Jewish learning The Year of My Jewish Learning Journey

By Kelse Petersen

kelse-petersonChesedKaddishmikvaotHadassahKashrut: less than a year ago, these words felt like a foreign language on my tongue—unfamiliar and difficult to pronounce. When I made the decision to enroll in Elisha Gechter’s Open Circle Jewish Learning course “Shabbat to Shavuot: Jewish Practices and Personalities Across the Globe” at Hebrew College last March, I was slightly nervous that my lack of Judaism might be a hindrance to other participants. Raised by a Buddhist mother and agnostic father, I could hardly describe the difference between Leviticus and Deuteronomy, let alone discuss the significance of the Sabbath.

However, from the first few minutes of meeting Elisha and the other class participants on Zoom, I felt completely at ease and eager to dive into the meaningful breadth of topics presented to us. Elisha fostered a warm and encouraging learning environment, where I felt comfortable asking any question related to Judaism. Each week, we focused on a specific concept or holiday, such as a mikvehbris, or the Jewish new year. After reading about each topic through the lens of the Hebrew Bible, we then explored contemporary practices to consider the transformation of each topic through time.

I enjoyed the many historical photos, musical samples, and short video clips that went along with our learning and all the stories and conversations that came with them. Our weekly sessions quickly became the highlight of my week, where I could look forward to chatting with the welcoming community of women in Elisha’s class, while also curled up with wine, tea, or popcorn—often in the comfort of our pajamas! This tradition continued in the most recent class I took with Elisha—”From Ruth to RBG: Jewish Women and Justice,” in which we explored the biographies and impact of Jewish women through the millenia, including Henrietta Szold, Bella Abzug, Alicia Garza—and finishing with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, of course!

As we enter the final days of December, I now like to think of 2021 as the year of my Jewish learning journey. Today, I no longer pause before considering the guttural pronunciation of chesed; rather, I find myself more consciously practicing loving kindness towards myself and others (not the easiest task when you’re a commuter in Greater Boston!). Every Friday, I try to take a few hours away from screens and instead get lost in a good book. I recently finished The Sabbath, by Abraham Joshua Heschel, and have a small collection of Jewish books waiting to read next.

I am immensely grateful to Elisha and our community of learners, which is why I made a gift to Hebrew College in her honor with tikkun olam in mind—a concept I first learned about in Elisha’s course. Since her wonderful eight-week class, I have enrolled in two more Zoom courses with Hebrew College, and can’t wait for her next Open Circle Jewish Learning course in the Spring of 2022— “From Miriam to Marlee Matlin: Brave and Brilliant Jewish Women.”

Kelsey Petersen is on a Jewish learning journey and enjoying every moment. Originally from the Bay Area, she moved to greater Boston in 2017 to pursue her MA in art history and museum studies. She now works in non-profit fundraising. When not at work, you will find Kelsey on her bike or curled up with a good book. 

Please consider making a gift to Hebrew College by December 31 to support our adult learning programs or in thanks to favorite teacher. All new and increased gifts will help unlock an $18,000 challenge match. And watch for a full list of our winter/spring community education offerings in January.

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