2017-10-11 / Religion Column

Jewish learning should be a lifelong endeavor

Congregation Beth Tikvah

At this moment on the Jewish calendar, the Jewish community is emerging from our synagogues, where we prayed intently during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and are headed outside to nature, into our Sukkot. We celebrate our connection to the world around us, and note our own fragility. Soon it will be Simchat Torah, a joyous holiday in celebration of our renewed commitment to Torah learning. The cycle of the fall holidays fills us with fulfillment and provides us release. We begin anew.

Here locally, in South Jersey, we are also beginning anew. Men’s Clubs and Sisterhoods have had their opening programs. Social Action committees are busily pursuing social justice on behalf of the South Jersey Jewish community. Adult Education programming is largely underway. Religious Schools have begun for our children. And we are about to embark on a new reading of Torah in this new cycle of Torah readings. Our vibrant shuls from Burlington, Camden, Gloucester counties, and at the shore, are in full swing! The planning done all summer is coming to fruition as all types of Jews, G-d willing, move toward more fulfilling Jewish practice, and more fulfilling Jewish lives.

Among all the preparation and planning for this year, our Religious School directors, under the direction of Charlene Green and Ronit Boyd from the Center for Impact and Innovation at the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey, brought our Religious School and Early Childhood educators together for a day of learning. What got the headlines for this event was our amazing hour with Dr. Ron Wolfson. He empowered us all to make our classrooms welcoming entry points for Jewish engagement with children and families. That said, the other time we spent together was of high importance as well. Working closely with my colleague Rabbi Nogah Marshall from Beth El, we put together a text study for our community’s teachers on root drivers for Jewish education. We had teachers in small groups, clustered by the age of the students they teach, and pushed them to take seriously their own Jewish learning. Teachers engaged deeply with text, and deeply with one another. It was a magnificent sight to behold.

Our education directors held this up as a priority this year because we feel strongly that those who teach should also be learners. Jewish learning is a lifelong endeavor, and it is simply not enough to be one step ahead of our students; we must exhibit a fiery passion for Jewish learning for ourselves. It is the same for parents of Religious School students, and for all adult Jews.

I ask you to confront a possible double standard: Our children are Jewish students who are deeply engaged in Jewish learning. Why? Because parents often make them be! Do those same parents hold themselves to the same standard? Do we hold our teachers to that same standard? If the answer is yes, fantastic! If not, Simchat Torah is a great time to re-examine your own relationship to Jewish learning. Where, either in your home congregation, or in the community, can you plug in to meaningful Jewish learning? From what I can tell from the Fed Flash, from my own Congregation Beth Tikvah, and from what I hear from colleagues at the many other wonderful congregations, the possibilities are endless.

Each year, we begin the Torah cycle anew, with a reenergized commitment to learning. I encourage you to consider, this Simchat Torah, finding your entry point. 

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