You can learn about Biblical short stories, like the Book of Samuel or the Book of Jonah. Or you can take a Hebrew College course on modern Israeli short stories. Or you could just learn about Israel. From Torah study to current events, North Shore synagogues are offering a variety of inexpensive or free classes open to the community.
Every synagogue offers some form of extracurricular adult education, but the content and format vary widely. One of the most common types is an ongoing Torah study course that allows students to delve more deeply into the weekly Torah portion. Some, like Congregation Shirat Hayam of Swampscott, offer Torah study classes right after Shabbat services in a program called Nosh & Drash. The program often brings in guest speakers, from Darby Leigh, a profoundly deaf rabbi from Concord, to Dr. Norman Spack, a noted transgender rights activist.
Rabbi Richard Perlman of Temple Ner Tamid in Peabody offers a Torah study session after each Sunday morning minyan, and a lunch and learn class on the first Thursday of every month. Similarly, Temple B’nai Abraham of Beverly offers weekly Thursday Torah classes with retired Cantor Bruce Siegel.
Chabad of Peabody offers a weekly Wednesday Torah study group that Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman describes as a “parashah/life lessons” class. Rabbi Yossi Lipsker of Chabad of the North Shore in Swampscott offers a weekly Torah class, “Ten Minutes of Torah,” streamed online and also available on Chabad’s Facebook page.
For the past three years, Rabbi Michael Ragozin of Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott has teamed with Rabbi David Meyer of Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead to offer a comprehensive, multi-part course called “Engaging with Israel,” which focuses on Israeli history and politics and all of the associated questions that have confounded the world for generations.
Specialized courses cover an impressive amount of ground. Lipsker is teaching an ongoing course on Jewish mysticism, while Rabbi David Cohen-Henriquez of Temple Sinai in Marblehead is teaching an ongoing series on the early modern Hasidic teachings that inspired so much of Jewish mysticism. Cohen-Henriquez is also teaching a series on 20th century Jewish philosophers, including Martin Buber, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and David Hartman.
In Peabody, Perlman is teaching a series on Pirkei Avot, or “Ethics of our Fathers,” a vast collection of rabbinic teachings. Ragozin is teaching a class on the Book of Samuel, which is part of a continuing series that applies techniques of literary analysis to consecutive books of the Bible. Rabbi Alison Adler of Temple B’Nai Abraham in Beverly has brought in courses from Me’ah, an adult learning program from Hebrew College in Newton, that have covered topics ranging from Hasidic wisdom to Israeli short stories.
Many rabbis offer private courses with only a single student, and the topics are whatever the student wants. Rabbi Lipsker of Chabad of the North Shore has over 25 private students with whom he meets for roughly 20 minutes each week, who often want to know how Torah can be applied to their contemporary lives.
“I’ve been in many deep and thoughtful relationships through this,” said Lipsker. “Sometimes people will want to know about a given topic, sometimes people will want a little insight on the weekly Torah portion. People want to know how the weekly Torah portion speaks to them existentially.”
Then there are classes that consist of many rabbis and many students. For the past few years, the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore in Marblehead has hosted Torah Hub, which brings together local rabbis to address a single theme. Last year, rabbis and Jewish educators gave separate presentations related to “staying anchored during stormy times.” Cohen-Henriquez gave a talk on Judaism and mindfulness, Meyer spoke about how Jews responded to calamitous events of past centuries, Lipsker spoke about the relationship between calm and Jewish mysticism, and Ragozin spoke about how cultivating a sense of the sacred can mitigate anxiety.
This year, each synagogue involved in Torah Hub is hosting the community for a celebration of a designated holiday. Temple Emanu-El hosted a night of 100 Menorahs for Hanukkah in Marblehead; Congregation Shirat Hayam hosted a Tu Bishvat Seder in Salem; Temple Sinai hosted a talk on the metaphorical wearing of masks for Purim in Marblehead; and Chabad of the North Shore will host a service for Shavuot in Swampscott.
“Torah Hub is a very intentional way of bringing the entire community together for adult Jewish learning,” said Meyer. “It’s really wonderful that we’re not so isolated from one another in terms of synagogues and agencies here when we’re talking about continuing adult learning. Pretty much everything is open to all.”
“We believe that the opportunities for adult learning extend beyond the walls of the temple,” said Ragozin. “I love to teach, and we have many congregants who love to learn.”