmith took an extra hour (it was now 1 in the morning) to show up at my home. He was, incidentally, Israeli.
Now that I’ve suffered the agony of watching myself on video and acquired a bit of distance from the ELI Talk experience, a couple of enduring impressions and observations continue to rattle around in my mind.
1.    Patach U’Derash. ELI Talks give presenters a unique and powerful platform to teach. Patach U’Derash (literally, open your mouth and teach) is a Talmudic phrase. The story I associate it with is that of Rabbi Eliezer, who was invited to offer words of Torah in front of teachers that he considered far wiser and more qualified than he (apologies if this is an incorrect citation). If and when you give an ELI Talk, you will definitely feel like Rabbi Eliezer as your audience will surely be the most engaged, thoughtful, and dedicated Jewish educators, leaders, professionals in the area. At best you will be their peer. Rest assured that you will not be wiser or more qualified. I speak from experience. The rationale behind this is that ELI Talks are meant to be a platform for emerging as well as established voices.
2.    Lo ha’Derash ha’Ikar Eleh ha’Maaseh. (“The sermon isn’t what counts, it’s what you do with it.”) One nice thing about ELI Talks is that they aren’t meant to be sermons. For those of us who bring a rabbinic background this is particularly exciting as the genre of the sermon brings with it certain expectations and associations. While ELI Talks are undeniably word-focused events, they are more like “happenings” than they are speeches or sermons. The gathering of minds, the fellowship and community that emerge in the room, represent a powerful force that is, in and of itself, a type of act. In the days when I worked for Yale Hillel I used to pass a bumper sticker on my walk to work that read, “The most radical thing we can do is introduce people to one another.” ELI Talks have this effect.
3.    Lilmod u’Lelamed. The relevance and dynamism of Judaism are directly proportional to the quality of learning and teaching in which we engage. ELI Talks represent a unique convergence of Jewish learning and teaching in a relevant and engaging format that can command attention in a very noisy world. Speaking personally, I have to say that I feel that I had a chance to both learn and teach at every phase of my ELI Talk experience. From thinking through my ideas, to delivering my remarks, to receiving feedback from teachers, colleagues, and friends (new and old) to hearing the thoughts of the other presenters to thinking about all of these considerations while waiting for locksmith and even now.
To read more from Micah Lapidus, visit his blog at rabbispen.com.

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