Eden's matriarch has been charged with theft and sedition following the sampling of a forbidden fruit from a special tree. What will the verdict be? Join us for this dramatic, live courtroom battle and YOU, the audience-as-jury, will decide!
With this captivating invitation, congregation Kol Halev in Cleveland enticed nearly 300 people to a moot courtroom at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law this past November. Attendees included synagogue members and non-members, Jews and non-Jews, fans of feminist history, and lawyers looking for a novel way to earn legal continuing education credits. An all-star cast of legal minds and scholarly commentators participated. The judge was none other than the Honorable Maureen O’Connor, chief justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio. The local public radio station recorded the courtroom drama for broadcast.
RRC’s own academic dean and biblical scholar, Tamar Kamionkowski, Ph.D., kicked off the event two weeks before the “trial” with a lecture on the interpretation of Eve’s actions found in Jewish texts.
It Started With a Workshop
The People vs. Eve in 2012 was Kol Halev’s second fundraiser on a biblical theme. The preceding year the congregation "tried" King David. Both events netted substantial funds for the synagogue. And it all started with a workshop on congregational fundraising led by RRC alum Rabbi Arnie Rachlis, ’75, at a Reconstructionist movement gathering in 2010. Rachlis has staged numerous trials of biblical figures at his University Synagogue in Irvine, CA, with great success.
Greg Selker and Halle Barnett, lay leaders from Kol Halev, attended the workshop and immediately saw the potential to generate excitement and publicity, as well as provide a major source of revenue to supplement congregational dues. Once Rabbi Steve Segar, ’95, and other leaders back home were on board, they drafted congregant Judy Harris as their supremely capable and organized event chair. Selker began the outreach to the city’s legal community for sponsorships, in-kind support and ticket sales.
“Cleveland and Kol Halev are perfect for this,” Selker says. “We were a community searching for an event that defined us. I believe Reconstructionism is transformative Judaism, and this trial is a great example of that.”
“I expect that the success of these events will increase our membership, provide an important ongoing revenue stream and inform people about the transformative power of Judaism."
Partnerships Are Key
Rabbi Segar agrees that Cleveland’s robust legal community, which includes several law schools, offers a natural fit and helped catapult the trials into visibility. “We put ourselves out in a much bigger way and received a lot of recognition,” Segar says. Partnerships with other institutions—including the local public radio station, law firms and law schools—are a large part of their framework for success. “Within our congregation, there’s a fairly broad constituency of members who got excited about this. They became highly engaged with who we are and what we aspire to be as a congregation.”
Kamionkowski’s talk—she spoke in the first person, dramatically presenting herself as Eve—added “a tremendous amount” says Segar. “Between the combination of how deeply she knows biblical and related texts, and her wonderfully creative and interactive way of teaching, people came away from the lecture really jazzed.”
A Multi-Part Event
In Kol Halev's model, the process begins with a scholar teaching about the biblical story a few weeks before the trial itself. This becomes a warm-up and opens Kol Halev’s adult education capabilities to the entire Cleveland community.
Next is the trial itself, in Cleveland State University’s moot courtroom. Two high profile attorneys present the case for and against the defendant, with a distinguished judge presiding. There are opening statements, rebuttals and closing statements. The judge “instructs” the jury, which includes everyone in the audience. While the jury votes are tabulated, three panelists and a moderator discuss the contemporary implications of the “case” and take audience questions.
For Eve’s trial, the organizers felt it was important to involve many women in the process. The panel consisted of a prestigious interfaith group:
Segar notes that attendees particularly like the dynamic that's created with both academic and religious perspectives on the panel. At the panel’s conclusion, the bailiff proclaims the verdict and the judge announces the defendant for the following year. It’s all capped off with a dessert reception.
Major Effort Yields Significant Returns
Each trial takes a tremendous volunteer effort and a significant outlay for expenses such as publicity, printing and rental fees. However Selker concludes: “I expect that the success of these events will increase our membership, provide an important ongoing revenue stream and inform people about the transformative power of Judaism. It’s also an awesome vehicle for our rabbi, giving him the platform to be seen by more people as the incredible individual that he is.” Segar himself notes that he got a kick out of “driving around hearing ads on public radio for our trial.”
Oh, and Eve? She was found not guilty!
Listen to an abbreviated version of Tamar Kamionkowski’s talk about Eve. (18 minutes)
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