Saturday, July 11, 2009

Torah study? In Borders?

My friend, Rabbi Eric Goldberg, recounted to me a story of a conversation he'd had with a Chabad (Lubavitch) Rabbi. The local Chabad community had just built a new building and Eric complimented them on the place. The Chabadnik graciously accepted the compliments but followed that up by saying, "you know, it's not about the building."

Synagogues (and JCC's, Moshe Houses, etc.) can be wonderful gathering places filled ith learning and love, labor and support. They can also be (for some) intimidating, like going into a private residence of a person you don't know. As important as it is to have a physical spiritual home, some place that you can look around and feel welcomed, a sense of belonging, it's also sometimes important to take those sentiments and that sense of community and 'port' it outside the building itself. There's a reason the first dedicated holy place for the Israelites was the mishkan , a temporary, portable dwelling place; so that Israel could always take that sense of community (and the holiness necessary to frame the community) with them everywhere.

It was with that in mind (among other, more practical reasons) that a bunch of us met at the Borders in Wilmington to do a little Torah Study. I was approached by Sybil Schwartz and a few others asking whether I'd be willing to teach a little something different, maybe Haftarah. The summer happens to be a perfect time to study Haftarah, with the 10 Haftarot of rebuke and consolation that mark the movement from the 17th of Tammuz to the 9th of Av to the High Holidays and Sukkot. So I told them that if they got me 10 people (that seemed like a nice number for some reason) I'd teach at the Borders, where they met last summer. After marketing it pretty thoroughly, 49 of us got together in the cafe at 9:30am to study Jeremiah, with the plan of gathering again the following week.

Was this due to curiosity over the new guy? Most likely. Did the marketing help tremendously? Without a doubt, but I'm pretty sure that, by having it in a public space, a safe space, we made this study session (blessings and all) accessible to people who had never considered studying Haftarah, unaffiliated Jews and non-Jews, and even members of other congregations.

Sometimes it really isn't about the building; it's about the learning and the experience that we can share. Now, the question is: how do we take that energy and 'port' it back to the synagogue itself?


  1. Deb and I had a great time and encourage you to come this coming Saturday, July 18th. We had plenty of room in the cafe area. Come a little early if you want to buy a beverage. (Borders does not require you to buy anything in the cafe or otherwise.)

  2. Who knew studying Haftarah at 9:30 in the morning could be fun? I was a little intimidated by the prosepect of group religious study but,after giving it some thought I put on my pink Shabbat flip flops and forged ahead. I'm really glad I did. Rabbi Robinson has a great energetic yet casual way of explaining things and the discussion was well worth the time. Now all I have to do is work the word " nogoodnicks" into my vocabulary. Thanks for a great study session. Michelle from NJ