Two local lecturers to be featured.
ELI Talks are coming to Detroit! The program, which produces videotaped lectures on diverse Jewish topics and makes them available to a broad audience online, will be at Repair the World in Detroit’s Mexicantown district June 18, 19 and 20.
Two Detroiters, Abi Taylor-Abt and Rabbi Dan Horwitz, are among the 16 presenters, having outshone a much larger field of applicants.
ELI Talks started as a Jewish version of the TED Talks, a widely viewed series of short, recorded lectures that grew out of a 1984 conference on the confluence of technology, entertainment and design. Major funding for ELI Talks comes from the AVI CHAI Foundation in New York City.
ELI Talks has been helping to enlighten the worldwide Jewish community since 2012. The name stands for Jewish religious engagement (E), Jewish literacy (L) and Jewish identity (I). The program’s goal, says director Mary Otts Rubenstein, is to tell stories on a wide variety of Jewish topics in a compelling way.
“We’re using new-age technology to present old-age wisdom,” Rubenstein said. “In a sense, we’re creating a modern digital Gemarah [Talmudic commentary].”
Twice a year the ELI Talks administrators, based in Chicago, hold a competition for speakers, winnowing a field of 150 or more applicants to a cohort of about 15. Over the course of three months, these “ELI Fellows” research their topics and participate in intensive coaching on their presentation skills, lecture content or both, from three ELI Talks professionals.
In addition to the coaching, fellows who don’t live in the city where the talks are taped receive a stipend to cover travel costs. After this intense preparation, each ELI Fellow delivers a 10-minute lecture without notes before a live audience. A professional Chicago-based production company, See3 Communications, records the lectures and makes them available without charge on ELI Talks’ website, www.elitalks.org.
After the taping, ELI staff work with the fellows to develop their social media messaging skills and strategies to promote the talk. The fellows also prepare response pieces or request responses from people they know. “We like to work on a conversation model, rather than a lecture model,” Rubenstein said.
On the website, the lectures are sorted by dates, speakers and themes, which cover the Jewish spectrum from arts and culture to education, history, identity, religion, philanthropy, science and more. The June speakers’ videos will join the 158 already on the website.
More than 750,000 viewers have watched at least one ELI Talk, Rubenstein said. The website also has a discussion guide making ELI Talks an excellent alternative for small congregations and organizations that can’t afford to bring in a live scholar-in-residence, she said. Through ELI Talks, they can arrange a live link and follow a lecture viewing with a virtual lesson or Q&A session.
ELI Fellows come from all over the United States as well as from Australia and Israel. They range in age from 19 to 70 and represent the Jewish spectrum from Orthodox to secular. They include rabbis, Jewish educators and other professionals, community leaders and just plain folks who have an interest in Jewish engagement.
Taylor-Abt, 50, of Oak Park is the education director for Yachad, the religious school sponsored by Temple Emanu-El (Reform) and Congregation Beth Shalom (Conservative). She’s also a student at the non-denominational Jewish Spiritual Leadership Institution, an online rabbinical and cantorial school based in New York City, and expects to be ordained as a rabbi in January.
Taylor-Abt grew up in an Orthodox community in London, England, and moved to Israel at age 14. She has taught in a variety of settings in Israel, England and in Boise, Idaho, where she worked before coming to Michigan in 2016.
Last year she published a book, Lessons in Jewish Learning, available on Amazon.
“I am awed by being chosen as an ELI Fellow,” said Taylor-Abt, who also won the prestigious Klein-Grinspoon Award for Excellence in Jewish Education in April.
Without being too specific, she says her ELI Talk will be about God and how she developed her understanding of God. Rubenstein said it’s an unusual topic; only a handful of ELI videos deal with the subject of God.
“I feel I have a message and I really want to share it,” Taylor-Abt said.
Horwitz, 34, of Huntington Woods is the founding director of The Well, an inclusive Jewish community-building, educational and outreach initiative. He grew up in Detroit, attending Congregation B’nai Israel and graduating from Hillel Day School and West Bloomfield High School.
The rabbi said he’s been a fan of ELI Talks since the program started. “I have enjoyed many of the ideas shared in their videos, even using some as source materials for learning events,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to grow my skills as a presenter.”
His talk will be on the 21st-century version of the beit midrash (house of study).
Horwitz said the coaching has been intense. “It has brought enhanced awareness to my strengths and weaknesses, both in content and in presentation, and given me strategies for growth.”
Taylor-Abt said ELI’s coaches helped her develop both the content and style of her talk. “When we started, I thought my talk was done, but now it’s completely different,” she said. “I am a relatively confident speaker, but I got tips on how to stand, breathe and understand the audience.”
ELI Talks will present its current cohort on Monday, June 18, and Tuesday, June 19, at 6:30 p.m. and Wednesday, June 20, at 12:30 p.m. at Repair the World, 2701 Bagley in Detroit. Horwitz’s talk will be recorded on June 18 and Taylor-Abt’s on June 19. The evening sessions start with a cocktail reception and the noon session with lunch. Tickets are $18 and are available through Eventbrite; search for ELI in Detroit. Space is limited.