Jewish learning Continuing My Jewish Learning Journey

By Sara Riedner Brown

Every semester, my husband and I peruse the Hebrew College Adult Learning course listings to find a class to take together. We’ve taken Hebrew College Me’ah Classic, a four-semester, 3,000-year journey through the narrative of the Jewish people; Daf Yomi, an Hebrew College Open Circle Jewish Learning class where we studied a page of Torah twice a week; as well as “The History of Now: What Jewish History Teaches Us About Contemporary Jewish Issues,” a Hebrew College Me’ah Select course co-taught by Brandeis Professor Dr. Jonathan Sarna, and our friend, Rabbi Dan Judson, Dean of Graduate Leadership at Hebrew College, to name a few.

Parents Need Deep Learning Too

Our Hebrew College classes are a time for us to slow down and connect. As working parents of teenagers, we don’t have much time to do things for us. And, as Director of Adult Learning and a former director of Me’ah, it is also a way for me to observe the magic of our programs in motion, and to participate in the beautiful community of learners of all ages who come together through Hebrew College.

Sara Brown in kitchenOne semester, my husband ventured forth without me, taking a course on scientific Jewish ethics. So I enlisted two cousins—one local and one in Virginia—to join me in an Open Circle Jewish Learning history and cooking class. Our class also included another family group: a newly married woman, joined by her mother-in-law and her bubbe. There was nothing like those Sunday afternoons when we were gleefully comparing notes, laughing about the flour all over our kitchen and delighting in our shared created feasts. We cooked, we learned, we made a mess, and we grew together.

A Growing Learning Community

Over the past two years, more than 2,000 students have enrolled in Hebrew College Adult Learning courses, many students in more than one course. These Ulpan Hebrew Language, Me’ah Classic, Me’ah Select, Open Circle Jewish Learning, and Parenting and Grandparenting Through a Jewish Lens students join a community of more than 14,000 adult learning alumni.

This winter/spring 2022 semester, we are offering 76 courses, ranging from beginning Hebrew, to classes unpacking the Passover Haggadah, to a class examining Jewish amulets and symbols of evil. We have also prepared a list of recommended courses for first-time adult learners. We try to offer a broad range of classes that appeal to learners at all levels, and all ages and make Jewish learning accessible, enriching, and fun.

Reading over the class evaluations and student and teacher blog posts, I am struck by how much our students love to study and consider it a blessing to be together, in person, on Zoom—in whatever form they are learning. They take Hebrew Language Ulpan to speak to their grandchildren living in Israel; they join Parenting Through a Jewish Lens to connect with other young families; and they enroll in Me’ah Select and Open Circle Jewish Learning to meet new friends or find connection; to be with a community of friends they have studied with for years; to keep busy during retirement; and to sustain them during this never-ending Pandemic.

And our community is not just students. We also have long-time instructors who come back to teach, year after year, including faculty and students from the Hebrew College Rabbinical School, as well as instructors from local synagogues and universities. They say they continue to learn from their students, just as their students learn from them. I feel so proud that we have such outstanding, passionate, and committed teachers and can say, as one of their students, that I too, learn from them, over and over again.

Another New Beginning

The beginning of each semester is always a whirlwind. We’re busy working with instructors to create classes, to have a good balance of text study, literature, and social justice offerings, as well as classes for young adults, and to field enrollment questions or calls from our students’ friends hoping we can squeak a few more people into their favorite teacher’s already-full classes—and we do try! And it is all worth it when I get a call from a student who says, “Thank you, thank you so much for offering so many things so I don’t feel so lonely this winter.”

My husband and I are still deciding on our next class for this winter, but whatever we choose, I’m thankful for the opportunity to get out of my suburban Boston home office (at least, metaphorically), and into a virtual classroom with some new and some old friends. There’s nothing better than working for an organization where you can be part of the community of learners. I can’t wait for this semester to begin so I can continue my Jewish learning journey.


Sara Riedner Brown is Director of Adult Learning at Hebrew College in Newton, MA. View all the College’s winter and spring Adult Learning classes here and join our learning community.

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