Open Circle Jewish Learning

Open Circle Jewish Learning, sponsored by Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP), brings together small groups of curious, engaged learners with exceptional educators to dive into an array of compelling topics and practices. Choose a class or create your own Open Circle with seven friends or colleagues.

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Open Circle Jewish Learning
  • time Adults of all ages
  • location Living rooms, synagogues, and community spaces
  • duration 6 to 18 Sessions

Current Offerings:

Please scroll down for full course descriptions. 

Course Name Instructor Location Time Register Link
The Case for Reparations: Talmud and Today’s America Alona Weimer Private Residence in Porter Square Tuesdays, 7-8:30 p.m., May 7, 14, 21, 28, and June 4, 11, 18. Register
Crises of Leadership in the Wilderness: From Exodus to the Book of Numbers: Intermediate Level Rachel Adelman Hebrew College Mondays, 4-5:30 p.m., September 9, 16, 23; October 28; November 4, 11, 18; December 2, 9, 16 Register
Cultivating an Authentic Relationship to Self, Others and God through the  Lens of the Hebrew Months Ketriellah Goldfeder Private residence, Sharon Sundays, 7:30-9 p.m., July 7, 14; August 4, 11, 18, 25  Register
The Jewish Road to Character: A Journey into the Practice and Study of Mussar Rabbi Eric S. Gurvis Temple Emanuel, Newton Thursdays, 7:45-9:15 p.m., October 24; November 7, 21; December 5, 19; January 2, 16, 30 Register
Parashat Ha-Shavua Through a Mussar Lens Rabbi Eric S. Gurvis Temple Emanuel – Newton Mondays, 10-11:30 a.m., Oct. 28; Nov. 2, 11, 18, 25; and Dec. 2, 9, 16. Register
Resilience: A Workshop for Jewish Urban Educators Rabbis Leora Abelson, Shahar Colt, Laura Bellows, and Daniel Schaefer Private Residence, Jamaica Plain Saturdays, May 11, 18, 25; and June 1, 8, 15. Register
Spiraling Through Time: Radically Rethinking Our Relationship to Land Rabbi Getzel Davis and Leora Mallach Hebrew College Tuesdays, 7-8:30 p.m., May 21, 28; and June 4, 11, 18, and 25 Register
Torah for the Apocalypse: Jewish Wisdom for Queer Survival Elie Leaderman-Bray and Emily Rogal Private Residence, Cambridge Tuesdays, 7:30-9 p.m., April 30 – June 18 Register

Course Descriptions:

Mindfulness and Mysticism Circles

Discover meditation, mysticism, and mussar, a Jewish spiritual discipline through which to nurture the soul, the spirit, and the capacity to live mindfully.

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. 

Previously offered with Nancy Weiss at a private residence in Lexington and with David Jaffe at a private residence in Sharon.

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

These sessions will include Torah text study, mindfulness and body centered exercises, journaling and compassionate listening partnerships to help cultivate an authentic relationship with self, others and God.

  • When: Sundays, 7:30-9 p.m.,

    July 7, 14; August 4, 11, 18, 25

  • Where: Private Residence in Sharon
  • Instructor: Ketriellah Goldfeder


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.

  • When: Thursdays, 7:45-9:15 p.m.,

    October 24; November 7, 21; December 5, 19; January 2, 16, 30

  • Where: Temple Emanuel, Newton
  • Instructor: Rabbi Eric S. Gurvis


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 with Merry Arnold at Temple Sinai, Brookline.

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 with Rabbi Eric Gurvis at Temple Isaiah, Lexington, and Spring 2019 with Rabbi Eric Gurvis at Beth El Temple Center, Belmont. 

Previously offered in Fall 2018 wth Nina Piken at a private residence in Lexington; with Ronit Ziv-Kreger at a private residence in Sharon; and with Rabbi Marcia Plumb at Temple Shir Tikvah, Winchester.

This group builds on previous Mussar Va’ad experience in pursuit of this inspiring and rich Jewish spiritual discipline that helps us to nurture the depth of soul and spirit. In year 3 we circle back to a few middot (soul-traits) from previous years as well as expand our understanding practice with new middot to be chosen by the group.

  • When: Thursdays, 10-11:30 a.m.,

    October 24; November 7, 21; December 5, 19; January 2, 16, 30

  • Where: Temple Emanuel, Newton
  • Instructor: Rabbi Eric S. Gurvis

Registration FULL.

The Mussar tradition emphasizes the refinement one’s
personal attributes and the development of middot or
spiritual qualities such as humility, patience, gratitude,
equanimity, and others.  In this series, we will explore
the weekly Torah portion through the lens of Mussar,
and the teaching of classic Mussar texts and teachers.
Each week we will explore the Torah portion from the
vantage point of a particular middah (soul-trait, or
quality) No previous Mussar experience is necessary.
All texts will be presented in English translation.

  • When: Mondays, 10-11:30 a.m.,

    Oct. 28; Nov. 2, 11, 18, 25; and Dec. 2, 9, 16.

  • Where: Temple Emanuel, Newton
  • Instructor: Rabbi Eric S. Gurvis


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. 

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. 

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, and Sfat Emet. Each text we encounter will offer insight into our psycho-spiritual lives with the aspiration that our own interiority will be illuminated and expanded though its study. We will look at Moses, Miriam, Pharaoh and other biblical characters and locations as archetypes. What do Egypt/Mitzrayim and the Wilderness/Midbar have to do with us? Is God’s Presence found in the text? What do the texts reveal about faith and doubt, belief, our inclinations toward good and evil? The class will utilize music, meditation, hevruta (paired) study and group discussion. Six-weeks at a private home. Limited to ten participants.

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

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. 

Contact Rabbi Natan Margalit, Director of Open Circle Jewish Learning, at

Arts and Culture Circles

Experience Israeli film, poetry and short stories; examine the works of Jewish authors and artists around the globe; and analyze the connections between literature and the Bible.

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

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

Contact Rabbi Natan Margalit, Director of Open Circle Jewish Learning, at

Texts and Traditions Circles

Explore Jewish rituals, practices and values, such as those surrounding Shabbat, death and grief, the start of a new month, and ritual immersion. Or delve into vibrant Jewish texts, including the Torah, Talmud, and contemporary Jewish thought.

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

This course explores crises in leadership in the Torah, from populist revolts to rivalry on high. We will review the sin of the Golden Calf and the breaking of the Tablets and Moses’ response to the ministering women and their gift of mirrors. We will also address several crises in the desert sojourn: the grumblings for meat, questions of prophecy, the sin of the spies, and Korah’s rebellion. Readings will draw from classic and modern sources. Prior text experience with the Hebrew Bible or Meah course required.

  • When: Mondays, 4-5:30 p.m., September 9, 16, 23; October 28; November 4, 11, 18; December 2, 9, 16
  • Where: Hebrew College
  • Instructor: Rachel Adelman


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

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.

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.

Last offered Fall 2018 with Layah Lipsker at Hebrew College, Newton.

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.

Rabbi Becky Silverstein at Mayyim Hayyim, 1838 Washington Street, Newton.

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.

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 with
Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld at Hebrew College, Newton. 

Last offered Fall 2018 with Layah Lipsker at Hebrew College, Newton. 

This longstanding group continues to do Jewish learning around Torah, prayer, Israel, and current events through a Jewish lens.
Last offered Fall 2018 with Rabbi Todd A. Markley at a private residence in Needham. 

Contact Rabbi Natan Margalit, Director of Open Circle Jewish Learning, at

Social Action Circles

Join together with your peers to learn about the importance of the practice of tikkun olam (repair the world), tzedek (justice), and tzedakah (charity) in Jewish tradition, work with community organizers in local advocacy organizations, and make a difference through a meaningful social action activity on a specific theme.

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!

  • When: Tuesdays, 7-8:30 p.m., May 7 – June 18
  • Where: Private Residence in Porter Square
  • Instructor: Alona Weimer

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.

  • When: Saturdays, 7:00-8:30 p.m., May 11, May 18, May 25, June 1, June 8, and June 15
  • Location: Private Residence in Jamaica Plain
  • Fee: $80. Financial assistance available upon request
  • Instructors: Rabbis Leora AbelsonShahar ColtLaura Bellows, and Daniel Schaefer

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.

  • When: Sundays, 1-6 p.m., May 12 and May 19
  • Where: Temple Beth Zion, 1566 Beacon St, Brookline
  • This course is free

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.

  • When: Tuesdays, 7-8:30 p.m., May 21, May 28, June 4, June 11, June 18, June 25.
  • Where: Hebrew College, Room 104
  • Fee: $80. Financial assistance available upon request
  • Instructors: Rabbi Getzel Davis & Leora Mallach

We often hear about immigrants’ rights, gun violence prevention, gender rights, and housing on the national level. But what about the local level? What Massachusetts laws address these issues? Join JALSA (the Jewish Alliance for Legal and Social Action) for an Open Circle Social Action Class in which we’ll look at local Massachusetts legislation through a Jewish lens. Led by JALSA’s Director of Communications Rachael Dubinsky and Program & Outreach Coordinator David Albright, this class will  help us to see what Jewish tradition offers in understanding local legislation and inspire us to take Jewishly-inspired action to make our voices heard in the legislative process.

  • When: Thursdays, 7-9 p.m., May 30-June 27, as well as Friday, June 28 for a Shabbat experience
  • Where: Private Residence in Cambridge
  • Fee: $80. Financial assistance available upon request
  • Instructors: Rachael Dubinsky and David Albright

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.

  • When: Tuesdays, 7:30-9 p.m., April 30 – June 18
  • Where: Private Residence in Cambridge
  • Co-Facilitators: Elie Leaderman-Bray and Emily Rogal

Contact Natan Margalit, Director of Open Circle Jewish Learning, at

The insights from my class continued to provide spiritual and intellectual nourishment throughout the week, enhancing my personal conversations with friends, family, colleagues, and even spilled over into social media posts

– Arinne Braverman, Jewish educator and consultant

Want to learn more about Open Circle Jewish Learning?

If you need additional information or want to create your own salon, please contact Rabbi Natan Margalit, Director of Open Circle Jewish Learning, at

For questions about registration, please contact Helaine Denenberg, Administrative Coordinator of Open Circle Jewish Learning, at