Community BlogRethinking our Relationship to Others

I signed up for the ‘Spiraling Through Time: Radically Rethinking our Relationship to Land’ course upon the recommendation of my Jewish partner. Having just moved to Boston, he suggested (rightly!) that it would be a great way to meet new people, share my knowledge of Biblical landscape, and learn from a new perspective.

The class was held in the beautifully-located Hebrew College, and began not in the classroom, but in the drive to Newton, which I shared with one of the course instructors, Rabbi Getzel Davis, Rab`13, and a fellow student. We would chat about our conceptions of landscape and ecosystems, about what Judaism had to offer on this topic, and about why this sort of class was more pertinent now than ever. We talked about where we came from and how this course fit into our lives. We made jokes. We complained about traffic.

The atmosphere of the course itself was also intimate and freeform in our discussion, but was structured around a different topic each week. Both Getzel and Leora Mallach from Beantown Jewish Gardens put in thought and mindfulness into the source sheets and structure of the course.

At first, I felt like a spy: a secret imposter in the classroom, as a non-Jew participating in a class about Judaism. In my “other” life, I am a professor of English literature, and specialise in early nineteenth century Romantic receptions of Biblical Hebrew poetry. On the one hand, I felt like an insider, having amassed a fair amount of knowledge about the topic and the texts; and on the other, I felt like an outsider, having not been brought up with the traditions and Jewish year we were discussing. During my second session, I mustered up the courage and casually mentioned that I was not Jewish. No one batted an eye. If anything, I felt more respected and welcome than before.

We began the course by discussing Shabbat practices (new to me) and how rooted they are in nature. Each week, we had the opportunity to bring an object that makes us feel closer to the land we live on. In doing so, we learned about the personal lives of one other. These objects ranged from running shoes to fondly-collected leaves, feathers, and acorns, to seeds from a backyard city garden. I learned about the Jewish calendar (which I was seeing for the first time), about the pagan and earthly roots of Jewish holidays, about the Jubilee year, about the rain and its significance in Scripture. Midway through, I participated in the most joyous Shabbat on a Farm, breaking challah amongst goats and pigs and rabbits. It reminded me of my childhood summers spend on my grandparents’ farm in Poland.

This course was the first of several I would take with the Hebrew College, and it was my first insight into the Jewish community. It is one thing to apply scholastic learning, and another to participate in a living tradition, and feel welcome doing it. I am now in the process of converting to Judaism, and each of these classes has contributed to that fountain of desire.

Judyta (Jude) Frodyma was a participant in Hebrew College Open Circle Jewish Learning courses for 20s & 30s program. She teaches English Literature at the University of King’s College, Halifax. She spends her time divided between Cambridge, MA and Halifax, Nova Scotia in Canada. She was the former Editor in Chief of the Oxonian Review, and has written for academic and non-academic publications. She loves chickens, and used to have three in her backyard.