Rabbi Sarah Brammer-Shlay leads discussions on Jewish identity


Owen Barbato

Rabbi Sarah Brammer-Shlay is facilitating three discussion sessions on Jewish identity and experiences.

Marcy Cassidy-Mapp, Staff Writer

Sarah Brammer-Shlay led the first “An Exploration of Jewish Identity” session to open the door for open dialogue as a Jewish community on campus. Hosted in JRC 224A, the first three weekly sessions are planned for Feb. 7, 14 and 21, from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Brammer-Shlay organized these talks as a rabbi and associate chaplain for Grinnell College to provide an intellectual space for interactive learning.

Coming from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and specializing in community building, Brammer-Shlay joined the College last August. She saw a chance for Grinnell students to explore their relationship with Jewishness and engage with it as more than a religious affiliation.

“We are a people, and we have lived in communities in extremely intentional ways and sculpted our communities to practice in specific ways, and so I really just wanted to give a space for students to explore what their Jewish identity means to them,” said Brammer-Schlay.

Five students attended the first session and were asked to engage with short readings by Jewish scholars provided at the event. They also engaged in an open discussion about belonging, behaving and believing, a framework Brammer-Shlay said she hoped would explore the different facets of Jewish personhood.

“Rabbi Sarah does a great job in creating balance. It was won- derful to have a Jewish intellectual space,” said Katie Babb `25, who attended the first session. “I would love to see more of this type of event. It was interesting to hear about many different Jewish backgrounds and religious views.”

Brammer-Shlay said her motivation to organize these classes came partially from her experience hosting Friday prayer services in the Dining Hall last semester. In those services, she noticed a desire from students to consider their Jewishness through a political and social justice lens, opening different entryways into Judaism.

Rabbi Sarah does a great job in creating balance. It was wonderful to have a Jewish intellectual space.

— Katie Babb `25

“It’s beautiful to be able to support folks as they explore what Judaism means for them, but also who they want to be, what purpose is, what values are, who they are. My job as one of the chaplains and Rabbi is to be a supportive presence in that process,” said Brammer-Shlay.

Brammer-Shlay said she intends to continue using the dining hall space and hopes to instigate further conversation.

“Having space for communal learning and communal conversation feels really core to support[ing] the learning of both Jewish and non-Jewish students on campus,” said Brammer-Shlay. “But it’s also something that fills my cup a lot too, and I really love teaching and facilitating conversation.”