While summer programming sometimes seems few and far between for Jewish learning, a new summer series hopes to change that. Talmud By the Lake, an ongoing summer learning program, is an attempt to bring together Jewish communities across the Twin Cities metro area with 10 free weekly Talmud study classes spread throughout the summer months.
Sara Lynn Newberger, director of Hineni and Talmud Torah of St. Paul, organized and put together the series, which is running in its second year. Last year, a similar series called Judaism’s Best Ideas, based on the book of the same name by Arthur Green, assigned one rabbi to each of the 10 topics from the book, Newberger said. The program was such a success that it carried into this year, which became Talmud By the Lake.
Rabbi Debra Rappaport of Shir Tikvah Congregation in Minneapolis said recently, there has been increased interest in Jewish learning as adults.
“Adult learning is coming of age,” Rappaport said. “And we’ve all kind of collectively realized that if you care about Jewish life, then you have to care about it as an adult.”
The theme for this year’s series was inspired by summertime, and Minnesota’s nickname “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” Newberger said.
The program includes 10 rabbis from 10 different synagogues across the Twin Cities, and each were given the task to lead a discussion on some topic related to water and lakes, she said.
Because each session stands alone, the series is an opportunity for Jews of all denominations to participate in Jewish learning in the summertime despite a lack of summer programming, Newberger said, and it fills a niche, especially for busy summer schedules packed with vacation. The program is free and open to the public and doesn’t require any registration prior to attendance.
“For me, Jewish learning is not just Jews talking about their opinions,” said Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman of Temple Israel. “If we can really jump into a text and then talk about the issues of today, that’s a lot more powerful.”
The rabbis were given free rein in terms of the location, some choosing to teach at local lakes and some at their synagogues, but one unique aspect of the program is that people have the opportunity to learn from other teachers, Newberger said.
At the first session, Rabbi Esther Adler of Mount Zion Temple of St. Paul, while not anywhere near a lake, instead brought the lake to the synagogue. Adler brought her own kiddie pool of water, complete with rubber ducks and an inflatable palm tree to boot, before introducing her topic of Judaism and sustainability.
Rappaport, who is set to present in late July at Beard’s Plaisance, will teach about the symbolic meaning of water in Hagigah 14b, a story where four rabbis went to heaven but only one survived.
Rabbi Tamar Grimm of Beth Jacob Congregation in Mendota Heights will present at Rogers Lake near the synagogue, which she viewed as an opportunity to learn near a body of water since it pertains to the subject.
Rabbi Zimmerman taught Tuesday at her synagogue, Temple Israel, about “Torah as Water,” in which participants discussed how the Torah can be similar to water in its role in our lives.
Zimmerman said she liked discussing and explaining the history of the Talmudic texts they discussed and relating it to present day. “We learned from the text that common knowledge is actually not true.”
Rabbi Avi Strausberg of Temple of Aaron in St. Paul, who presented the week earlier, said she had very thoughtful discussions with her group about the Mikvah at Minnehaha Falls Park.
Strausberg said she appreciates the diversity that Talmud By the Lake brings. “I think the ability to be exposed to Talmud from 10 totally different rabbis, who have very different relationships with the Talmud and how they understand that text, I think that’s really exciting,” she said.
Zimmerman agreed and said the program was a good experiment for Jewish learning. She said when she held her session at Common Roots Café last year, she didn’t know 80 percent of the participants, which was unusual but also different and exciting.
Rappaport echoed the two, emphasizing how unique the program truly is.
“It’s a big deal to have a cross-community, cross-movement, cross-river program that involves rabbis from all the different synagogues and congregants from all the synagogues, and anybody that’s unaffiliated,” Rapapport said. “It’s a big deal to have anything that’s that inclusive.”