Engaging in a Lifetime of Jewish Learning

October 2012

In a wonderful Midrash, the Rabbis taught: “In the time of Rabbi Akiva, the evil Roman Emperor Hadrian banned all the practices of Judaism.  Anyone who dared to teach Torah would be cruelly murdered.  Rabbi Akiva continued to teach Torah, and his friend Papus questioned him on his wisdom. Akiva answered with a parable:

One day a fox was walking on a river bank and saw fish darting about in fear.

He said to them: Why are you fleeing?

They answered: Don’t you see the fishermen upstream with their nets?  Soon they will be here!

The fox said to the fish: Come up here on dry land and I will protect you.  We will live, you and I, as did the generations of my ancestors with your ancestors.

The fish answered: You are the animal which is supposed to be the wisest of all the animals. If we are in danger in the water which is our home, how much more dangerous would it be to leave our home and go live with a fox?

Rabbi Akiva continued: If we are in danger when we study Torah which is our home, our very being, how much greater would be the danger if we ceased to study.” Study of Torah, of our tradition and our faith are central to our identity as Jews. Without study and continual learning and growth, we are in danger of losing ourselves.  In our complicated world, we are searching for eternal truths, for value and meaning. We want to understand the purpose of life—why we are here, why we are Jewish, and how we can make a difference.  So we look to thousands of years of Jewish wisdom—to our texts and our tradition—and Jewish living, to learn from those who came before us.

As Reform Jews, we are returning to our roots, exploring our tradition, and searching for answers.  Serious Jewish education has become a top priority of our movement.  We are rewriting, revamping, intensifying, improving, and creating both formal and informal educational opportunities. Religious Schools, Day Schools, preschools, day camps, overnight camps, youth groups, and teen Israel experiences are only part of the equation.  Intensive opportunities for serious and ongoing adult study are also being created nationwide.  We have learned that Jewish is not just something we are born.  It is something we choose and something we create each and every day of our lives.

And to do that, we need to engage in a lifetime of Jewish learning.

MMT’s Religious School is a truly wonderful one. Stop by on a Sunday morning and see for yourself the excitement, learning, creativity, and energy happening every week. We can’t thank Gigi Ehrlich, our dedicated Religious School Principal, and our wonderful teachers and aides enough. Our teachers are: Sara McCoskey, Donna Lebow, Elizabeth Schossler, Tami Martin, Alan Novick, Joe Ehrlich, Naomi Wilansky.  And of course, our terrific teen aids bring a special enthusiasm and a great deal of personal attention into the school.  Our younger students look up to Aaron Lebow, Tommy Lebow, Benjamin Neilson, Hannah Leichty, Marissa Hunt, Becky Koshner, Hallie Martin Chadwick, Eden Bernstein, and Rachel Marx.  Serious learning starts young at MMT.

But although our education starts with Religious School, it does not end there.  As adults, we have a college education, perhaps a masters’ degree, a PhD or professional degree, and even post doc work in secular subjects.  And we know how important that education is.  We worked hard for many years to gain knowledge and wisdom in these fields.

How meaningful can our Jewish education possibly be if, as well-educated adults, we have a 13 or even 16 year old’s education in Jewish subjects?

When we compare that to our secular education we know that we need to make a change. In our search for meaning and purpose, we have to delve deeper.  We have to approach Jewish learning seriously, and with the intention of working hard and not only gaining competence, but growing in wisdom and understanding.

When I interviewed here just last spring, you made it very clear to me that you were hungry to learn: that you wanted high quality, intensive Jewish learning opportunities. You said Jewish learning is a very high priority at MMT.

And a huge number of you showed up for the teaching session I offered during the interview. With that in mind, we are in the midst of creating a program designed to meet your expressed needs. We meet every Saturday for Torah study (and a nosh!). Beginning November 7th at 7:00 pm, I am offering a 20 week intensive Intro to Judaism class. In January, MMT is offering a one day learn to read Hebrew Marathon.

In January, we are beginning a very special endeavor through which our members will be teaching classes at MMT based on the intersection of Judaism and their fields of expertise. Dr. David Rubin will start us off.

Tu B’Shevat, the birthday of the trees, is a holiday which celebrates our relationship to trees and to the environment. Dr. Rubin will teach a 3 session course entitled: Endocrine Interrupters. This class will educate us about the effect on human beings of certain chemicals in our local environment and what we can do about it.

Stay tuned! We have many experts in all kinds of subjects in our congregation. Beginning next spring, look for classes at MMT—related to Judaism of course—that are offered by congregants with particular expertise in those subjects.

Your suggestions and ideas for the development of a lifetime of Jewish learning at MMT are always welcome!   Please feel free to drop in, call, or email me and discuss any ideas you may have.

I look forward to studying and learning with you!