Hineni Summer Learning Series Focuses On Democracy

The Summertime Learning Series has been a fixture of Hineni for many years. Even though it’s a program of Talmud Torah of St. Paul, it has toured the Twin Cities, stopping in almost every synagogue in the area with sessions led by rabbis that span denominations.

In preparation for the upcoming presidential election, the theme is Judaism in Partnership With Democracy, which is informed by the research and work of A More Perfect Union: The Jewish Partnership for Democracy

“I’m kind of freaking out about the election and the potential decline or end of democracy as we know it in America,” said Rabbi Debra Rappaport, the director of Hineni. Rappaport said part of her inspiration for this topic was angst around the erosion of the ability for people to work together across differences. She was able to shape that anxiety into a more purposeful and aspirational conversation after she heard Aaron Dorfman, the founder of A More Perfect Union, speak about this topic.

“This is highly relevant for American Jews,” Rappaport said, quoting a paper Dorfman wrote: “Conversations about how to educate our children, how to protect their physical spaces, how to support the State of Israel, how to build vibrant communities are all predicated on a singular assumption that we live in and will continue to live in a society where minority religious communities have the stability and autonomy to thrive.”

“Judaism has so much to teach us about an ethos of inclusion and respect for dialogue. So that perhaps we can regain a sense of shared purpose and collaborate across differences.”

The series starts on Sunday, June 23, with Rabbi Jeffrey Schein from the Mordecai Kaplan Center for Jewish Peoplehood leading “Democracy as the Religion of America.” There are 10 sessions throughout the summer led by nine different clergy members. Rappaport is leading two sessions stemming from the “unalienable rights” of Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness named in the Declaration of Independence. Two of the sessions are being led by new clergy who start at their synagogues on July 1 – Bet Shalom’s Rabbi Samantha Thal and Adath Jeshurun’s Rabbi Sammy Seid.

The planning for the series starts in late winter; Rappaport shared her plans with fellow clergy and opened the doors for them to pick their topic, or suggest one that fits under the umbrella of democracy. 

The classes run through Aug. 27, and take place at the synagogue of the teaching rabbi; the full schedule and registration is online. Schein’s opening class and two others are also available on Zoom. 

Schein and Rappaport’s classes are meeting in the new Beit HaMidrash at Talmud Torah St. Paul. TTSP now has its own, dedicated, accessible entrance to the building at the corner of Hamline Avenue and Ford Parkway.

“Our new Beit HaMidrash is decorated with art and plaques culled from the TTSP building. We brought the aron hakodesh (ark) and the ner tamid (eternal light, made by local glass artist Peter Zelle) and a ton of books from the old TTSP library. The room is furnished with the round tables and chairs from the old library,” she said. “It’s a big deal to have this bright beautiful space,” Rappaport said. “When I took the position last September, I was told I wouldn’t have an office space and there would be nowhere for Hineni programs to convene within our building. So the first classes I coordinated were in the two campuses of the Minnesota JCC, which was terrific. But it’s really nice to have our own space where we can learn together in a Jewish library with deep roots in the community. It’s connected with a lineage, even though it’s also a totally fresh space.”

Beit HaMidrash at TTSP will open 30 minutes before each class there so people can see the transformation. “Everyone in the community is invited to come in, see the new space, have a snack, and get to know fellow members of our Twin Cities wide learning community.”

This article is sponsored content from Talmud Torah of St. Paul as part of TC Jewfolk’s Partnership program. For more information, check out our media kit.