Learning has always been one of the cornerstones of Jewish life. Engaging with Jewish texts and traditions from the past 3,000 years can bring so much to our lives: it can enrich our relationships, guide the way we parent, and shed light on life choices big and small. It even helps us build community when we learn together.
There’s a hunger for these benefits in our Greater Boston Jewish community. But not everyone wants to go back to the Hebrew school classrooms they remember from their childhood — or that they never set foot in.
Take, for example, Elizabeth Bailey Strzetelski, who grew up in the Episcopal church but is now half of an interfaith couple. Even though her husband was raised in a Jewish family, they found it difficult to know where to start when raising their son Jewishly.
Others, like Sara Bernstein, a CJP volunteer leader, look for new ways to connect with Jewish life after their children leave home. When the built-in community of their schools and activities, bar mitzvahs and graduations was over, it was time to figure out what communities she wanted to build for herself.
New Opportunities for A Changing Community
The 2015 Greater Boston Jewish Community Study results show that, as a whole, we are engaging in increasingly diverse ways. Laura Baum, CJP’s Associate Vice President of Learning and Engagement, says that “we have an obligation to focus on people and then connect them to Jewish life in whatever way makes the most sense for them. We’re seeing so much energy and excitement about it in our community, not just through the content that we offer, but also through the ways that we deliver it and how we help people connect.”
Together with our partners, CJP has been developing a wide range of opportunities for learning and connecting. A few highlights include:
- Open Circle Jewish Learning brings together small groups and energetic educators in living rooms and libraries to tackle big questions. Some groups have preselected topics, but others allow the group to design their own curriculum, ensuring that participants get exactly what they want to out of the course.
- Me’ah offerings have expanded from the Classic two-year, in-person course to also include one semester Select class options. There’s even an Online option that lets students engage from the comfort of their homes.
- Parenting Through a Jewish Lens supports parents of all backgrounds who want to explore with expert instructors how Jewish values can positively impact their families.
CJP has brought all of these offerings and many more together in the new Learn On campaign website so learners of all ages can find exactly what they’ve been looking for.
After an online search led Elizabeth to an opportunity for her son to start his Jewish education, she signed up for a class herself.
“It helped us begin our journey towards identifying as a Jewish family. The learning helped me feel empowered. We now have a Jewish community.”
Since then, she’s continued to find new ways to learn. “I’m not sure where my path will lead me, but I’m open and hungry for more.”
After returning from a CJP Women’s Philanthropy mission in 2013, Sara and a group of other women whose children had left home wanted to keep learning together. So they joined Me’ah as a group, and a few years later, they’re still learning together with Tzion, a CJP supported class about Israel. Sara is part of another gathering of women that has started their own Open Circle Learning Group. They meet in individual homes and discuss issues facing American Jews today.
“It’s a really wonderful community to have built,” she says, “and CJP is the convener.”
Allison Hirsch, co-chair of CJP’s Jewish Learning and Engagement Commission, also sees CJP’s role as a connector as one of the biggest assets of the Learn On campaign.
“CJP looks at Jewish learning holistically, both for individuals and for the community,” she says. “We are figuring out how to engage more people who would be great participants but who haven’t found their place yet. That’s the goal.”
Read On, CJP’s annual community-wide book club that’s reading Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer in its inaugural year, is doing just that, she says.
“Read On will culminate with a big discussion event with the author, and in the first few days after the event was announced, hundreds of people had already registered. Most of them are people who are new to CJP learning programs, so it looks like we’re on the right path.”
To discover the next way you’ll engage with Jewish learning, visit Learn On. You can also try out Search On, an online concierge that matches you with the best adult learning opportunities for your schedule and interests.