Jews of all backgrounds are coming together to form a melting pot of students, teachers and ideas.
Center City Kehillah’s new learning series, called “Learning in Pairs: The Center City Kehillah’s New Jewish Learning Experience,” will take place once a month from December through June. The series is open to everyone, regardless of Jewish background or experience.
Miriam Steinberg-Egeth, director of Center City Kehillah — and the creator of the “Miriam’s Advice Well” blog at jewishexponent.com — said the program intends to bring people together, regardless of Jewish affiliation, so they can learn on whatever terms they feel comfortable with.
Center City Kehillah is in cooperation with and funded by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
“There are a lot of things in the Jewish community that we can’t do together across denominations; learning is one of the things we can do,” Steinberg-Egeth said.
She said the blend of denominations will aid the idea of chevruta, or paired, learning.
The first session of the series will begin on Dec. 16 with Rabbi Eli Freedman from Congregation Rodeph Shalom and Rabbi Eliezer Hirsch from Mekor Habracha. Their lecture will focus on a post-Chanukah discussion of how to fight.
Hirsch explained that they will discuss the positive elements of disagreeing, but also what is the right way to have disagreements and how to avoid the wrong ways.
He hopes participants will gain a new perspective within their pairs, which allows for a much more intimate conversation.
“It’s very important to learn in pairs,” Hirsch said. “There are many reasons why, in yeshiva, Jews learn this way. One of them is the fact that as opposed to learning by yourself, you have someone else as a sounding board. So when you study with somebody else, they’re able to catch any mistakes you make or able to have feedback about a piece of learning.”
“With any learning program, the hope is that you find the right format for people to be inspired to learn more,” Hirsch added.
Steinberg-Egeth wanted to create something that was both more open-ended chronologically and more accessible to as many people as possible.
“We don’t want to duplicate efforts,” she said. “We don’t want to do something that people are already doing and benefiting from. But what we can do is create a program with a set of teachers that crosses all of those organizational lines.”
The teachers for the program also vary across denominations.
“We invited rabbis and educators to partner up with another teacher in town and pick a topic,” she explained, “not only traditional Hebrew text-based learning that you sort of think of in those adult learning programs,” but also from current events, newspaper clippings or blogs, which “really opens up the definition of what Jewish learning can look like.”
Each class will center on a different topic, pairing teachers who are diverse but who also have expertise in those areas.
“The overarching theme is Jewish learning,” she laughed. “I think it is a real benefit because the topics are as diverse as the teachers and learners themselves.”
Learning in pairs is the way Jews have done it for centuries. Steinberg-Egeth wants to build on that experience for people who are already doing it and introduce others to that kind of learning experience, making the boundaries of denominations more fluid.
“The best way to learn is in conversation with someone else,” she said. “A traditional American library is a quiet place, and a Jewish beit midrash is a loud place. When you’re sitting across from someone reading a source out loud and then talking about it, you gain so much more perspective.”
Steinberg-Egeth expects around 30 people to attend the first session.
“I hope the participants will learn something new and have a really positive experience actively engaged with Jewish learning,” she said. “Wherever they find themselves positioned in the spectrum of Jewish experience, there are people at similar points to them, people at different points to them — but everyone can join together to do this kind of program.”
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