Teaneck–The spring semester of Lamdeinu, the new center in Teaneck for adult Jewish learning, begins this week, as the enthusiastic reviews on the summer and fall semesters continue to pour in. Teaneck resident Rachel Friedman, dean of Lamdeinu, told JLNJ, “We had a really awesome launch this summer, followed by an amazing fall semester; way beyond my expectations.”
Friedman’s initial goal was to establish a new center for high-level, accessible, and inspiring Torah learning in New Jersey. This summer, 140 students were engaged and inspired, and this fall over 200 people took part in various classes. Housed at Congregation Beth Aaron, Lamdeinu is open to men and women. While many do come from greater Teaneck and other New Jersey communities, students also come from the Bronx, Manhattan, Riverdale, Westchester, Brooklyn and Monsey. Ample parking and the close proximity to Route 4 and the New Jersey transit bus make it easily accessible.
To date, all ages have been represented and Friedman shared that one of the beautiful things she often sees is children bringing their parents and parents bringing their children. She recounted, “Recently, a mother and daughter who come regularly together from New York were joined by another daughter from Russia and a granddaughter studying in Israel. It’s so wonderful to see different generations learning together!”
Shira Schiowitz, who is assistant dean, has noticed something similar. “The learning at Lamdeinu inspires conversations. These conversations begin in the classroom, continue after class and then extend to the Shabbos table and beyond. They crystallize how relevant the words of the Torah are: though ancient, they are as relevant as if they were written yesterday. In a way, everyone reads the text in their own way, with their own unique stamp. Lamdeinu gives each individual the chance to do that. It also creates a bond of community between all different learners from different paths of life.”
Malki Sinensky, who lives on the Lower East Side, says, “I travel from NYC at least three times a week to learn and to be inspired. Learning at Lamdeinu helps provide me with the tools to understand and appreciate our heritage and more importantly, our religion. I am more equipped now to handle the challenging questions I get from my children about Judaism and our traditions. I look forward to the upcoming semester.”
During the summer session Lamdeinu offered Advanced Talmud Study for Women taught by Rabbi David Nachbar. Dena Block, a Yoetzet Halacha at the Mt. Sinai Jewish Center in Washington Heights and a Talmud instructor at Ma’ayanot, studied three mornings a week. “Both the shiurim and the chevruta learning were high level and stimulating and it was an enriching experience both intellectually and religiously,” she said. “It was a real treat to learn with a wonderful group of women who are passionate about learning Torah and especially to learn something that was purely for its own sake.”
Many of Lamdeinu’s classes are open to both men and women. Morris Apfelbaum from Riverdale attends the weekly Parashat HaShavua shiur. As he puts it, “Rachel Friedman combines comments from the Meforshim, and multiple references to a particular phrase in the Tanach, to weave a unique interpretation of Chumash. Listening to her is both enjoyable and inspirational.” Arielle Cohen of Teaneck agrees. “Lamdeinu was a transformative experience for me this year. Rachel Friedman specializes in bringing alive a Torah narrative and extrapolating important lessons that we can apply to our everyday lives.”
Lamdeinu offers traditional lectures/shiurim, but also offers the model of learning with a chevruta (guided preparation of the material with a fellow-student as a learning partner) followed by a shiur. For example, in Parshanut HaMikra on Bereishit (which is offered to women only), participants receive guided questions and sources to help in their preparation of a Torah section.
The idea behind this model is to empower the students to learn on their own so that when the shiur begins everyone already has a grounding and can share personal thoughts and insights. Miriam Goldberg of Riverdale who attends the Parshanut HaMikra shiur comments, “I treasure the opportunity to learn in depth with such open and intellectual women.” Rachel Friedman adds, “This beit midrash style of learning is a way for people to connect with Torah as it’s been studied through the millennia. It creates a connection between the people and the text. It affords strong communal bonding; it’s a way of connecting learners with each other and with the timeless words of our tradition. ”
In addition to Friedman and Schiowitz, classes will be taught by Rabbi Daniel Fridman, Rabbi Yosef Bronstein and Rabbi Dr. Yitzhak Berger. A wellness option (yoga) will be offered by Shifra Shafier. Topics will include Parshanut HaMikra on Bereishit, Parashat HaShavua, Talmud Berakhot, Sefer Yirmiyahu and Great Thinkers of the Twentieth Century, as well as a special series on Megillat Esther and another on Megillat Ruth. All spring classes will cover new topics and material. Lamdeinu offers learning opportunities Monday-Thursday and Tuesday evenings.
A full list of courses for the spring semester, additional information about Lamdeinu, online registration and sponsorship opportunities can be found at lamdeinu.org.
By Sara Kosowsky Gross