Naomi Gurt Lind, who attends the rabbinical school at Hebrew College in Newton, leads a pop-up Mishnah class. / STEVEN A. ROSENBERG/JOURNAL STAFF

Women learn their Jewish heritage at Shirat Hayam’s pop-up Mishnah gathering

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Women learn their Jewish heritage at Shirat Hayam’s pop-up Mishnah gathering

Naomi Gurt Lind, who attends the rabbinical school at Hebrew College in Newton, leads a pop-up Mishnah class. / STEVEN A. ROSENBERG/JOURNAL STAFF

SALEM – Faith Kramer opened the door – the front of which was adorned in big, colorful letters spelling her name – clad from head to toe in bright turquoise, white hair curling at her ears, and said, enthusiastically, “Welcome to my house!”

The greeting was clearly a courtesy because few, if any, introductions were needed among Kramer and the women who crowded into her Salem home. Most had been there before, and they skipped over apparently unnecessary pleasantries, launching into discussions of how their parents grew up on the same street, right across from each other.

It was Wednesday night, and they were there to learn Mishnah with Congregation Shirat Hayam of Swampscott’s rabbinic intern Naomi Gurt Lind, who also serves as the synagogue’s cantorial stand-in. Lois Hurwitz, one of the women in the group, leaned over to whisper conspiratorially to me before the class began, gesturing toward Gurt Lind. “She’s fantastic – has the voice of an angel!”

This was the second version of Gurt Lind’s summer pop-up Mishnah class. Originally, she’d intended to host three classes throughout July, “popping up” in different locations each time, but the first one planned was canceled because of fireworks on the day it was to take place. “People like me,” Gurt Lind said genially, “but I can’t compete with the fireworks.”

She did command some attention, however, when she entered the Salem apartment after the first wave of students arrived, wearing a kippah and a striped scarf looped once around her neck. The women gathered in the living room, mostly over the age of 65, paused their conversations to wave and call greetings; some even stood up to say hello.

The women – and it was all women who happened to attend the class – settled into the makeshift circle in the living room, sitting on cushy, beige armchairs and pale blue couches, folding chairs, and dining room chairs that Kramer continued to bring into the circle even after it seemed no more seats were needed. Warm light emanated from old-fashioned lamps, and thick patterned rugs softened the space throughout. Foil-wrapped candies sat tantalizingly in little ceramic dishes on every flat surface in sight.

Called for 7:30 p.m., the first attempt at beginning the class occurred at 7:36 – impressive, frankly, given the amount of schmoozing that was taking place as Gurt Lind called everyone together. “Friendly reminder,” she began, “We’re all going to have one conversation, no side chats.”

A tentative silence fell, but before Gurt Lind could launch the discussion, three more people walked in, and then, a few minutes later, two more. Gurt Lind patiently waited for the class to settle, a bit like a kindergarten teacher waiting for students to behave.

Finally, the 12 women – plus one tardy arrival later on – all were seated, Gurt Lind standing in the corner. Source sheets were passed out, reading glasses were settled on the tips of noses, new glasses of water acquired – and thus they began.

Gurt Lind, 55, is in her fourth year of rabbinical school at Hebrew College in Newton. She first taught this style of Mishnah pop-up class last summer, in her hometown of Ann Arbor, Mich. When Gurt Lind first discussed her current role with Congregation Shirat Hayam’s Rabbi Michael Ragozin, he told her that if she wanted to try something out, she should. So she did.

“As a teacher,” Gurt Lind said, “one of the things that feels really important for me is to open up a sense of joy and ownership for the students so that they can really feel like … ‘this tradition is mine, it’s my heritage, and I have a right to join the conversation.’ For me, there’s so much delight in watching the students puzzle over the Mishnayot, watching them argue with the Mishnayot, and watching them find themselves in it.”

In her classes, Gurt Lind makes an effort to build her source sheets so they have the potential to engage both a more learned student and someone newer to Mishnah study. “A lot of the folks in this class, had they been born in another time period, who knows what kind of scholars they might have been able to become?” she said. “They didn’t have the opportunities that I have, and I want to share.”

The recent class centered on blessings of food – types of food, types of blessings, after blessings; why we say them, when we say them, how we say them. In conversation, however, the group got as far out as the reasons behind the assigned gender of God and whether the Jewish creation story aligned with Darwinism. Gurt Lind made space for all, calling everyone by name and gently (if frequently) redirecting the women back to one communal thread.

It was a lively discussion, to say the least.

At the end of the class, and thus the conclusion of the pop-up series, Kramer suggested that the group continue learning together with Gurt Lind that Shabbat – if people were interested.

“I would hate to lose this,” someone said.

“Yeah,” someone else piped up. “It’s very special.”

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