During the pandemic, Jewish Atlanta seniors have chosen to attend virtual classes to enjoy new educational experiences. A range of classes have been offered, including such topics as Kabbalah, Jewish spirituality, character education and ethical behavior.
Hungry for Knowledge
Rabbi Judy Beiner, community chaplain with Jewish Family & Career Services of Atlanta has brought a group of adult learners together during the pandemic for a women’s history class.
Beiner discusses the origins of the group. “Miriam Saul was in a Melton class I taught in 2019 to 2020. When that class was over, she approached me about teaching this group.”
Saul said of her motivation. “As the pandemic lingered and I realized that life was not returning to normal any time soon, I started turning inwards. Looking at my totally blank daily calendar that was previously filled with social dates, family gatherings, afternoons with grandchildren and work endeavors, I realized that I had to do something to maintain my sense of self and purpose,” she explained.
“I am very blessed that during these isolating times, I found myself in a community of friends who were as hungry for knowledge-based interactions as I was. We started a group of 18 ‘mature learners’ who meet weekly. We began these classes last August and have enjoyed it so much that we decided to continue for another semester. Our hopes are that when the virtual meetings end, we will be able to continue our stimulating and lively classes and discussions.”
Susan Sommer agreed. “As the months have gone by, I have found a stimulating outlet in the virtual Zoom class I attend. Not only do I find myself actively involved in what we are discussing, but I actually feel my mind activated to a much greater extent than has been the case,” Sommer said.
“In class we offer questions and feedback to one another and feel a sense of much needed community in the process. The passive state of mind that I have felt for many days has been awakened again if only for a couple of hours weekly.
Although many of us had not known each other previously, I think we all feel a sense of gratitude that we have this reunion each week and it is truly appreciated,” she said. “It feels good to be an active part of an educational community. … and the virtual Zoom interactive classroom seems to help satisfy my social appetite in these difficult times.”
Dr. Steve Chervin, a Jewish educator and former Atlantan, is a certified instructor of The Mussar Institute who has been practicing and teaching Mussar for more than 15 years. Now living in Philadelphia, Pa., he presents classes on Zoom and encourages participants to continue the conversation in small groups.
Mussar is a character education program rooted in Jewish tradition, which examines the human capacity for patience, loving kindness, humility, compassion, moderation and moral responsibility. The series of classes focus on ethical behavior and asks participants to examine their successes and imbalances.
“I have wanted to take Mussar with Steve for a long time and was disappointed when he moved,” Atlantan Terri Hyman said. “The pandemic has opened us to the idea of studying virtually. I love the opportunity to focus on a middot (soul trait) each week, examine how it applies to me and become closer with classmates, including meeting new people.”
Simie Faskowitz said, “In this year of COVID, and all in this together, I am loving the Zoom aspect of these classes. … I was curious to learn about the Jewish perspective on how to be a better person and live a more fulfilled life. The study of Mussar identifies those characteristics that will open us up and lead us to becoming better versions of ourselves.”
Atlanta educator Shaindle Schmuckler attends Hibura School of Kabbalah and Jewish Spirituality classes each Tuesday on Zoom led by Rabbi Or Zohar, a Reform Israeli rabbi, Kabbalistic scholar and musician who founded the school. Sessions include Kabbalistic meditation, sacred chants, textual study and group discussion.
“My dad studied Kabbalah,” Schmuckler said of her motivation. “He would, on occasion, share what he learned in the class discussion. I was fascinated. However, I was a very busy mom with no time for adult learning. And then miracle of all miracles, a Kabbalah class was offered at a time I could attend. Much of the time I am overwhelmed, but if I breathe and slow down, I understand in its most simplistic form. And after it is reviewed once or twice, that in the most beautiful moving language I can gently touch God’s wishes of why we are here.”