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Balancing study with action in Hodesh Limud


Balancing study with action in Hodesh Limud by Lila Hanft, CJN 1/10/08

When the first Hodesh Limud (month of Jewish study) wrapped up in
February 2007, its organizers had cause for celebration.

The program had attracted sizable audiences and exceeded organizers’ hopes of bringing local Jews together across geographical, denominational and generational borders.

Now Hodesh Limud is back with increased involvement from local congregations and expanded efforts to attract adult learners.

This year’s theme is “Tikkun Olam: The Jewish Passion to Repair the World.” Nineteen mini-courses, a keynote address and a havdalah concert will address the theme in a sometimes surprising variety of contexts. They include the law, environment, kashrut, aging, immigrant experience, genetics, tsedakah, healthcare reform, and Kabbalah.

But this year, Hodesh Limud plans to provide participants with more than food for thought. Organizers are pairing abstract discussions of tikkun olam with hands-on opportunities for social action on the local and global levels.

Study vs. action

Remember the argument between Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva over which is greater, study or action? Rabbi Tarfon argues that action is greater, but Rabbi Akiva says that study is greater because it leads to action.

Or, to put it another way, “some of us are talkers, and some of us are doers,” says Jeffrey Schein, Reconstructionist rabbi and professor of Jewish education at Siegal College. This year’s Hodesh Limud has been designed so that the “doers will listen to the talkers, and the talkers will get the chance to be doers.”

For example, a volunteer fair will take place during the keynote program on Sun., Jan. 13. After the address by keynote speaker Rabbi Sid Schwarz, founder of PANIM, a foundation with programs for teens on Jewish values and social responsibility, the audience will have an opportunity to “find out how to participate in tikkun olam in our community,” says Lynn Liebling, Hodesh Limud coordinator.

The volunteer fair, she explains, is about hands-on involvement, not tsedakah. “It’s not ‘what can you give?’ but ‘what can you do?’” to help the community.

Similarly, the events of Hodesh Limud’s closing weekend (Feb. 8-10) will also combine study and action. The havdalah concert with Rabbi Shawn Zevit is paired with Darfur Call to Action, “hands-on activities that can have an impact on the critical issue of the genocide in Darfur,” says Liebling.

‘Public Space Judaism’

The purpose of Hodesh Limud is “to extend the tentacles of Jewish learning more broadly in the community,” explains Schein, a member of the Adult Jewish Learning Council, which sponsors Hodesh Limud with Siegal College, the Jewish Education Center of Cleveland, the Greater Cleveland Board of Rabbis, and the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland.

To attract new segments of adult learners last year, organizers held classes in public spaces like coffee shops, bookstores and libraries. That decision really paid off.

Rabbi Stephen Weiss of B’nai Jeshurun, who taught a course in a downtown office building last year, was particularly pleased when students in his class “shared that this was their first time in Jewish studies class. It was something they’d always meant to do.”

This year, says Liebling, Hodesh Limud continues to reach out to new audiences, particularly among younger professionals, West Siders, New Americans, and interfaith families. Organizers have appointed special “ambassadors” from each of these communities to extend personal invitations to friends, family and acquaintances.

Who invented Tikun-Olam?
by Hannah Hashkes

Repairing the world: option or obligation?,
an interview with Rabbi Sid Schwarz
by Ellen Brown

WHAT: Hodesh Limud/Month of Jewish Study 2008. “Tikkun Olam: The Jewish Passion to Repair the World”
WHERE: Siegal College. 17 other local venues
WHEN: Keynote address Sun., Jan. 13;
Closing ceremony (Hadra)n Sun., Feb. 10;
Mini-courses throughout the month (register by Jan. 9)
COST: $18 for unlimited classes
CONTACT: 216-464-4050, ext. 150,, or

Hodesh Limud by the numbers

$18: one-time fee for unlimited classes
19: number of-mini-courses
2-5: number of sessions per mini-course
68: total number of classes, eventsand programs
30+: number of course leaders and special guests
18: number of venues: including
6 synagogues
6 Jewish community buildings
2 public libraries
2 coffee shops
1 nature center
1 bookstore
3 number of courses on the topic of food
6: number of courses about health
1: number of courses about Jewish holidays
28: number of times the phrase "tikkun olam" appears in the Hodesh Limud brochure (available for download at

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