Reflections on Me'ah: To-Be-Expected and Surprising Evolutions
June 3, 2012. Me'ah Graduation.
Good morning everyone.
I’m Lisa Berman. I was a Me’ah student for the past two years in the class that met at Temple Shalom – it happens to be my shul as well. Some of you may know me in my professional life as the Education Director at Mayyim Hayyim, our community mikveh.
Honestly, I found these remarks surprisingly difficult to write, because I’m pretty sure that my Me’ah experience was really very similar to every else’s – those of you here and those who’ve taken it in prior years. This should sound familiar to you:
- Me’ah both widened and deepened my understanding of Judaism.
- My class evolved into a true community of learners and friends.
- We sat in the same seats every Thursday night, for 2 straight years. No variations in seating were attempted, so the seating police did not need to be called.
- We learned with 4 remarkable educators: Marc Brettler, Michael Satlow, Deanna Klepper, and Avi Bernstein Nahar. We were deeply grateful for their contributions to our learning.
- We loved the Bible semester. We learned never to say “The Bible Says…” (thank you Marc)
- We had a hard time with Rabbinics. One of my classmates, Howard, said that his recollection of Me’ah was learning that a couple of academic, nerdy guys got together in the Rabbinic period, made up a bunch of stuff no one paid any attention to at the time, and they ended up completely defining Judaism for the next 2 millennia.
- We learned that the Medieval Period was not just a dark and sad time for Jews. Thanks to Deanna, we spent way too much time trying to understand how it was okay for non-Jewish women who eat treif to breast-feed Jewish babies…
- I didn’t do all the reading each week.
- I felt kind of guilty about not doing all the reading each week.
- No matter how tired I was during those last fifteen minutes of class, I would get home and enthusiastically regale my husband Jeff about the most fascinating parts of the night’s class – albeit in considerably more detail than he probably wanted…
- I learned just enough to be really annoying at cocktail parties, “Only seven plagues are mentioned in the Bible, you know. The Ten Plagues are the accidental creation of the redactor.”
- I have a feeling that if I took the whole class again right away, I would understand it all SO MUCH BETTER.
- I only really “got” about 50% of what we were being taught, and I was really trying.
- When the light bulb went on over my head, and I made a connection to the material, or really “got” something, it was exhilarating. Not just for the sense of learning, but because I felt like I was staving off early Alzheimers, one aha! moment at a time.
- At first it was a relief to get my Thursday nights back when it was all over. Then I missed learning and I missed my classmates.
So if that was my common experience, what might have stood out about our particular class that is worth telling you about?
It is the Me’ah students themselves who help shape the discussions and learning that goes on. Our class was, I believe, particularly diverse. We had:
- Jews by birth
- Jews by choice
- A non-Jew
- Someone in the process of converting
- We had Jews who were brought up or were currently practicing from all denominations – Reform, Conservative, Orthodox – even a devoted follower of Workman’s Circle.
- Our classmate Josette was raised in the Jewish community of Curacao.
- Lou goes to Chabad.
- Two of us had Orthodox conversions but belong to Reform synagogues.
- Nadine was brought up in Montreal’s right-leaning Reform movement.
- Several were from interfaith families.
This variety of experiences, learning, backgrounds, and perspectives really enriched the conversations.
But we had our quirks, too.
There were some for whom the 2 hour and 45 minute class was just too long and too late. They nodded off, they snored, they fell onto their neighbors… but we would gently wake them up for in time for snack – which they enthusiastically participated in.
A few times we had a dog come to the whole class. We heard he actually had done all the reading for that week.
Most memorable, though, was the Evolution of Snack. We started, with drek. Heckshered cookies – those ones from Costco that everyone’s sick of – madelines, black and whites.... Practically a whole year of those.
In the second year we branched out. Nadine’s scrumptious homemade desserts… the spreads got bigger and bigger each week. And then – a whole new level. Our classmate Cathy decided it would be nice to cook us dinner each week. No joke. She brought 5 or 6 dishes every week in her beautiful, colorful pottery bowls and platters. Mediterranean dishes, savory and incredibly delicious. Yummy desserts. We felt so cared for! And what do you really need to enjoy such fantastic food? A glass of wine, of course. So our last few classes featured a full wine bar. Yes, we took the concept of “snack” to a whole new level.
And in a way, that’s the thing about Me’ah -- just when it gets really good, it’s over.
- Just when you know the people in your class well enough to have substantive discussions,
- just when you have a handle on the material well enough to almost know what you’re talking about,
- just when you start finding a little more time to do the reading each week,
- just when the food gets really good and the wine starts flowing – it’s over.
To my classmates and teachers from this Me’ah experience I say, thank you so very much. It was a terrific two years. Cathy, I miss your cooking already.