Thursday, September 6, 2012

Yeshivat Hadar #1

On Wednesday (i.e. yesterday), I started studying at Yeshivat Hadar, an egalitarian place of Jewish study on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I will be there for the duration of a school year, studying traditional texts, engaging in communal prayer, and working to spread learning and kindness in the city.

Topics so far have included teaching (in particular, the situations in which one does harm by teaching when not ready or by not teaching when ready), biblical passages relating to teshuvah (returning/repentance) and viduy (confession), obligations incumbent upon a community as well as upon the person/people making rulings for the community, and reflections upon the connections (and, it may feel, tensions) between what feels moral/ethical to an individual and what halakhah (normative Jewish law) seems to say. We have also discussed the mission of Mechon Hadar (the institution of which the Yeshiva is a part) in depth and distributed "toranut" roles--the tasks that we will complete in order to ensure that our space stays nice and that our meals take place.

Today felt great. I have not engaged in sustained chevruta study (i.e. with a partner) since the summer of 2011 at the Northwoods Kollel of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, and I rediscovered how much I appreciate this particular method of exploring a text, giving voice to thoughts and feelings that arise, and considering the insights and connections the other person brings to the conversation. My chevruta and I both expressed appreciation for the other's comments and questions.

Which brings me to one of the aspects of my new learning environment that struck me as most definitive. On Wednesday, we sat in a circle while discussing the commentary on a passage in Mishlei/Proverbs that tied the passage to the harm caused by teaching or not teaching, and I realized at some point that I respected everyone else in the circle intellectually and personally. No matter who spoke, I found myself approaching their suggestions with curiosity and, every once in a while, a bit of admiration. This should be my general way of existing in the world--never being impatient with someone's reflections, never judging someone's character or output in a way that shuts off my ability to pay further attention. May it be so.

My favorite part of yeshiva so far, actually, has been communal prayer. We engage in whichever of the three daily prayer services we are present for; once our routine regularizes, there will be two days a week that we will be at Hadar for all three. Our voices meld well in a way that also keeps each one distinct, as if there were a river made of bright and pastel ribbons. The fact that the time is built into our schedule means that we do not rush through in order to get to something else; there is likewise no use in waiting for it to end. There is just the space to stand, to think, to speak, to bend, to nod. To raise noise. To put forehead on forearm. To breathe.

It was actually when attending a prayer service last spring at the yeshiva that I finally realized that this is where I belong.

I'll draw your attention to the first of many classes at Hadar that will be open to the public this fall:

"To Dwell in God's House All the Days of My Life:" Exploring the Psalm for Elul and the Days of Awe
Rabbi Shai Held
Over and over again during this season, we declare that God is our "light" and our "salvation," and pray for the ability to dwell in God's house. But what is Psalm 27 really about? In this session, we'll do a close literary and theological reading of the Psalm and uncover its deeper meanings.

The class will take place at 190 Amsterdam Avenue (69th Street), in the West End Synagogue building. Prayer services are also open to all; feel free to contact me for those times or check out Mechon Hadar's website.

No comments: