This past fall, Israel’s international shipping port in Haifa completed renovations, and it recently went operational. Almost all of Israel’s international trade comes and goes by sea, and Haifa’s is the busiest of the country’s ports.

The Haifa port is also where the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet—based in Naples, Italy—comes to call when it needs fuel, and when it seeks to project power in the Eastern Mediterranean. Thus, it sits at the very center of Israeli trade and industry and is a vital part of its military and diplomatic relationship with the United States.

According to Hillel International, there were 244 anti-Semitic incidents at American campuses reported during the 2020-2021 school year. That’s up from 181 incidents the year before, perhaps an especially significant increase given that many students did not convene in person, but instead attended classes online in 2020. In light of such a trend, one might hope that the ballooning number of academic administrators hired by colleges and universities to foster a welcoming atmosphere for students of diverse backgrounds would be sensitive to anti-Semitic attitudes. But, according to a new report, a great many university officers seemingly hired to combat anti-Semitic discrimination sympathize with anti-Semitism themselves.

The author of that report, Jay Greene, joins this week’s podcast. He analyzed the public Twitter feeds of hundreds of DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) professionals at 65 different universities and found that, of their over 600 tweets about Israel, 96% of them were critical. That in itself might not constitute anti-Semitism. But, as Greene explains in conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, neither does it inspire confidence in how those who are charged with handling anti-Semitic concerns on campus might approach them.

In 2021, 49 different guests appeared on the podcast over the course of 44 new episodes. Our conversations touched on some of the most important and interesting subjects in Jewish life, including discussions with leaders of Israel’s ḥaredi community, a course developer who is deploying technology to teach people Yiddish, diplomats and strategists shaping foreign-policy debates in Israel, Europe, and America, elected officials and diplomats, historians and social scientists, theologians and rabbis, academics and authors, reporters and entrepreneurs. Each guest, in conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, trained his or her unique perspective on some timely or enduring question that stands before the Jewish people and the Jewish state.

In this episode, we present some of our favorite conversations this year. Guests featured in this year-end episode include the Israeli rabbi Yehoshua Pfeffer, the foreign-policy analysts Benjamin Haddad and Michael Doran, Wall Street Journal editor Elliot Kaufman, social scientist Nicholas Eberstadt, Jewish educational leader David Rozenson, Yiddish expert Meena Viswanath, tech CEO Sean Clifford, novelist Dara Horn, and the eminent writer Cynthia Ozick.

In a previous podcast, the professors Benjamin and Jenna Storey explored a habit of mind that frustrated their very best students, a sentiment they called restlessness. As the Storeys saw it, their exceptional students had countless life and career options open to them, and yet they had so little cultural and vocational formation that they couldn’t discern what path to take, or the purposes to which they should dedicate their talents.

This week’s podcast features three young people who are beginning to rise in their professions with confidence. Smart, personable, they could have launched themselves into any number of fields. Instead they chose to dedicate themselves to serving America, the Jews, and Israel. Just a couple of years ago, Tamara Berens, Talia Katz, and Dovid Schwartz were all fellows at the Beren Summer Fellowship, an experience that helped guide each of them. On this week’s podcast, in conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, they give us an inside look at the fellowship, and at how it helped them clarify―to themselves and to one another―the Jewish purposes they’re meant to serve.

According to a new report, in 2020 2,400 U.S.-based healthcare facilities, local governments, schools, and other institutions were victims of ransomware—a form of cyber-attack in which a hacker holds a person’s data hostage and demands a ransom to permit them to access it again. Ransomware has become such a problem that in October the U.S. State Department formed a new office to confront it, and in November the Treasury Department announced that it will partner with its Israeli counterpart on a joint task force to address this and other cybersecurity issues.

Israel, like America, is also confronted with problems in cyberspace. On this week’s podcast, Annie Fixler, the deputy director of the Center on Cyber Technology and Innovation at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, joins Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver to explain the threats that cyber warfare poses to American life, and the role that Israel could play in helping secure both countries from malicious attacks, whether they come from lone-wolf hackers or enemy nation-states.

On Saturday, December 4, 2021, an explosion occurred near Iran’s nuclear facility outside the city of Natanz. Afterwards, two nearby villages were evacuated. Was the explosion the result of a weapons test? An accident? Sabotage? No one yet knows what took place in the mountains of northern Iran that day. And whereas civilians and observers can afford to wait for more information, national-security professionals are forced to act and react to events like this in real time without a lot of information. If there’s an explosion near the nuclear compound of an adversarial nation, what do you do?

Natanz and its uncertainty is the point of departure for this week’s podcast. Victoria Coates, the former deputy national security adviser for Middle Eastern and North African affairs, shares her experience making decisions under pressure and with imperfect information.

Last week, the Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz visited Morocco, where for the first time he was accompanied by uniformed Israeli military personnel. Gantz’s visit comes on the heels of visits in the last year by Israeli national-security advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat and Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid, both of whom prepared the way for full diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Building on Israel and Morocco’s burgeoning diplomatic relations, the purpose of Gantz’s recent visit was to negotiate a memorandum of understanding focused on their security cooperation. Judah Ari Gross, the military correspondent for the Times of Israel and this week’s podcast guest, accompanied Gantz on his trip. In conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, he explains here how this historic agreement happened, what it means, and how it serves each nation’s interests.

There aren’t enough public schools in Maine. By some estimates, about half of Maine’s school districts don’t have the facilities or faculty to educate students who live in them. The state’s solution is to give families who live in such districts money to send their children to another school—either a different public school further away, or a private school. But Maine doesn’t make that funding available to families who choose to send their children to religious schools. In just a few weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case of Carson v. Makin, a case that could affect the way that Maine, and the greater United States, deals with the funding of religious schools.

On this week’s podcast, the legal academic Avi Helfand joins Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver to discuss the amicus brief that he filed for this case, and to explore whether Maine is acting in a way that is consistent with the First Amendment’s religious freedom protections. This particular case also allows for Helfand to questions more fundamental legal heuristics, such as the supposed distinction in American case-law between a legal entity’s religious “status,” and its “use” of religion.

Until recently, America was an outlier: despite rising affluence, its birthrate remained high, unlike in other countries where more riches have brought fewer children. That’s no longer the case today. America is now in demographic decline. Writing in National Review, the political economist and demographer Nicholas Eberstadt observes that

U.S. fertility levels have never before fallen as low as they are today. In 2019—before the coronavirus pandemic—America’s total fertility rate (TFR—a measure of births per woman per lifetime) was 1.71, roughly 18 percent lower than the roughly 2.1 births per woman required for long-term population stability. By then, U.S. fertility levels were so low that even Mormon Utah had gone sub-replacement. And U.S. fertility levels were even lower in 2020. With a TFR of 1.64, America was well over 20 percent below replacement.

Today, a number of young American women are pursuing the stuff of dystopian novels: the prospect of a childless future. These young women don’t just choose to avoid motherhood—they actively embrace that choice as a marker of their identity. Some embrace the label “child-free,” with the implication that they don’t want to have children themselves but are okay with other people doing so, while others are positively “anti-natalist”—they don’t want to have children and they also think that it’s immoral for anyone else to do so. Many of these women have even turned to surgical procedures to ensure they will never become mothers.

It’s difficult to estimate how large this group is, but it’s likely quite small. Nevertheless, despite its small size, it reveals something about American culture and its attitude toward the tradeoffs of family. What is it like to see the world as someone who is ideologically committed to not having children?  This week, the writer Suzy Weiss joins the show to discuss a recent article of hers that tries to answer that question. In conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, she explains how the child-free think, what motivates them, and what their existence says about mainstream American society.

It’s often thought that the Hebrew Bible focuses on the human capacity for good rather than on urging prosperity—that, in other words, trade and markets―areas where rational actors seek to maximize their self-interest―are distinct from ethical conduct and moral behavior. But that distinction, argues the author of a new commentary on the book of Genesis, is a false one.

To the Israeli venture capitalist and author Michael Eisenberg, Genesis and the rest of the Hebrew Bible can shape, channel, and propel the natural desire humans have to create wealth. It can help them engage in business not for the sake of greed but to establish a society of opportunity, one that recognizes the human dignity of all. Here he joins Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver to discuss how his extensive investment experience and study of Hebrew scripture helped him think theologically about labor, wealth, credit, debt, and more.

When Elie Wiesel was fifteen years old, the Nazis murdered his mother and sister and enslaved him and his father in Buchenwald. After the U.S. Army liberated the camp in April 1945, Wiesel went to France, where he studied the humanities and worked as a writer, and then to New York, where he became a professor and an activist for human rights. Wiesel, who died in July 2016, wrote some 60 books, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, and was counselor to presidents, senators, kings, and prime ministers.

Recently, he and his family were honored by the installation of a sculpture of his likeness in the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. The manner of this honoring introduces some particularly vexing Jewish questions, which his son Elisha discussed in a recent Washington Post op-ed. Elie Wiesel was a moral hero, and a particularly Jewish one. His family worried that his memorialization in a church would emphasize the universalist elements of his legacy, and discard particular Jewish elements of his moral persona—including his Jewish observance and his Zionist commitments. Elisha joins Mosaic’s editor Jonathan Silver to think about these questions, his father’s legacy, and more on this week’s podcast.

“We have arrived at a unique point in history,” a recent essay argues, “where many Americans love nothing more than themselves, and the only functioning organization that touches their lives is a corporation.” The author continues, “that’s all good and well as a single striver sprinting along our treadmill of an economic system; the above realization takes on a more somber tone when confronted with the only form of immortality available to most of us: our children.”

That secular modernity functions perfectly fine until the biggest questions of life arise is just one notable observation among many made by the tech entrepreneur Antonio Garcia Martinez in his two-part essay “Why Judaism.” In it, Martinez looks at how Judaism presented itself to him as the antidote to the problems he felt mainstream secular American life couldn’t solve. Now, in conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, he fleshes out his essay, explaining how he came to his conclusions and what made Judaism such a compelling alternative.

The Jewish Agency for Israel is the largest Jewish non-profit in the world. Founded in 1929, it incubated the state of Israel’s proto-government, and, upon the state’s declaration of independence, its officers became Israel’s ministers. Since then, it has brought thousands of Jews to the land of Israel, and it has invested in agriculture, housing, social services, and other programs crucial to Israel’s survival and prosperity. But that’s all mostly in the past. Now that a state has been established, and that most diaspora communities are not in danger, what should the Jewish Agency do? What is its purpose?

Haviv Rettig Gur, senior analyst for the Times of Israel, was a former communications director of the Jewish Agency, and so he has a few ideas about what it should be doing today. That question is especially pertinent now, as later this month a new agency chairman will be elected. In conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, Gur tries to make sense of the history, governance, strategy, and future of the Jewish world’s biggest non-profit.

Every week, on the seventh day—the Sabbath—observant Jews rest. They perform no labor and they dedicate the day to serving God. This idea, the Sabbath, has another application in the Hebrew Bible: God also commands the observance of a sabbatical year to be taken every seventh year and during which the land of Israel would lie fallow and debts would be remitted. For most of Jewish history, the laws of this year, known as shmita, were abstract and remote. But with the growth of modern Zionism, and then the rebirth of the sovereign Jewish state, the laws of shmita have acquired a renewed importance. Jewish farmers are obliged to let the land of Israel lie fallow every seven years, and religiously observant Jews are prohibited from consuming fruit grown on that land. Does this happen in Israel today, and if so, how? And what are the deeper ideas embedded in the practice of shmita?

The questions are not abstract; this new Jewish year, 5782, is a shmita year. So on this week’s podcast, the rabbi Yedidya (Julian) Sinclair joins Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver to explain why this biblical ordinance is so important, and how it’s expressed in Israel today. Recently, Sinclair translated and authored a commentary on a famous rabbinical work about shmita, Shabbat Ha’Aretz, The Sabbath of the Land, by the rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, who is considered the father of religious Zionism and whose ideas about shmita govern much of its application in Israel today.

This week, Jews celebrate the holiday of Sukkot, during which it is traditional to read one of the most philosophically interesting books of the Hebrew Bible, Ecclesiastes. The narrator of the book, known by Jewish tradition to be King Solomon, has spent his life exploring the many corners of human endeavor, from the responsible life of politics to the pleasures of body and mind, and he has come to say that each corner, no matter how satisfying to certain parts of us, cannot answer our deepest needs—or perhaps cannot answer anything at all. Everything is vanity, the book whispers famously, and nothing more.

This week’s podcast guest, the Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft, admires Ecclesiastes not for its ultimate answers to the fundamental questions of life but for its honest look at human problems. As he writes in his own commentary, “honest hedonism is spiritually superior to dishonest self-delusion.” In conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, he mines the biblical book for the wisdom it may offer.

The celebrated novelist Dara Horn’s new book People Love Dead Jews has an arresting title, one designed to make the reader feel uncomfortable. That’s because Horn makes an argument that tries to change the way people think about the function of Jews in the conscience of the West.

In the book, and in this podcast conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, Horn suggests that Jewish communities, figures, and abstract symbols of “the Jews” have come to serve a moral role in the Western imagination that, when one takes a step back, is bizarre and grotesque.

Thirty years ago, in August 1991, riots broke out in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights, a neighborhood shared by African Americans and Jews, the latter of whom were mostly members of the ḥasidic Chabad-Lubavitch movement. During the riot, which was sparked by a car accident that killed one young black child and injured another, local black residents attacked Jews on the streets, burned their businesses, and killed one of them, often while chanting anti-Semitic slogans. For three days, local authorities looked on passively.

The episode is a sad one in the history of American Jewish-black relations. This week’s podcast guest believes that if Jews and blacks are to enjoy a fruitful and mutually beneficial relationship in the future, as they have in the past, understanding how and why events like the Crown Heights riot came about is essential. Elliot Kaufman did just that in a recent essay for the Wall Street Journal. A Canadian who is too young to remember what happened, Kaufman—in the piece and in this conversation with Mosaic‘s editor, Jonathan Silver—forensically reconstructs what happened in Crown Heights, puts together what it meant at the time, looks at what it teaches us today, and suggests pitfalls that can be avoided so that the two communities can avoid such bitter antagonism.

In an 1897 essay called “The Jewish State and the Jewish Problem,” the Zionist writer Aḥad Ha’am argued that “Judaism needs at present but little. It needs not an independent state, but only the creation in its native land of conditions favorable to its development: a good-sized settlement of Jews working without hindrance in every branch of culture, from agriculture and handicrafts to science and literature.” Ha’am believed that the most powerful arguments for Zionism were not economic but moral, and in his many essays he stressed the importance of forming a modern Jewish identity from authentically Jewish culture and ideas. Culture first, sovereignty later, in other words.

Ha’am was born in 1856 this week by the name Asher Ginsburg, and so we thought we’d mark the occasion by rebroadcasting a conversation about him between the Tikvah Fund’s executive director Eric Cohen and Allan Arkush, a professor of Judaic studies at Binghamton University and the senior contributing editor at the Jewish Review of Books. The two discuss Ha’am’s background, his ideas in this essay and elsewhere, and compare them to his more politically-minded Zionist rivals, namely Theodor Herzl.

In the year 1970, the distinguished American writer Cynthia Ozick published an essay arguing that Jewish literature might succeed if it embraced and conveyed the rich particularism of the Jewish experience. In a famous metaphor, she wrote that “If we blow into the narrow end of the shofar, we will be heard far. But if we choose to be mankind rather than Jewish and blow into the wider part, we will not be heard at all; for us America will have been in vain.”

Fifty years later the Jewish people’s relation to the surrounding culture is a subject that still preoccupies Ozick. Her new novel, Antiquities, deals with the same themes. It depicts an elderly American man who, in the process of writing his memoirs, fixates on a friendship he developed with an outcast Jewish boy during the time they shared decades before in an exclusive private school. On our podcast today, in conversation with Jonathan Silver, Ozick explains how this relationship caused the man to question whether there was a more “significant thing” he could devote himself to, and she reveals some of the subtle wrinkles in the book that direct the reader toward monotheism and to the Jewish tradition.