Who Am I? And Other Great Questions that Science and Religion Explore

Today I’m off to the URJ (Union for Reform Judaism) 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy in Byfield, MA. It is just an hour away from my congregation. We are blessed to have one of the most innovative new camps of the Reform movement almost on our doorstep, and a number of our students have already taken advantage of this incredible resource in its three years of existence.  If you’ve ever wondered how to get kids, who sometimes seem so hard to impress, to really and truly experience awe, Sci-Tech Academy is a great place to visit. Flying drones, biotech and forensics, game design, robotics, film, and so much more… awe and wonder are built into the DNA of the camp, quite literally (the kids create an amazing DNA sculpture of all of the values that will imbue their summer together that sits next to the Ark as they gather for tefilah (prayer) every morning).

This year I’m especially excited to visit their open day because our congregation is one of the 11 recipients of a ‘Scientists in Synagogues‘ grant from Rabbi Geoff Mitelman’s innovative ‘Sinai and Synapses’ project. We’ll be spending the next year and a half (and beyond, I hope), considering how Science and Judaism can collaborate in ways that give us new ways to consider essential questions of life. I can think of no question more essential than ‘Who am I’?

When we understand the opening chapters of Genesis not as a history but as a mythical response to this essential question, they reveal some ancient wisdom that pertains to the nature of humanity. Who we are, what our purpose is, why and how we are capable of both good and evil, love, jealousy, creativity, destruction, and so much more. These narratives have guided religious and philosophical considerations of what it means to be human for centuries.

Today, technological innovation, whether in medical innovation, or in computer technologies (and particularly in Artificial Intelligence), are challenging us to revisit assumptions about the essential nature of humanity. The ability to initiate change at the genetic level, the ability to ‘know’ through our relationship to an exponentially expanding web of networks, and to enhance our ability to make connections and see patterns with A.I., cause us to question what remains essentially core to being human. Our investigations will likely reveal much that remains the same, while also demanding new answers.  This is the topic of study for our congregation. Located along a corridor of tech and medical research concentrated between Boston and Central Massachusetts, our congregation is filled with individuals whose professional lives touch on aspects of these core questions of existence on a daily basis.

I am excited by what we may discover through the programs that we are planning, the conversations we will have, and the new ways that we will bring Jewish wisdom and text into relationship with cutting edge science and technology.  That is what happens at URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy, and this juxtaposition can open doors to a whole new way to be in awe of our world and our existence. And that, truly, is a religious experience.

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