Boston’s Financial District is known for its sleek skyscrapers and business professionals constantly on the move. But in the heart of all the hustle and bustle, a group of adult learners takes time to study traditional Jewish texts at The Rabbi Samuel Chiel (zt'’l) Genesis Forum, a free lunchtime learning series at CJP.
Students come from Greater Boston and even as far away as New Hampshire, and are a mix of “nine-to-fivers” and retirees. Donna Rebibo is one of the students who works downtown, and she has been engaged with The Genesis Forum for more than ten years.
“It’s an amazing program and it always makes my day. You come in stressed out and when you leave you feel you have learned something valuable and that you’ve touched something eternal. It’s a really special feeling,” she says.
This year, the program is marking its 20th anniversary of teaching biblical and rabbinic texts to anyone who wants to join in.
“The fact that CJP becomes a Beit Midrash, a house of study, every other Wednesday, sends a strong message about the importance of adult Jewish learning,” says Rabbi Daniel Lehmann, President of Hebrew College and Genesis Forum instructor. “We’re looking at our past, seeing it reflected in our present, and ensuring our tradition of debate and discussion continues.”
A rich history
The program is named for Rabbi Samuel Chiel (zt''l), who helped to found it and was CJP’s Scholar-in-Residence after retiring from Temple Emanuel in Newton. One of Rabbi Chiel’s special gifts was taking the wisdom and lessons from Jewish texts and helping people see how the ideas related to their own lives.
This year’s Genesis Forum is focused on the ideas of justice and responsibility, and Seder Nezikin, the mishnaic order of Torts and Damages. Over the years, scholars and participants have studied texts from the Torah and the Talmud and explored the Jewish festive cycle, the life cycle, and Jewish history.
Rabbi Benjamin Samuels has helped organize and has taught The Genesis Forum for 18 years. He says serving the whole community of learners is the key to the program’s success. “With a faculty of some of the best and brightest Jewish thinkers in Greater Boston, including from Hebrew College, we’re making the program accessible to beginners and also meaningful for experienced students.”
“Any teacher needs to find great inspiration from their students”
One of the appeals of the program is its accessibility. Before coming to The Genesis Forum, Donna had not formally studied the Jewish texts, but she had read a lot.
“The Forum synthesizes things I’ve heard or read in the past and helps me to really see the history. And there is a variety of teachers and teaching styles, which is also fascinating,” Donna says.
“Any teacher needs to find great inspiration from their students, and it’s easy at CJP because they come with dedication and enthusiasm,” says Rabbi Samuels. “They are so interested, and they share very insightful questions and observations.”
Going strong for the next twenty years
The Genesis Forum continues to be popular because it is an open, inclusive, and sophisticated study of foundational Jewish texts and ideas. Rabbi Chiel’s original vision and passion are carried forward by the faculty and the students.
“It’s a wonderful thing to be able to learn something new – and there’s always something new,” says Donna. “I have spoken to all my friends about The Genesis Forum, and in synagogue I’ve talked about the topics that were discussed. I recommend it to everyone.”
Intrigued? Join us! There are five sessions of The Genesis Forum left in this season. Learn more about the program and sign up today!
Rabbi Samuel Chiel (zt”I)
Rabbi Samuel Chiel (zt”l) was CJP’s scholar-in-residence for many years and was instrumental in founding the Genesis Forum.
Rabbi Chiel left us with a glorious legacy of communal service and teaching. At the beginning of his rabbinical career, he also proudly served his country as a Jewish chaplain in the U.S. Armed Forces. He went on to become the beloved spiritual leader of Temple Emanuel of Newton for 27 years.
He never stopped learning and teaching, and was involved in the training of young rabbis and the continuing education of mid-career rabbis through the Rabbinic Institute at Hebrew College, as well as serving as the Jewish scholar for New Directions in Catholic-Jewish Dialogue, an interfaith program co-sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League and the Archdiocese of Greater Boston.
Rabbi Chiel was renowned for his unique combination of erudition, insight, empathy and warmth. He was a master speaker and teacher of Torah, as well as a great believer in and advocate for the elevating and healing powers of spiritual practice. Through our study, we hope to memorialize Rabbi Chiel for eternal blessing.