When I see these books, I know I am home. My overflowing bookcase of books I have studied over the years at Hebrew College represents a gradual and steady pursuit of meaning and knowledge that started in my childhood.

I had a secular upbringing in Lincoln, Massachusetts, and my immigrant parents have always embraced what they observed were “American” customs. Dyeing and hiding eggs, eating marshmallow chicks and chocolate bunnies for Easter, Thanksgiving turkey dinners and exchanging gifts at Christmas. In my teenage angst-ridden years, I would stare at the pile of carefully wrapped gifts that my parents had lovingly prepared and placed beneath a Christmas tree, wondering about the meaning and significance of this exchange of gifts. I recognized the privilege of receiving these gifts, an experience that my parents were deprived of growing up in wartime Taiwan. Of course, they were always beautiful and generous gifts, but I did wonder if perhaps Christmas was a materialistic marketing ploy designed to stimulate the economy and toy industry.

My understanding of religion was very superficial, informed by my personal interactions with my friends who were raised Christian Scientists, Catholics and Jews. My parents have occasionally burned incense to honor their ancestors, which is a Confucian tradition. My lens of religious understanding has always been broad. What I always sought was a meta understanding of religion.

During my college studies, in addition to applied mathematics, I pursued coursework in anthropology to further deepen my understanding of culture and society, to understand how people around the world create meaning in their lives. This is when I learned the connection between ritual objects and theology, and, furthermore, this is when I learned that theological structure is usually a direct reflection of societal structure and behavior on the ground. During my college years, I met my husband, who introduced me to Conservative Judaism.

As a young parent and Jew by choice, I had a chance to deepen my understanding through informal adult education classes at Temple Emunah, and through Hebrew College’s community education two-year Me’ah program and Me’ah Select courses. My childhood experiences and anthropological studies informed and supplemented my understanding. As a lay leader, I became co-chair of adult education at Temple Emunah, buoyed in confidence by my adult learning at Hebrew College. When I started volunteering in the Billy Dalwin Preschool of Temple Emunah, I wanted to deepen my understanding of the Jewish traditions so that I could be a more effective teacher. As a CJP Fellow, I was able to pursue a master’s in Jewish education with a concentration in early childhood education.

The online and in-person courses at Hebrew College gave me the tools and depth of understanding required to both teach students and also to provide meaningful information for parents. In partnership with the director of the Billy Dalwin Preschool, Shelley Rossman, I created 26 “Torah Time Primers”—text-based resource packets for parents that explain Jewish values, questions and answers, related activities and complementary children’s literature for each parashah of Breishit and Shemot. Upon completion of my master’s, I became assistant director of the Early Childhood Institute of Hebrew College. During my work with the Early Childhood Institute, I advised graduate students, helped to plan Israel seminars, and planned annual Jewish education conferences for educators.

Currently, I am the director of Hebrew College’s Open Circle Jewish Learning department, part of the adult learning wing of community education. I have a command of Jewish texts, thought and traditions that allows me to perform my tasks with deep understanding and purpose. I also have gained understanding of the supervisory responsibilities of leaders. Whereas in my work at the Early Childhood Institute I was helping to nourish early childhood educators so that they could help build a firm foundation for the Jewish community, now my work is focused on maintaining the community by giving opportunities for adults to create meaning and connection from lifelong learning.

My decades of coursework at Hebrew College have given me understanding and meaning, and Hebrew College will always be where I feel at home away from home. It has been my pleasure to bring other adults into my home of adult learning, building meaning through connections to the Jewish community in the past, present and future. My home is your home. Welcome.

Linna Ettinger, MJED ’12, is director of Open Circle Jewish Learning at Hebrew College. Linna is also executive vice president at Temple Emunah, a Conservative synagogue in Lexington. Learn more about Hebrew College’s new hybrid master’s in Jewish education program at a virtual information session on Nov. 12 at 7:15 p.m.

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