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Community Blog Building Bronfman Bonds on Zoom

By Sydney Gross
2020 Brofman Fellows

Each week this summer, Hebrew College Associate Professor of Rabbinics Rabbi Micha’el Rosenberg and his family invited a cohort of rising high school seniors from around the country to schmooze with them at the dinner table—over Zoom. 

The teenagers, recipients of the prestigious Bronfman Fellowship, were supposed to be spending the summer in Israel, engaging in thought-provoking study and conversation with the guidance of a diverse faculty of rabbis and educators. Because of the Pandemic, they connected instead for daily sessions on Zoom. 

Rabbi Rosenberg, one of four faculty members, taught a class on how historical rabbis construct gender, including what rabbis thought it meant to be a man or a woman. He also met weekly with a group of six fellows to help them process their experience.

The 26 fellows, who were based in California, Chicago, Detroit, Dallas, Nashville, and along the east coast, also took classes focused on law and community, exploring Jewish journeys using an anthropological ethnographic lens, and art and theology. They discussed stimulating existential questions, exploring a wide range of Jewish texts, from classic religious documents to contemporary Israeli and American voices, and learned about themselves and one another within a pluralistic space. 

And while Rabbi Rosenberg said there were logistical challenges of not being together in Israel, he was surprised by how well the students and faculty members were able to build friendships, “create real relationships and connections” and “have spontaneous 1:1 connections” over Zoom. 

“It was definitely not the same. If we were in Israel, every shabbos they would have gone to a different faculty member’s home for shabbos lunch, to build close friendships and establish mentoring relationships with faculty members,” he said. “But for all of us, it was such a relief to have something to sink ourselves into during this weary time of quarantine and Covid. We all felt that we were in this intensive experience. It was a really wonderful experience. It turned out great!”

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