Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Program Idea: The Chumash Project

Side note: I will be interviewed briefly on our local NPR station, WDIY 88.1 FM, tonight at 6:30 PM. The show is called “Lehigh Valley Discourse,” and they’ll be asking me about my trip to the White House for the December 10th Chanukah party. I feel like between articles and the derashah I’ve said pretty much everything I can about the event already - but if you’re curious, feel free to tune in.

Rechovot is expanding! I’ve decided to use some of this space to describe successful programs I’ve seen, or that I’ve heard about from others.

One of my all-time favorite programs was a small project we ran in 1998, when I was the rabbi of Congregation Ohawe Sholam, Young Israel of Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

The goal: We wanted to get people involved in regular Torah study, as families, but had not succeeded with a few different attempts.

So we decided to try “The Chumash Project,” an exercise in collaborative learning.

This is not much different from the Chevra Mishnayos or Siyum Nach concept, but we did it with families, and we used Chumash to encourage participation by children as well as by people with little Jewish educational background.

We ran this between Simchat Torah and Chanukah. Individuals and families signed up for parshiyyot (Torah portions), which they studied on their own. Their names appeared on a poster we placed, prominently, in the shul lobby.

Some simply read the parshah with translation, while others did it with commentary. Some did it in one sitting, others spaced it out. But everyone sat down to learn through at least one parshah.

We celebrated at the end with a big Siyum and associated seudah (meal), with divrei torah from individuals on the portions they had learned. And then we did it again, because everyone was so excited about it. And then we did it a third time. Presumably we would have done it several times more, perhaps adding books of Neviim (Prophets), but I moved from Rhode Island in June of 2001.

You can see some information about the program on-line at the Ohawe Sholam website, here.

The cost of the whole enterprise, both financially and in terms of my time, was minimal.
The benefit to individual participants was that they sat down to learn a fixed amount during a fixed period of time.
The benefit to the community was that it helped create an atmosphere of learning, and drew new people into the program each time.

Low cost, big shul and communal benefit… what more could you want?

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