I was reading the Washington Post the other day , when it was discussing a study group that spent 22 years reviewing the Tora (the Five Books of Moses), under the direction of their rabbi, Rav Stuart Weinblatt. Which reminded me of what actions a group of us from my old synagogue accomplished.
Back in 1998, our synagogue, Agudas Achim (Alexandria, VA), was invited to be one of a few that would attempt to rethink how a synagogue should interact with its members and the community. Some four years prior, Dr. Ron Wolfson (American Jewish University) and Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman (Hebrew Union College) founded this movement, called Synagogue 2000. That movement has morphed in the Synagogue Studies Institute .
One of our first ideas as part of this program was to set up a bunch of chavurot (communities). And, as I had done in Charlottesville some 26 years prior, these new chavurot had no pre-arranged friends or relatives. It was pretty much random. And, as the chavura in Charlottesville allowed the community to become a cohesive force (becoming a true community operation, comprising some 175 members after a few years), this new chavura I had joined and led had an interesting mix. of folks.
A group of 14, we managed to stay together from late 1998 to mid 2012, meeting every initially three times a month (eventually slowing the learning down to meeting every other week) (typically on Shabat afternoon, with an occasional Sunday evening study session). Over the course of these 13+ years, we studied the five books, using the divisions as arranged by Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut. (Instead of the 50+ weekly readings that are heard in synagogue each week, Plaut had divided the Tora thematically, with some 160 separate divisions. And, yes, that meant we would finish the Tora within about 5 years.) After finishing the Tora, we extended our learnings to cover the Tanach (the Prophets [N’vi’im] and the Writings [K’tuvim]), what many of you call the Old Testament.
And, then we began studying the Tora all over again. But, by this go through, only 3 of the initial group remained, with some 10 newer members meeting every other week. (Not surprisingly, over a decade many of our initial cadre had moved away from the area.)
It wasn’t just the learning and the sharing of ideas, though. We shared life-cycle events, the fun holidays of Purim (where we dressed up as characters from the recent Tora study sessions we had completed) and Chanuka, we also discussed (maximum of 2 minutes per person each before each Tora study session) what was going on in our lives, and, as such, we became a fairly close-knit group. (I maintained my membership in this study group, even though I ceased being a member of the shul in the early 2000’s.)
If you have the opportunity to form a group where you can study together- be it scripture, documents about water (which is going to be our scarcest resource way too soon [you do know that Capetown, South Africa runs out of water in about 75 days, parts of Africa and Asia have already joined that club], energy, almost anything- I strongly recommend it.
Not only for the learning, but the camaraderie and sharing.
We all don’t have to push partisanship.