Thursday, February 14, 2013

Turning #Knesset into a Beit Midrash: Ruth Calderon and Remembering David Hartman

'The Torah is not the property of one movement or another. It is a gift that every one of us received, and we have all been granted the opportunity to meditate upon it as we create the realities of our lives."
-Dr. Ruth Calderon, MK

Years ago, long before I fell in love with Talmud and Talmud study, I had the chance to study with Ruth Calderon. Dr. Calderon, who fell in love with rabbinic texts and study as an adult, is the founder of Israel's first "secular" yeshiva. In founding Alma College, Dr. Calderon created a space where men and women, observant and non-observant Israelis could come together and study Judaism's classic texts. In a recent op-ed in HaAretz, Vered Kellner writes that: "the idea that the Jewish "bookshelf," which had been the property of Orthodox Jews, could be made available to Jews of all backgrounds was to a great extent Calderon's idea."

This year, Ruth Calderon was elected to the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament as part of the Yesh Atid (There Is a Future) party. In her first speech to Knesset, this non-Orthodox, Jewishly educated, passionate, liberal, committed Israeli woman stood and taught Talmud. She turned the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, into a Beit Midrash--a house of study. The video, in Hebrew, is here. The English translation, was just published by The Jewish Week. I confess, I have watched and read it a number of times since yesterday; I am so deeply moved by not only her words, but the very fact of what she did and who she is.

She was an inspiring teacher--passionate, learned, engaging. Long before I knew what I would love to teach, I knew I would hope to teach like her. And I have to confess that just as her speech brought tears to my eyes, so did the email from a dear friend, including the link and the words: Saw this and thought so much of you. 

This week, we mourn the loss of a true gadol, a giant of Jewish thought. I cannot possibly do justice to life, thought, and work of Dr. David Hartman, but I know that I--and I think anyone who engages in Jewish thought, practice, ritual, and the Jewish future--would not be who and what I am without him. I never learned with him, but I owe a great debt to his ongoing commitment to helping Jews--all Jews-- find deep meaning in our tradition, to creating a meaningful Judaism for ourselves. 

Dr. Calderon cites Rabbi Hartman as well, calling him a mentor and a guide, someone who opened the doors of his beit midrash, inviting her in to study and grow. I am no David Hartman, not even close, nor am I a Ruth Calderon. But I can only hope that each day, in some way, I am able to open the doors of the beit midrash--the tradition of Jewish text and learning--to someone, allowing them to learn and grow and begin to shape their Judaism. I hope each day to help people receive the gift of Torah, and to help it shape our lives.

Ken yehi ratzon--may it be so.