Community Blog New social action program reflects Hebrew College’s enduring commitment to “areivut”

By Sydney Gross
Open Circle Social Action banner

Before Rabbinical School, Rabbi Daniel Schaefer, Rab‘18, worked at a Washington D.C. high school through Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps, where he became passionate about urban education and community building. Rabbi Getzel Davis, Rab‘13, was an Adamah fellow at the Isabella Freedman Center, where he developed his interests in the environment, climate change, and food insecurity, and their connection to Jewish learning and spiritual practice.

Now the two Hebrew College alums are instructors in Open Circle Social Action, a new Hebrew College community learning program supported by CJP, which brings together small groups of curious, engaged learners with exceptional educators to dive into an array of compelling topics and practices. The program offers small group conversations in living rooms and other spaces throughout Greater Boston, where young adults can find meaning, build connection, and take action on critical social justice issues.

“People become rabbis because they want to make the world a better place, and they’re passionate about it,” said Rabbi Davis, who is co-teaching Spiraling Though Time: Radically Rethinking Our Relationship to Land this spring. “A deep dive into the rabbinic tradition can teach us about what our modern society is missing and, vice-versa, reading biblical and rabbinical texts can help us understand how to be good Jews today.”

“Judaism asks us to imagine, and even remember what it was like to be slaves and to experience freedom. That foundational experience of liberation is something that we return to every day in our liturgy, and every year, most notably on Passover,” added Rabbi Schaefer, who is co-teaching Organizing and Resilience: A Workshop for Jewish Urban Educators. “For us to talk about liberation, without working towards it for all people, would make the words and holidays ring hollow for me. By working for social change, I’m not only doing what I can to help others, but breathing new life into the central stories and teachings of Judaism.”

The new program reflects Hebrew College’s enduring commitment to areivut (communal responsibility) as a core value. In both community education programs and graduate leadership programs, Jewish learning is seen not only as an academic endeavor, but as a process that invites students to ask and wrestle with questions of meaning, purpose, and personal responsibility.

One of Hebrew College’s signature youth programs, JTFGB (Jewish Teen Foundation of Greater Boston), gives teens an opportunity to learn about leadership, philanthropy, and social justice, and engage in a year-long program that combines study and social action. In the Rabbinical School, students, community members, and local clergy come together to explore the connection between spirituality and social justice, through a unique certificate program generously supported by the Rita and Stanley Kaplan Foundation.

“Throughout our educational programs, students and teachers are asking: How can Torah speak to a world in need of healing and hope? How can we be part of the repair that is needed? How can we be of service?” said Hebrew College President Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld. “I am inspired by the fact that, here in Boston and beyond, we are part of nurturing a Jewish community in which people are asking these questions — and searching for answers — together.”

“Open Circle Social Action will create programming for young adults who seek to engage in personally meaningful and socially responsible activity, who wish to deepen their knowledge of Jewish values, and who want to take action on issues they care about,” added Bernice Lerner, Dean of Adult Learning at Hebrew College. “We want to channel the sense of urgency felt among young Jews and empower them to seek and find insight and direction in ancient and contemporary Jewish sources of wisdom.”

CJP shares this commitment, and is dedicated to working with partner organizations throughout Boston, including Hebrew College, to address critical issues and repair the world.

“When we consider the ways in which we can try to repair our broken world, grounding our work in the texts of our tradition both elevates the quality of the work we do and creates a sense of shared community, each doing our own part,” said Elyse Winick, Senior Director of Learning and Engagement at CJP.

Each Open Circle Social Action course will feature traditional and contemporary Jewish texts that relate to contemporary issue being studied, as well as a thoughtfully-planned meaningful hands-on activity related to that cause. They will also be an opportunity to build community around a meaningful issue.

“Judaism calls us to care for our planet. With global climate change being one of the biggest issues facing humanity right now, we’re going to get our hands in the ground while at the same time combating waste and helping people with food insecurity,” Rabbi Davis said. “Also dealing with the issue of ‘thou shall not waste,’ which is a deep Jewish value. Helping our farmers to be more efficient so they can feed more people.”

“Teachers have incredibly hard jobs and so much is expected of them beyond lesson planning and classroom management. For me, it was so helpful to have a cohort of Jewish peers outside the school who could support me in my work. I loved learning with them and connecting the lessons of our tradition about helping the stranger, pursuing justice, valuing education, and working for redemption to the work that I did with my students,” added Rabbi Schaefer. “I’m very excited to study Jewish texts with Boston teachers and help offer that experience to a new cohort of teachers and social change makers.”

The following Open Circle Social Action classes are being offered in Spring 2018:


Learn more or register 

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