During the recent study tour to Israel, Russell Berrie Fellows had the unique opportunity to attend an academic program at the Shalom Hartman Institute, the leading research center of applied Jewish thought and education in Jerusalem.
The Fellows were generously invited to learn more about the vibrancy and diversity of Judaism. Gianluca Avanzato (Cohort XIII) from the USA tells how each speaker offered unique insights into their own tradition in a way that cannot be experienced through books or online sessions. He says, “The Institute was our home base for encounters facilitated by interfaith dialogue groups, such as the Rossing Center. Studying with and beside these amazing people – Jews, Muslims, Palestinians, Israelis, men, and women – was a privilege.” Gianluca is excited to have learned so much during his time at the institute: “I am reminded of the complexity of identity and the power of storytelling – of sharing the truths that we keep in our bodies and hearts.”
During the academic program, the Fellows participated in chavruta sessions, a traditional rabbinic approach to Talmudic study in which a small group of students (usually 2-5) analyze, discuss, and debate a shared text. Ana Petrache (Cohort XIII) from Romania points out, “The professors were with us not just to pass on information about Judaism but to build a community around a text, which is both an emotional and intellectual experience.” “Imagine an institute inspired by the Seder ritual – she explains with more details – where families and friends share not only food but interpretations over the sacred text. The community built around the Torah is equally about knowledge, friendship, and dialogue.” Ana also stresses that “learning is a spiritual journey and transformation process where, on one side, there is God, and on the other side, the community.”
Furthermore, the Fellows learned about rabbinic prayer and liturgy during a few practical sessions. Jan E. Janoszka (Cohort XIV) from Poland/UK says, “Now I understand a little bit better the mitzvah of tefillin. Noam Zion has taken a pair of leather boxes and a strap. Having explained to us the Torah passages inscribed on parchment scrolls and placed into the tefillin, he put one of the boxes on the upper arm and the other on his head. By wrapping himself in the Torah, he showed us his special bond with our common Creator.”
Sharing her experience in Israel and at the Shalom Hartman Institute in particular, Sr. Jisha Jacob (Cohort XIII) from India states that she could pray and experience the presence of God, inner joy and peace. “These memorable days will stay in my heart,” she exclaims with gratitude.