By Alexis Bernstein
September 16, 2014
I learned about Eser in the fall, through the CJP LEADS program. In one of our LEADS sessions, a young rabbi joined our group to lead a discussion on Jewish values; we then sat through a rapid-fire question and answer session. I was impressed with how the rabbi answered some very challenging questions, with deep rabbinic knowledge and with the openness and thoughtfulness of a caring friend. When I learned that this same rabbi was leading an Eser study group, I was ready to sign up.
Eser exceeded my expectations. Each week I looked forward to the thought-provoking study group. Sitting with ancient ideas alongside modern ones forced me to think about how to bring timeless Jewish wisdom into the present. It made me value how relevant our learnings are; rules and guidance from biblical and talmudic days still apply. While this is something that has been ingrained in me through my upbringing and Jewish education, I appreciated this re-education; as an adult I am so proud to have these literary and religious guideposts.
I could not have imagined Eser being Eser if we did not have our rabbi. His flexibility and ability to engage us in conversation – especially with those of us who were less observant – helped us make the content our own. He could give us the halakhic answers and the ‘how to understand them in 2014’ answers; thus, he was able to bridge a gap for me about ideas and practices that I didn’t believe in. He could explain how he saw ancient practices still being pertinent and meaningful today in our community. He facilitated the discussions with ease, bringing a sense of solemnity when needed and humor when needed.
The religious, biblical, talmudic, and ritual knowledge varied greatly among members of our group. Some were atheists and others were children of rabbis and Jewish professionals. This diversity was no hurdle to group discussion. We all wanted to be there and kept returning week after week. Here was a group of 30-year olds excited to be students again, to study Jewish themes and rituals, and to delve into Jewish topics. It made us want to question and not reject; it made us think rather than close the door on concepts or subjects we didn’t agree with or that felt foreign to us.
I am so grateful for the hours I spent with my group. I felt the thrill of being a student again, stretching my brain in ways beyond that what happens during the workday. I felt excited to be learning new Jewish content and exploring new interpretations of previously accepted-as-is ideas. The power of learning as a group of peers was so strong, that as the session came to a close we confirmed our desire to continue bringing energy, enthusiasm, and excitement for Jewish learning together in the future.
Alexis Bernstein was a member of the Boston group of Eser in 2014. A Prozdor student as a teenager, Alexis enjoyed the return to Jewish learning through Hebrew College. She lives in the Back Bay and works in health care management.