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Jeneration's Beit Midrash

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On November 9-11th 2008 an electric group gathered near Bromsgrove for a weekend of textual study, participative services and plenty of time to kvetch… Rabbis Mark Goldsmith, Shulamit Ambalu Shoshana Boyd Gelfand and Danny Smith led a group of 12 eager learners through sessions that covered everything from concepts of God, the morality of halacha and the concept of sin and forgiveness to the place of Joshua in our tradition. There were over 20 sessions to choose from, all within 48 hours! And every session was based upon a learner’s question. This was an opportunity to study texts but more importantly to get answers to people’s real questions.

Taking place in the countryside just south of Birmingham this remote retreat was exactly the right context for a chance to open the door of our tradition and invite all inside to learn and explore. The atmosphere was inclusive, honest and serious, with a large dollop of good fun added. The rabbis learnt with the participants, even learning from the participants. With many of the discussions happening during sessions and a large amount taking place between sessions and over great food.

This was Jeneration’s pilot attempt to enter into the world of Jewish learning. Its success is down to the learners revealing their questions and the rabbis' ability to engage with these questions in a scholarly and genuine way. The kvetching – well this happened throughout; fears, concerns, hopes and dreams about our community and Jewish lifestyles. But at this weekend there was a difference from the usual Friday night table kvetch. This Beit Midrash was inspiring, and this means that while the experience itself was amazing, it doesn’t stop there. From this short encounter three ideas have surfaced: i) to do this again, maybe splitting between students and those in their twenties and thirties; ii) to look into forming a regular shiur in North West London and iii) to try to establish Shabbat morning t’fillah once a month. After attending this weekend, I am sure it’s not only possible and likely to happen, but also going to create the beginnings of a new culture of serious Jews taking their own questions and learning seriously.

Click here for more about Jeneration.

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