Open Circle Jewish Learning

Open Circle Jewish Learning brings together groups of curious, engaged learners with exceptional educators to dive into an array of compelling topics and practices.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, all Hebrew College Community Learning classes, including Open Circle Jewish Learning, are currently being offered online, including Fall 2020 and Winter/Spring 2021 classes.

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Open Circle Jewish Learning
  • time Adults of all ages
  • location Virtual living rooms, synagogues, and community spaces
  • duration No more than 8 Sessions, 1.5 hours each
Read winter/spring 2021 course descriptions

About Open Circle Jewish Learning

Find meaning in Jewish sources of wisdom through approachable conversations in living rooms, synagogues, and community centers throughout the Greater Boston Area. Open Circle Jewish Learning includes:

  • Mindfulness and mysticism circles
  • Politics and history circles
  • Arts and culture circles
  • Social action circles
  • Texts and traditions circles
  • Young Adult circles

You can also bring together a group of friends and create your own salon on any topic ranging from Israel to the Torah.

Please note that while we warmly welcome inquiries from new teachers and groups, we may have to place some interested groups on a wait list for the spring due to the great interest in the Greater Boston community for our classes.

Roslyn Weiner, Open Circle Jewish Learning Instructor

The participants witnessed each other patiently, reflecting silently and then articulately; they openly shared their feelings and observations with others who were strangers only 30 minutes before. Through that openness, they co-created virtual community. Some participants took time to journal about their experiences; I also heard from one person afterwards who shared that he was writing his own poetry as a response to the experience of being quarantined.

Read More: Caring for Our Spirits in a Virtual Community


Past Open Circle Jewish Learning Courses

It is time to shatter the complacency of the modern age! We need to address the loneliness and isolation of living a life without God by allowing Heschel to help us once again feel the presence of God’s living light and teaching. This involves both learning how to think and how to read religiously in such a way as to allow us to respond more effectively to the ultimate questions of our lives. This will require a careful reading and study, an ambitious reading over a ten week period, of the two leading works of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel — Man is Not Alone and God in Search of Man. We will quickly recognize that Heschel, even in his prose, is a poet. And we will find a “blazing fervor” where Heschel will reintroduce us to the experience of wonder so as to provide a life-long resource for reflection and prayer. This is the goal of the class!

Last offered in Fall 2018 with Rabbi Dov Y. Bard at Boston Synagogue. 

Mussar (ethics) is the Jewish wisdom tradition that teaches us how to act according to our highest values. In this advanced course, we will continue to explore specific character traits and give students a chance to work on aligning behaviors with our core values. Through this practice we will see the impact of Mussar on our lives, in our homes and on our thinking and behavior.

Various groups meeting in Belmont, Needham, Newton, and Sudbury with Rabbi Eric Gurvis and in Newton with Rabbi Marcia Plumb. 2019-2020.

Take a personal journey alongside the Jews who wandered in the desert. What does it mean to wander? How does personal and communal transformation take place? Discover the Kaballah of wandering in order to discover your essence.

With Layah Lipsker in Swampscott. 2019-2020.

Last offered in Spring 2018 with David Bernat at the Boston Synagogue.

Previously offered in Spring 2019 with Rachel Adelman at Hebrew College.

This course will engage with the current case for reparations in America, and delve into texts and traditions to better understand what Judaism says about our duty to intervene in cases of theft and wealth hoarding, and how we can repair our world. Analyzing passages from Talmud, we will bring its ideas about retribution and reparations to the contemporary moment. Partnering with Kavod and Ujima, we will learn about current efforts to redistribute wealth and move towards organizing a community-constructed action project which implements the outcomes of our learning in our local communities. Regardless of your previous familiarity with Jewish texts or organizing, enjoy meaningful discussion and dive into action!

With Alona Weimer in Porter Square, Spring 2019.

This series of six classes will explore the issues of climate justice and climate equity in the context of Jewish tradition. Rabbi Katy Allen, Jewish Climate Action Network – MA, will facilitate and provide a Jewish lens for consideration of issues raised by guest leaders of frontline communities, who will share their stories and the work they are doing. Guest speakers will be: Leilani Mroczkowski, Food Justice Organizer – Youth Coordinator, Chelsea Green Roots; Andrea Nyamekye, Campaign and Policy Director, Neighbor to Neighbor; Dwaign Tyndal, Executive Director, Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE); and Rev. Vernon K. Walker, Program Manager, Communities Responding to Extreme Weather (CREW).

With Rabbi Katy Allen at Hebrew College, Fall 2019.

We are a multigenerational group of women who have previously served as Presidents or Campaign Chairs of CJP’s Womens Philanthropy (previously known as Women’s Division). We have been learning together for over 5 years. This year we will explore how we, as adult modern Jewish women embrace faith, life & family, using biblical texts, modern readings & Kabbalah to inform our discussions.

With Layah Lipsker in Brookline, Fall 2019.

The class will explore contemporary issues of Jewish Life, Living and Ritual.

With Rabbi Lila Kagedan in Needham/Newton. 2019-2020.

Last offered in Fall 2018 with Rabbi Ariel Burger at Congregation Sha’aray Shalom, Hingham. 

How do we think about faith as modern Jews? Explore biblical and Talmudic texts, plus the philosophy of Maimonodes, Rabbi Soloveitchik and Heschel, as we tackle the question of what it means to think like a Jew.

With Layah Lipsker in Needham, 2019-2020.

In this class we’ll explore Jewish ideas and practices relating to the body, especially questions of sexuality and gender. Through classic texts of Tanakh, Midrash, Talmud, Kabbalah and Hasidut, as well as a secondary readings by contemporary scholars and writers, we’ll ask such question as how Judaism has approached non-binary gender identities, how ideas of masculine and feminine have been woven into the fabric of texts from Torah to Kabbalah, how sexual pleasure has been valued as well as controlled, and more. All primary source texts will have English translations.

With Rabbi Natan Margalit, Temple Sinai in Brookline, 2019-2020.

In this class we’ll explore a variety of ways that Jews throughout the centuries have wrestled with, sought out and puzzled over the experience of God, the sacred or holiness. We’ll look at classic stories, texts of prayers and meditations, as well as other paths for engaging the heart, mind and spirit with the mysterious and ineffable sense of holiness. Going from biblical stories to Hassidic and Kabbalistic spiritual quests, we’ll relate these past experiences to our own experiences of, and questions about, finding the sacred.

With Rabbi Natan Margalit in Brookline, 2019-2020

Join Rabbinical Student Matt Ponak to learn about the ancient Jewish art of rest, relaxation, and pleasure that we call Shabbat. This class is an offering of Jewish wisdom for people of all backgrounds. Through spiritual texts, stories, discussion, and Shabbat dinners at Matt’s home, we will learn how to find and embrace an oasis in time.

With Matt Ponak at the Common Street Spiritual Center in Natick, Fall 2019.

How we see ourselves is everything. To be comfortable in one’s skin, one has to be able to manage a shifting identity that must change with every transition. Through biblical narratives, we will explore the challenge of knowing oneself fully, in order to share a light that is unique.

With Layah Lipsker in Swampscott, Fall 2019.

This course takes a look at Israeli society, history and the Israeli relationship with global Jewry through the lens of current events, literary works, and sociological trends. The objective of the course is to provide a historical context while understanding the impact on today’s relationships and the challenges and opportunities of engaging with Israel in all of its complexities.

With Rachel Fish at Hebrew College, 2019-2020.

The JewFood cohort is a great opportunity to make friends while cooking classical recipes from Jewish communities around the world. Each week we will learn about a different Jewish community and cook some of their delicacies. Join us for great food, friendship and learning.

With Rabbi Elie Lehmann at BU Hillel, Fall 2019.

Last offered in Fall 2018 with Lila Kagedan at a private residence. 

We commonly hear the newest spiritually-oriented Jewish organizations and educational institutions describing themselves as “post-denominational.”  But where did Jewish denominations come from? We will look at the European origins of Orthodox, Conservative and Reform movements that would come to dominate Jewish communal life in mid-twentieth century America, at the birth of Mordecai Kaplan’s Reconstructionist movement, and later, of the Renewal movement, in the US.   Our goal is to understand how these building blocks of Jewish communal structures came into place and took the shapes they did, helping individual learners, on their own, to distinguish what they see as “wheat from chaff” in their current functioning.

Last offered Spring 2019 with Rachel Greenblatt at Vilna Shul, Boston.

Mussar is a Jewish spiritual discipline that helps us to nurture depth of soul and spirit. Through the exploration of Jewish wisdom and insight, we develop a way of living that reflects inner-peace, ethical living, and deepened appreciation for life’s blessings.

With Rabbi Eric S. Gurvis at Temple Emanuel, Newton, 2019-2020.

This course will focus on fascinating topics such as the nature of a soul, a different approach to faith, finding one’s purpose, and creating spiritual relationships.

Last offered Spring 2019 with Layah Lipsker at Vilna Shul, Boston.

Explore Jewish lifecycle events, as they are seen through the eyes of the soul’s journey into and out of this physical world. Includes a discussion on reincarnation, heaven, and hell in Jewish thought, as well as our major life cycle events.

With Layah Lipsker at the Vilna Shul and at Hebrew College, 2019-2020.

Mussar (ethics) is the Jewish wisdom tradition that teaches us how to act according to our highest core values. This course will explore specific character traits and will be geared toward exploring how Mussar can help us as parents. No prior knowledge is needed.

With Rabbi Marcia Plumb at The Rashi School, Dedham. 2019-2020.

In our confusing and contentious time, many are seeking to find a greater sense of grounding in core virtues which can guide us, uplift us, and inspire us to become the best persons we can be. In this series, we will delve into the study and practice of some of the Mussar tradition wisdom for our lives in our times. Come travel Mussar’s “Jewish Road to Character” into a profoundly meaningful and nourishing spiritual practice for our Jewish souls, hearts and minds.

Previously offered in Fall 2018 and 2019-2020 with Rabbi Eric Gurvis at Temple Isaiah, Lexington; and in Spring 2019 with Rabbi Eric Gurvis at Beth El Temple Center, Belmont. 

Also previously offered in Fall 2018 with Nina Piken at a private residence in Lexington and with Ronit Ziv-Kreger at a private residence in Sharon.

Offered in 2019-2020 with Rabbi Marcia Plumb at Temple Shir Tikvah, Winchester, and with Laila Goodman at Temple Isaiah, Lexington.

An introduction to Mussar, the study and practice of Jewish ethics and self-development. Mussar offers a practical approach, rooted in Jewish teachings, to enhance our lives by studying and thoughtfully working on traits we wish to develop or improve in ourselves. These range from lovingkindness to curiosity, honor to humility. Join us as we work toward becoming the people we’d like to be!

Previously offered Fall 2018 and Fall 2019 with Merry Arnold at Temple Sinai, Brookline.

This Learning Circle is comprised of couples raising preschool and elementary school-aged children and includes a wide array of learning and discussions around Torah, Jewish ethics and values, holiday celebrations, parenting children, and Jewish perspectives on current events.

With Rabbi Todd Markley in Needham, 2019-2020.

For many queer and trans folks, talking about our bodies can be complicated; even more so in the framework of Jewish practices around menstruation. Join us for study and conversation about niddah (the practice of abstaining from sexual intimacy around the time of menstruation) within the context of queer relationships and bodies. We’ll talk about building healthy, holy relationships as we engage with traditional Jewish texts, voices from the queer community, and our own experiences. This course will focus on queer and trans voices and is open to people of all genders, sexualities, and experiences with menstruation.

Last offered Spring 2019 with Rabbi Becky Silverstein at Mayyim Hayyim, 1838 Washington Street, Newton

Starting in the month of Elul we will journey together towards the High Holidays. Grounding ourselves in text selections from the Talmud, Maimonides, Hasidic Masters, High Holiday liturgy and contemporary voices we will explore what is at the heart of Teshuva – the work of returning. How does Teshuva expand our relationships with each other, ourselves and Divine Presence? Through study, discussion,song and personal reflection we will wrestle with both the challenges and spiritual opportunities of the Yamim Nora’im.

With Rabbi Mona Strick at the Boston Synagogue, Fall 2019.

The question of how we can stay resilient and committed to teaching in the midst of a challenging, at times demoralizing, world is one that deeply preoccupied the ancient rabbis.  It is a question that continues to concern those of us invested in education and justice work today.

This six-session course, open to educators of all backgrounds, will explore how the rabbis navigated, renegotiated and reinvigorated their identities as teachers and activists.  In addition to applying rabbinic frameworks to reflect on our own contemporary realities as public educators in Boston and Cambridge, this class will help us to think and strategize about how to organize our colleagues more effectively in an effort to bring about meaningful institutional and structural change.

With Rabbis Leora AbelsonShahar ColtLaura Bellows, and Daniel Schaefer in Jamaica Plain, Spring 2019.

We will examine the social construction of race — and the consequences of this social construction – throughout history and into the present. We will identify the varied, interlocking ways in which white supremacy operates ideologically, institutionally, internally, and interpersonally in the United States. And we will evaluate our own personal racial identities and our family histories to identify whether and how we have benefited from or been harmed by racism and antisemitism.

Then we will move to action, studying historical examples of Jewish involvement in racial justice work and applying lessons learned to the contemporary needs of the racial justice movement. You will leave with a commitment to concrete action to expand our community’s racial justice work.

At Temple Beth Zion, Brookline, Spring 2019.

The Rabbinic era crucially shaped Judaism as we know it – both Jewish law and practice, and the way Jewish thinkers conceive of our world. How might we characterize “Rabbinic thought”? How did Rabbinic conversations deal with fundamental human questions: who and what is God? How do we relate to the body; to desire; to death and what lies beyond it? Our journey through rabbinic text will take us through a range of Rabbinic responses to these and other questions at the heart of the human spiritual experience.

Last offered Spring 2019 with Shani Rosenbaum at Temple Sinai in Brookline. 

No matter your background, affiliation, or knowledge of Judaism, we all acquire our understanding of God and religion from others. As parents we are entrusted with our children’s souls as well as their bodies, and by embarking on our own spiritual journey, we can better facilitate theirs. In these classes, we will build on our amazing experience in Israel and on the strong bond we have formed as a group, to continue to mine Jewish rituals and texts and see what resonates for us.

With Layah Lipsker in Waban/Boston/Newton/Wayland, 2019-2020.

Mussar is a Jewish spiritual discipline that helps us to nurture depth of soul and spirit. Through the exploration of Jewish wisdom and insight, we develop a way of living that reflects inner-peace, ethical living, and deepened appreciation for life’s blessings.

With Rabbi S. Gurvis at Temple Beth Shalom, Needham, 2019-2020.

This class is based on Alan Morinis’ book Everyday Holiness. It is for those who are new to Mussar or who would like to revisit the middot of Humility, Anger, Trust, Gratitude, Honor and Alacrity.  Theses classes are for those who have completed Season of Mussar I and are ready to dive deeper into their study and practice.

Previously offered.

Through text study of the Shabbat home blessings, with an emphasis on the Friday night kiddush and Saturday morning kiddush, we will deepen our understanding of what we are already doing at home on Friday evenings and/or Saturdays. We will learn texts from Talmud, Midrash and Zohar, which help us to address the following questions: How is Shabbat foundational to the Jewish concept of time? What do the blessings ask of us? What do all the words that we say actually mean? What do these rituals have to do with our lives? What insight can they offer to our own spiritual connections and calling?  Using music, reflection and meditation, we will delve together into the richness of Shabbat lore, Shabbat practice, and Shabbat community.  No Hebrew skills required, but certainly useful.

Last offered Spring 2019 with Lev Friedman at a private residence. 

Join Rabbi Getzel for a 8-class series on Jewish meditation and mysticism. We will gather each week as a community for guided meditation and text study. We will engage with mystical texts from The Zohar, The Baal Shem Tov, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, and the Esh Kodesh, and experiment with their meditative systems and states. No previous experience in meditation or Jewish text study necessary–only authentic curiosity.

With Rabbi Getzel Davis in Cambridge, Fall 2019.

The cycle of the Jewish year provides us with a road-map for spiritual growth and development. Come nourish your soul with song, meditation, and learning as we journey through the Jewish year. Each session will focus on a couple stories and prayers as we mindfully attune our souls to themes of the season.

With Ryan Leszner and Rabbi Daniel Schaefer, Ohabei Shalom, Brookline, 2019-2020.

In this 12-session Mussar course, we will delve into Jewish wisdom texts and spiritual practices designed to help individuals balance key character traits in ways that lead to more fulfilling relationships with oneself, others, one’s community, and God. Mussar is a practice, so to gain the full benefit of this course, planning to practice between sessions, even if only 5 minutes a day, will help us integrate the learning into our lives.

With Ronit Ziv-Kreger, in Sharon, 2019-2020.

How could Shabbat, Shmitah (sabbatical), and agricultural cycles disrupt our assumptions about what it means to own, rest, and relate to the earth and each other? We will delve into rabbinic and biblical agricultural wisdom to inform our contemporary understandings and practice.

With Rabbi Getzel Davis & Leora Mallach at Hebrew College, Spring 2019.

Prior to the High Holidays, it is customary to reflect on our lives and consider the ways in which we have been hurt and have hurt others. We draw up the Google maps for our plans to change and transform, and oftentimes…end up right back where we started. In this class, we will explore the Jewish wisdom and technologies surrounding how we acknowledge, accept, and transform the complicated and beloved patterns of our lives. Through explorations of contemporary texts, Jewish mindfulness (Mussar), and other traditional Jewish spiritual texts and tools, we will spiritually–and if needed literally–develop the tools to dig ourselves out of the ditches we find ourselves in. This class is a partnership with the Riverway Project.

With Emily Rogal in Somerville, Fall 2019.

In this course we will explore the lives and writings of two celebrated religious figures in twentieth-century American life: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel. These remarkable individuals met in the early 1960’s and established a friendship based on shared values and mutual respect. Through our study, we will pursue several key biographical, theological, and political questions: How did each emerge as a public figure? What were their understandings of the relationship between religion and American democracy? What about ritual practice and ethical action? By studying Heschel and King together, we will have the opportunity to learn by way of comparison and contrast—including the impact each had on the other—thus offering us two intriguing models of “spirituality and social justice.”

Last offered Spring 2019 with Rabbi Or Rose at Temple Israel, Natick.

Walk the terrain where the intellect meets the soul with Asiyah’s Rabbi David Curiel and rabbinic intern Matt Ponak in this exploration of chassidic mysticism through the teachings of two early rebbes: Menachem Nochum Twersky, known as the Chernobyler rebbe and Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav. This will be a journey in dropping into the deep end of kabbalah through chassidic thought, with frequent digressions to buoy you along. The course assumes no prior knowledge of the subject or Hebrew; all levels welcome!

With Rabbi David Curiel at Workbar Union, Somerville, Fall 2019.

The Shema — which commands us to bear witness to the oneness of all life — is one of the most essential declarations of our faith as Jews. And yet we live in a contemporary culture that often conspires to makes us feel disconnected — from our deepest selves, from each other, from God, and from the earth. Studying a wide range of classical and contemporary Jewish sources, we will reflect on what gets in the way of our capacity to live with a vibrant awareness of our deep interconnectedness as human beings — and how we might work to cultivate that awareness.

Last offered Spring 2019 and Fall 2019 with Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld at Hebrew College, Newton. 

Join us in reading texts from the Talmud to Allen Ginsberg to Judith Butler and find lessons in queer survival, gender expression, Jewish sex, and gay liberation. We welcome queer community members and allies in the pursuit of Jewish wisdom to journey with us in making sense of where we belong in the Jewish tradition. The course will include information about local Jewish queer activism from Keshet and Eshel.

A non-binary community organizer, Elie will be pulling texts from social struggles, traditional Jewish writing, and modern social theory to explore and strengthen our understandings of Jewish queer survival. An alum of the Join for Justice Fellowship, they have been organizing and facilitating in the Jewish community for 6 years. Elie’s partner Emily Rogal, a second-year graduate student at Harvard Divinity School, will join in facilitation.

With Elie Leaderman-Bray and Emily Rogal in Cambridge, Spring 2019.

We will delve into hidden meanings that lie beneath the simple reading of selected Torah texts through the lenses of Hasidic masters such as The Baal Shem Tov, Degel Machaneh Efraim, Rebbe Nachman, Me’or Einayim, and the Netivot Shalom. Each text we encounter will offer a springboard and/or insight into our psycho-spiritual lives with the aspiration that our own interiority will be illuminated and expanded through its study. The class will utilize music, meditation, hevruta (paired) study and group discussion.

With Rabbi Lev Friedman in Newton, 2019-2020.

Those of us in our fifties, sixties, seventies and beyond can count ourselves as part of a history-making generation—pioneers in understanding and making the most of this “third chapter” of life. These years of aging are full of opportunities for learning, growth and finding new meanings and connections. The Wise Aging program provides resources and support to live the later years with spirit, resilience, and wisdom, drawing upon Jewish texts and traditions as our guides. Topics include: exploring this stage of life; a life review; relationship to one’s body; revitalizing and nourishing relationships; practicing forgiveness; learning to live with loss, change, and death, cultivating wisdom, and leaving a legacy.

Last offered with Debra Rosenblum at a private residence in Arlington. 

Last offered Fall 2018 and 2019-2020 with Layah Lipsker, in Newton. 

Want to learn more about Open Circle Jewish Learning?

If you need additional information or want to create your own course, please email Linna Ettinger, Director of Open Circle Jewish Learning, at Linna can also be reached at 617.559.8813.