SermonSlam comes to Maryland

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By Jason Dobkin

Sermon Slam 2

Senior Josh Leviton reads at SermonSlam, a nationwide movement encouraging students to perform Judaism-themes art, Nov. 23. Olin Akisoglu/The Mitzpeh

Jewish students displayed their take on the theme “Chosen?” through visual artwork and spoken word poetry at the second biannual SermonSlam on Nov. 23 in Stamp Student Union.

SermonSlam is a nationwide movement where Jews can gather and perform art based on a theme that interests them in Judaism, said Jonah Potasznik, a 2014 graduate of this university who emceed the event.

“For me, what’s really great about Sermon Slam is it’s really the manifestation of the innate value of innovation of Torah, of the scripture that we have, for many centuries, that is constantly manifested in different ways, up to right now, so we are taking part in that tradition and that’s pretty cool,” Potasznik said.

The slam was organized by the Maryland Jewish Beacon, a student group that seeks to engage in Jewish history and foster diverse expression of Jewish experience on this university’s campus.

Senior studio art major Steffanie Espat, who has submitted art for both Sermon Slams and is a member of the Beacon board, said she couldn’t be happier with how the event turned out this year.

“Last year we had a good turnout, but this year it’s just been crazy [with] the amount of buzz that has been going on about it, which is amazing,” she said.

Senior English major Molly Schrag performs at the Beacon's second biannual poetry and art showcase, SermonSlam, on Nov. 23. Olin Akisoglu/The Mitzpeh

Senior English major Molly Schrag performs at the Beacon’s second biannual poetry and art showcase, SermonSlam, on Nov. 23. Olin Akisoglu/The Mitzpeh

The slam was held in Prince George’s Room, a larger space compared to last year’s Charles Carroll Room, and most of the 175 seats were filled.

“It’s great to see new people coming out being more excited to express their opinions on different Jewish topics,” Espat said.

Sophomore elementary education major Leah Schatz, a first-time slammer, said she enjoyed the event and would love to participate again next semester.

“Every piece — whether it was spoken word or slam poetry or material art — was unique and thoughtful and appreciated by the other participants and by the audience,” Schatz said. “The performers were able to feed off of the energy of the crowd.”

Senior English major Joe Ehrenkrantz, a member of the Beacon who helped bring Sermon

Slam to this campus, said he had a lot of fun performing for the first time. It was the first poem he’d ever recited in front of people. He said he struggled with writer’s block while he prepared his piece but was satisfied with how everything turned out.

“I sort of got forced into writing this because I decided to sit down with two other people who were slamming and work with them, and it evolved into putting down words that sounded all right together and had something to do with what I thought about current representations of Judaism and trying to find some coherent structure to putting it all together,” Ehrenkrantz said.

Senior government and politics and economics major Yael Nagar, one of the organizers of the event, said she was excited with the results of the night. She spoke about the effect of SermonSlam in the Jewish religion and community in a broader context.

“How can we take ownership of something that’s so meaningful to us and that’s so deeply rooted in everything that we do and then make something new out of it and keep innovating?” she said. “‘Cause that’s really the only way that you can keep religion alive or keep it relevant.”

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