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Jewish learning Learning to Teach and Teaching to Learn

By Sydney Gross
Eser class

When first-year Rabbinical School student Hindy Finman walks across the bridge that connects Hebrew College’s Beit Midrash to the community learning offices, she turns from student to teacher, sharing her love for storytelling, song, and Torah with Greater Boston teens through Hebrew College’s Makor and Prozdor youth programs and with her young adult peers through Open Circle Jewish Learning’s Eser series.

“The bridge between learning and teaching is a beautiful one to cross and I get to do this every week,” said Finman, a rabbinical school intern in the Open Circle program. “I get to experience full creative freedom, share, research other people’s questions, laugh and ponder the puzzling moments of our history, and examine what it means to be a Jew in 2020. I am a full-time student, learning about my development and how I can enhance my Torah, and then I can take this knowledge and apply it to the here and now.”

Finman, who moved to Boston from Colorado, is not alone in bridging the world of student and teacher at Hebrew College. This year, 11 graduate students and 12 alumni are teaching community learning courses. Most rabbinical or cantorial students also work or intern in congregations, schools and Hillels in communities throughout Greater Boston, including several in Hebrew College’s Community Learning division.

“Our Beit Midrash extends to classrooms, living rooms, offices, pubs, and other gathering places through the community,” said Hebrew College President Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld. “A core part of our mission is bringing meaningful Jewish content and connection to adults and teens throughout Greater Boston, and we’ll go wherever people want to learn. Graduate students who come to Hebrew College to prepare to be rabbis, cantors, and educators have the opportunity to be mentored by world-class teachers and scholars, and bring their passion and creativity into a diverse and vibrant community that is thirsty for Torah.”

One of President Anisfeld’s strategic priorities is to build even more connections between Hebrew College’s graduate and ordination programs and the Greater Boston community, through Hebrew College community learning programs, as well as through Hebrew College’s new Innovation Lab, Torah art exhibits, and other community programming. This year, a record 1,900 adults and teens throughout Greater Boston are enrolled in Hebrew College community learning programs, which include Me’ah Classic and Me’ah Select, Ulpan, Open Circle Jewish Learning, Open Circle Jewish Learning 20s and 30s, and Parenting and Grandparenting through a Jewish Lens, as well as our Miller Center programs, Prozdor, Makor, and The Jewish Teen Foundation of Greater Boston.

Rabbi Laura Bellows, Rab`18, director of Prozdor and Youth Initiatives at Hebrew College, said that when she was a rabbinical student at Hebrew College, teaching in Prozdor and Makor gave her an opportunity to translate the world of the Beit Midrash into the real-world Judaism of her students, to gain fluency teaching new topics and texts, and to join a diverse team of educators and mentors exploring essential questions in Judaism and education today.

“Prozdor taught me that dynamic Jewish education must be a laboratory for living Torah with relationship-building at its core,” she said. “As a rabbi, this experience has been foundational.”

Elizabeth Bonney-Cohen, Rab`18, a rabbi at Kehillath Israel in Brookline, Mass., who runs Base BSTN with her husband, Matt Bonney-Cohen, and has taught Hebrew College Community Learning classes since she graduated, said she loves helping young adults explore their Jewish identities through living room learning.

“The values and pedagogy of the Rabbinical School’s Beit Midash impact my teaching tremendously. I carry the deeply personalized, pluralistic, spiritual, and practical aspects of my time at Hebrew College into my work with other young people looking to live meaningfully connected to Judaism,” Rabbi Bonney-Cohen said. “So Eser falls into my sweet-spot of teaching—intimate, home-based, and deeply rooted. I’m so excited to host and teach this year,”

Benjamin Summers, who is in Mekorot, Hebrew College’s preparatory ordination program, came to Hebrew College after teaching in the Open Circle Jewish Learning Program and said that teaching adds a “different dimension” to his rabbinical school experience, influencing how he learns as a student and what he brings to the community as a teacher.

“Teaching provides a laboratory for me to test some of the ideas and practices that I’m gaining from my teachers and share them with the general community, specifically in the young adult community. It also allows me to field test what resonates with people, what’s too esoteric, what could be refined. That helps me when I’m writing papers, contributing in the classroom, or in the Beit Midrash studying for tests,” he said.

And rabbinical students say that the opportunity to engage in the Greater Boston community is one reason they are choosing the College.

“I’m going to Hebrew College because I’m passionate about building rich Jewish community that is authentic to Jewish tradition and modern values,” said Michaela Brown, a first-year rabbinical student. “Teaching Eser gives me an opportunity to engage with peers—who are pursuing different professional and personal paths—in learning and building community together!”

Listen to former Hebrew College Rabbinical School students discuss their experience developing curriculum and teaching for Eser.

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