Have you ever wished you could take a class to sort out what words like Torah, Tanakh, Gemara, Mishnah, and Talmud really mean? Wondered how “Jewish law” is related to the Torah text? Ever wished you could learn more about the history of Israel and the Jews?
Registration is open for the Winter session of Intro to the Jewish Experience, “Israel and Texts” and it includes an online option! Class meetings will take place at Congregation Beth El in Berkeley, CA on Wednesday evenings from 7:30 – 9pm (PST) beginning January 14. For those who cannot attend in Berkeley, we offer the option of attending via Adobe Connect, a cloud-based classroom. All meetings are recorded, so that students also have the option of watching the class recordings.
All classes are taught by me except for Jan 21 and 28. I’m honored to welcome Dr. Jehon Grist as our guest lecturer on Israel.
Jan 14 – Welcome & Introductions: Jews, Texts, and Shabbat Jan 21 –Ancient Israel – Guest: Dr. Jehon Grist Jan 28 –Modern Israel & Zionism – Guest: Dr. Jehon Grist Feb 4 – Torah, Tanakh & Midrash Feb 11 – Beginnings of Rabbinic Judaism Feb 18 – What is the Talmud? Feb 25 – Codes, Responsa and Jewish Law March 11 – Jewish Values, Jewish Ethics
Lehrhaus Judaica is a unique non-denominational Jewish studies adult school. Every course is open to the general public, and all interested adults are welcome, regardless of age, religion, or ethnicity.
I’m too excited about tomorrow: the new cycle of Intro classes starts promptly at 10:10 tomorrow, when I meet a new roomful of strangers. Over the next eight months we’ll get to know one another very well as we wade through Jewish holidays, Jewish lifecycle events, Jewish texts, Jewish history, and a bunch of other topics. More than anything, I’ll try to equip them for living in Jewish community.
Some were born Jewish, but never got a Jewish education. That can generate a lot of shame, but it really isn’t their fault. I love seeing them realize what they know, and what they can learn.
Some are considering conversion to Judaism. I’ll try to equip them for this journey. They need not just facts and “how to” directions, but some clues about the context of American Judaism today, and their own Northern California Jewish community. They need some help in navigating this new Jewish world they seek to enter.
Some are there because they love someone Jewish. They want to understand the language and crack the codes. If I can help with that, their families will be stronger and Judaism will be the better for it.
Some will say they there because it’s Sunday morning, their kids are in Religious School, and someone (their rabbi?) suggested they take the class while they’re waiting. Later in the year I may (or may not) find out what they are hoping to get from the class.
Some will be shy. Some will be full of questions. Some will want to talk all the time, and others will be loathe to talk at all. Some will be easy to love, and some will challenge me to find the tzelem Elohim [image of God] in them.
I have my bag packed, my handouts at the ready. I really need to get some sleep.
Are you curious about Judaism? Interested in getting a basic introduction to the subject? Considering conversion, or just want to figure out your in-laws? It’s that time of year again, folks – “Intro” classes are beginning in many synagogues!
I teach two such classes in the East Bay Area of CA: “Exploring Judaism” starts this Sunday at Temple Isaiah in Lafayette, CA. The class meets for an hour each Sunday, starting at 10:10am. For more information, click on the link which will take you to the registration page. My other class “Intro to the Jewish Experience” will begin October 22 at Congregation Beth El in Berkeley, CA. That class meets for an hour and a half on Wednesday evenings, starting at 7:30pm. For more information or to sign up, check out the class page in the online Lehrhaus Judaica catalog.
Don’t live in Berkeley or Lafayette? Check with your local synagogue or Jewish Federation to find out what classes are starting in your area.
Some concerns I hear every year:
Will you expect me to convert? [No]
Will you burn me at the stake because I’m L, G, B, or T? [No, I’m a lesbian myself.]
Will you be mad if I don’t believe in God? [No, we’ll talk about the many different Jewish ideas about God.]
What are you “selling,” rabbi? [Nothing other than a learning experience.]
This class is very expensive! [If it is too much for you, say so. Financial aid is often available.]
If you have questions or needs, speak up. This is your first lesson in Jewish community.
My classes have multiple entry points. If not now, maybe then! Get in touch for more information.
I hope that you find an “Intro” class in your area! If you will be taking one of mine, feel free to leave a comment and say “Hi!”
By the way, the images I use on this blog are all either in the public domain, or they have a Creative Commons license. There’s a wordpress widget that finds them for me and keeps me from sinning against my fellow creative person (and out of copyright trouble.)
I enjoy teaching basic Judaism: it’s my true love, my mission, my passion. “Intro,” done well, can make it much easier for outsiders to become fellow travelers in Jewish community, whether they are Gentile relatives of a Jew, or Jews who got no Jewish education, or someone looking to become a Jew. It has to be more than facts and how-to’s, because Judaism isn’t just a religion, it’s a vast array of ethnicities, customs, history, and culture – as Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan famously titled his book, Judaism is a civilization. As an “Intro” teacher, I’m a tour guide, den mother, demystifier, and spiritual director.
But there’s one class in every series that I hate to teach. Not coincidentally, it is the only class specified by the tradition as a requirement. Rabbinic tradition is rather vague about what converts to Judaism must be taught before they go to the mikveh, but it is adamant that they understand that Jews have been a despised and persecuted people. In other words, they need to be acquainted with anti-Semitism.
Some students who have been engaged Christians at some point in their lives practically writhe with discomfort. I name those feelings, and acknowledge that when you’ve got one foot in each community, this can be very hard listening. I share the fact that it was hard for me, when I took the class long ago. Some Jewish students look distant, and I suspect they are running through unpleasant memories and feelings. Maybe, like me, they just hate the topic.
My impulse is to comfort. I bring cookies. I reassure. But I march relentlessly through that lesson plan, because it is important that they know this stuff. I have a duty to see to it that they understand that when you sign up to be a Jew, you sign up for this, too. For Gentiles in the class, it is important to know why Jews seem “sensitive” about some things, why some topics are funny only if you are a genius like Mel Brooks and can take them all the way off the deep end.
Usually the evening ends off topic: I get to the end of the list, and we trail off from “Jews run the media” into jokes and trivia about Hollywood and Jews. If I’m artful, we’ll leave on an upbeat note. But I’m always relieved when the evening is over, because I hate this topic. I hate, hate, hate it.
We are now in the midst of the Yamim Noraim – the Days of Awe. It’s a time of serious spiritual work. It’s also, for many of us, a time of getting ready for the fall activities that will begin after the holidays are past.
I’m preparing for these fall classes in the San Francisco Bay Area now:
Exploring Judaism – This “Intro to Judaism” class meets on Sunday mornings from 10:10 to 11:10am at Temple Isaiah in Lafayette, CA. It’s a year long course, but you can sign up for shorter parts of the class, too. Non-members are welcome. For more information including registration arrangements, check out the class description on the Temple Isaiah website.
Intro to the Jewish Experience (aka Jewish Foundations) – a Lehrhaus Judaica course for newcomers and others who are interested in getting the basics about Judaism in the context of a class community. We’ll meet on Wednesdays from 7:30 – 9pm at Congregation Beth El in Berkeley, CA. You can learn more and register on the class page in the Lehrhaus Judaica online catalog. Begins Oct 17.
Homer & Moses, Poets of their People – a Lehrhaus Judaica course for theater lovers (or Torah lovers!) who are interested in exploring two ancient blockbusters, the Iliad and the Torah via lectures by a classics teacher and a rabbi (yours truly) and a performance of the Iliad at the Berkeley Repertory Theater. Why do we love the Iliad so much? What is it about the Torah that captures the imagination? You can learn more and register for the three-session class on the class page in the Lehrhaus Judaica online catalog. Begins Oct 18.