Invigoration in the Classroom

By Rabbi Gila Ruskin
Temple Adas Shalom

I’ve heard of corporations giving employees the day off on their birthday so that they could spend time doing what they enjoyed.  This morning, on my birthday, you would have found me doing what I enjoy, in the Lerner Beit Midrash at Chizuk Amuno, teaching a course entitled: Contemporary Radical Torah Commentary. My esteemed students, all of whom come with vast life experience, wisdom, and willingness to delve into alternative perspectives on Torah, struggled with the challenge posed in Parshat Va-era: what is the meaning of G-d’s name revealed to Moses: Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh?  Is this a masculine G-d displaying physical power, a feminine G-d displaying unconditional love, or does G-d transcend gender? We tried chanting Shechinah M’kor Chayenu (Mothering Presence, Source of Life) to the melody of Avinu Malkaynu (our Father, our King) to see if it evoked the same feeling of repentance and awe.  (The students determined that it didn’t.)  We read one scholarly article that claimed that feminine G-d language smacked of pagan goddess worship, and another that claimed that one can only really appreciate the “king” imagery once one has understood the womb imagery in the first few verses of Genesis.  The discussion was lively, provocative, invigorating.

For me, nothing is as invigorating as being in the classroom with adult learners – the students and I have the opportunity to get to know one another well. That makes the classes even more fulfilling. Whether it is the monthly Lunch and Learn at Temple Adas Shalom in Havre de Grace, where we explore such topics as death and afterlife, free will and business ethics, sparked by the inquisitiveness of new members or the anecdotes of the old-timers, or the first year Melton class on Purposes of Jewish Living, offered at Chizuk Amuno, where we study texts from multiple centuries on the “big” topics of miracles, prophecy, kashrut, and theodicy.

As a member of the Baltimore Board of Rabbis, I have the privilege of teaching a few sessions during the Adult Institute of Jewish Studies, most recently exploring the characterization of rabbis in contemporary American fiction.  I also volunteer to teach Introduction to Judaism courses, where the Jewish partner in the relationship accompanies his/her significant other, and I “deputize” them to be the co-teachers.  Recently we held a mock Passover Seder in November. When we dipped parsley into the saltwater, the students reflected that they now understood how the origins of renewal of spring and the festival of freedom comes together with profound meaning in this magical moment.

Thank you to all my students for keeping me on my toes and inspiring me to celebrate all of my birthdays with you.


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