Jewish learning The Small Act of Kindness in Learning Together
In Fall, 2022, feeling “Zoomed-Out,” I jumped at the chance to take Rabbi Sonia Saltzman’s Hebrew College Open Circle Jewish Learning class, which she held in person at Temple Emanuel in Newton MA. Titled “Stepping Forward: Repairing What Is Broken and Restoring What We’ve Lost,” the six-week course focused on the responses our tradition provides to a central question of social justice: What do we do when our world is on fire?
In her course description, Rabbi Sonia `08 acknowledged the toll Covid-19 has taken on us, perhaps even sapping some of the energy we need to do the hard work of social action. She understood we might feel discouraged in the face of unrelenting social and global challenges, that it can be difficult to feel hopeful about making change and repairing the world.
But just by virtue of its in-person format, the class did its own repair work, for it restored human connections the pandemic had severed. Our group was able to engage in the kind of intimate, spontaneous conversation rarely possible on Zoom.
From day one, we shared our own backgrounds, the values that led us to commit to social justice, and the barriers that may hold us back from full engagement and activism. Throughout the course, we put ancient and contemporary texts in conversation with one another to see how a moral obligation to help the vulnerable and fight oppression is rooted in Jewish tradition. Our lived experiences and the written texts became a powerful mix, deepening our understanding, empathy, and commitment.
Perhaps the highlight for me came from one of those spontaneous interactions I mentioned when a classmate talked about a sermon given by Hebrew College rabbinical alumna Rav-Hazzan Aliza Berger of Temple Emanuel, in which she discussed the power of random acts of kindness. Although we often think we need to do something big (like raising a lot of money) in order to have a meaningful impact, even the smallest gesture—smiling at a store clerk, holding the door for a stranger—can make a difference in a person’s life and restore our faith in humanity.
I am grateful to Rabbi Sonia for her small act of kindness in bringing us together to participate in this superbly structured class.
Rabbi Sonia Saltzman’s upcoming class, “This is in the Talmud? Rabbinic Stories that are Cringeworthy, Surprising and Enlightening,” begins Tuesday May 2nd, 7:30-9:00 p.m. and meets in person at Temple Emanuel in Newton, MA. There are limited spaces available.
Ruth Spack, a retired professor of English, teaches writing in the Myra Kraft Transitional Year Program at Brandeis University. After a long and fulfilling career as an academic writer, she now focuses exclusively on creative writing. Her most recent story, “Lifesaving,” was published in Jewish Fiction.net.