Texts for today and tomorrow

Nini Panner, Reporter

Learning about how ancient wisdom informs modern dilemmas? Thinking about college decisions? Talk to the Talmud. Wondering how to approach race issues? Go to the Mishna. Students and staff have explored these issues and many more in the Texts for Today and Tomorrow Beit Midrash program hosted by High School Jewish Text Chair Grace McMillan. 

The idea for a Jewish text after-school program was originally proposed by Head of School Rabbi Mitchel Malkus and eventually coordinated and organized by McMillan after she recognized “an opportunity to enrich the diversity of text learning opportunities” outside of the classroom setting. 

The speaker series has already hosted three sessions featuring guests Rabbi Nissan Antine of Beth Sholom Congregation and Dr. Erica Brown, director of the Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership and an associate professor of curriculum and pedagogy at The George Washington University. Additionally, on Jan. 26 Joelle Novey, Director of Interfaith Power & Light spoke on Jan. 26.

The program plans to cover a wide range of topics related to Jewish values and history in the context of Jewish text. The sessions have already covered decision-making, racial justice and climate change. 

Each program includes a 45 minute speaker lecture with additional time for student discussion and questions. McMillan noted that a key element is the combination of “a chevruta experience as well as a learning experience.” It is something that has never been done before at CESJDS. 

McMillan chooses and reaches out to each speaker based on research she has done on her own time. In the future, she hopes interested students will feel comfortable researching and reaching out to possible speakers for the program themselves. 

“We are very lucky to be in the Washington area,” McMillan said. “We have [an] incredible diversity of really interesting, thoughtful, intelligent leaders in Jewish thought and Jewish textual study. To be able to bring people into the building and offer that seemed like a good idea.” 

Junior Josef Kay has found the Texts for Today and Tomorrow Beit Midrash program to be a very engaging activity that enriches his love for learning and discussing Jewish texts.

“I enjoy being surrounded by people who are interested in Jewish text and want to learn even if it’s not for a grade,” Kay said. “They show up after school and discuss. It’s a great environment.” 

The program does not run on a consistent schedule yet as they continue to build interest and a reliable student attendance. Right now the program is running one to two times a month. 10 to 15 students attended the first session, while the second session had seven to eight. 

Junior Matan Goldstein appreciates the program but hopes that more people will attend in the future. 

“The knowledge is there; we just need more people to come… The fact that these really knowledgeable lecturers are bringing these specific sources to teach these specific lessons is very enjoyable,” Goldstein said. “This is an unbelievable program, and you won’t regret coming.” 

The next session will cover civil discourse in Jewish tradition, and will be led by Rabbi Adam Raskin of Congregation Har Shalom on Feb. 7.

McMillan hopes the upcoming programs will spark interest in students with a wide range of interests. Although the lectures rely heavily on Jewish text, they cover topics relevant to broader issues present in everybody’s life. Kay said that the speaker session on decision-making offered a lot of insights into how he approached decisions in general. 

“This is an exciting program … Everyone is welcome. Everyone’s questions are welcomed. Everyone’s thoughts are welcome,” McMillan said. “If you have any suggestions or requests please reach out to me.”