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Jewish learning My Jewish Journey: From Iowa to Hebrew College

By Jim Bunton
Iowa map

I am not Jewish, and I live in Iowa. My Jewish journey began as a fascination sparked by my evangelical Christian background. As I began my journey, I started attending synagogue. While I love learning for its own sake, I also told myself that I might manage to convert some Jews along the way, but in reality, I was the one who was converted (although not in a literal sense).

As my passion for Judaism grew, I wanted to share Judaism with everyone I knew. I worked with the Greater Des Moines Jewish Federation to organize a series of movies called “Meet Me on the Bridge,” to screen Jewish films to a broader audience of Jews, Christians, and film lovers of all stripes. The series was a great success and created opportunities for lively conversation among people of different backgrounds. While I still imagined converting some Jews through this experience, by now I knew I was only kidding myself.

I fell in love with Judaism; I fell in love with the commitment to social justice that the prophets speak about; with the creativity of the rabbis who reshaped Judaism after the destruction of the Temple, and with the ways young, feminist and queer leaders are recreating Judaism today. This enthusiasm led me to pursue a Doctor of Science in Jewish Studies at Spertus Institute of Jewish Learning and Leadership, to the Association of Jewish Studies, where I serve on the Gender Justice Caucus as secretary, and most recently to Hebrew College Open Circle Jewish Learning. I have taken several Open Circle classes and love the in-depth learning opportunities. Most recently, I have taken two classes with Elisha Gechter, and am planning to take a third course with her this semester, “Jewish Narratives in Pop Culture: Winter Spring Edition.”

Elisha’s Open Circle Jewish Learning class, “Portrayals of Jewish Mothers: From the Bible to the Borscht Belt,” was my entryway into Hebrew College. Elisha is a skilled teacher, and what I have learned from her goes beyond the excellent content. As a college instructor, I want to become a better teacher. Watching Elisha facilitate discussions in ways that enable us to express our thoughts and  empowering everyone to contribute, while simultaneously moving the discussion along is like watching an artist and their creation. Last semester, I took Elisha’s Open Circle course, “Jewish Narratives in Pop Culture: From Shtisel to Sex and the City”, an examination of how Jews and Judaism are portrayed in pop culture. I am excited to continue learning with her on this topic this winter and spring in the second installment of the course. Elisha’s creates a safe and fun space for exploration and learning. These classes penetrate and leave a lasting impression. They are a true Torah for life.

As for me, I no longer identify as an evangelical Christian, but neither have I converted to Judaism. For now, my journey continues.


Jim Bunton, MDiv, is Adjunct Instructor of World Religion at Des Moines Area Community College. “Jewish Narratives in Pop Culture: Winter Spring edition” begins Monday February 12. Learn more and register here and view more Adult Learning winter/spring 2024 courses on our online course catalog.

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