Last night, I led a Torah on Tap discussion for Beach Hillel on the centralmost chapter in the Torah. Taking place at The Nugget at California State University, Long Beach, we looked at chapter 19 in the book of Leviticus, which provided a rich discussion.
The Torah on Tap series is a monthly series that Beach Hillel provided for its students to engage with Jewish topics of interest, having taken place three times in the fall (September, October, and November) and three times in the spring (February, March, and April), with me serving as the Jewish educator for the series.
By student request, I led a discussion on kosher food for Beach Hillel on Thursday. Taking place at The Nugget on the campus of California State University, Long Beach, I led a discussion on the fundamentals of kosher food as found in the Torah (a/k/a the Five Books of Moses), with a primary focus on Leviticus, chapter 11.
This Torah on Tap event was the second of three monthly such events taking place for Beach Hillel this semester, just as we had done in the fall semester. Last month, with St. Valentine’s Day being in the popular consciousness, we discussed sex and consensuality in the Talmud.
Last week, I led a Torah on Tap discussion with California State University, Long Beach students for Beach Hillel. As it was not only going to be Valentine’s Day, so a lot of people were hearing about relationships and sex, as well as the day before the theatrical release of Fifty Shades of Grey, so people were curious to hear about sex.
For the first half of the discussion, we utilized sources from the Talmud on consensuality and sex. For the second half of the conversation, the students got to have an open Q&A (similar to last spring) about sex and Judaism.
This was the first of three Torah on Tap learning events of the semester with Beach Hillel this spring.
Finally, we had the annual Sukkah Hop, which, for the third year in a row, was held in Irvine. Beach Hillel partnered again with Chabad at University of California, Irvine (UCI) for a great time with students from UCI, CSULB, and other schools, to visit multiple sukkot, ending up in a dinner at a big sukkah with music and dancing.
Yesterday, I led a discussion with a dozen students at California State University, Long Beach for Beach Hillel on the topic of judging. Appropriate for the upcoming holiday of Rosh HaShanah – the Jewish New Year, also known as Yom HaDin – the Day of Judgment, we discussed judging. As a way to ground our conversation, I had gathered over a half-dozen texts from the Mishnah and the Talmud for conversing about how our Sages considered judging.
For the 2014-2015 academic year, Beach Hillel is holding a monthly Jewish learning opportunity in the form of a “Torah on Tap”-style class and I lead the discussion on a Jewish topic, while Beach Hillel covers the first round of drinks. For this first “Torah on Tap” discussion of the academic year, I though that “judging” would be an interesting topic to cover, since many university students discuss judging and how right or wrong it is.
One thing I wanted to push was the very important rabbinic dictum, which appears several times in rabbinic literature, of hevy dan haverkha lekhaf zekhut – judge your fellow person favorably (in other words, giving people the benefit of the doubt), about which I have written elsewhere.
With this first class of the year for Beach Hillel, I am excited for future such classes with students
For the fourth consecutive year, I attended the annual Hillel staff conference, Hillel Institute, in St. Louis. As with the previous two years, I was there due to the financial support of Long Beach Hillel (I had to raise money from private individuals to make it possible for me to attend in 2010), which makes sense, since in my capacity of serving as the rabbi for Long Beach Hillel, I am involved in various ways in its functions. Moreover, attending Hillel Institute, has – every year – helped me focus me for the new academic year in getting ready for our work as Long Beach Hillel. That was especially true this year.
As in years past (see here and here), it was great seeing fellow Yeshivat Chovevei Torah graduates at the conference! It was also great to meet Long Beach Hillel’s new programming associate and to experience the great amount of energy he is bringing to the position and to the Hillel, writ large.
In addition to the above, the two sessions out of which I got the most were a session with Rabbi Dan Smokler, which was phenomenal and I need to review my notes, since it was incredibly helpful for how I think about going about my work. The other was a very thought-provoking session on qualitative metrics for Hillels (a topic of interest of mine as evidenced here and, subsequently, here), led by the executive directors of Berkeley Hillel and Princeton Hillel, in which they shared the great work they are doing in gathering and analyzing the qualitative data regarding their Hillels. I was glad to see not only that it was being done, but also to see how they were doing it.
Even though Hillel Institute 2013 occurred six weeks ago, I am still unpacking the material, ideas, and more from it, which has been a phenomenal catapult for this academic year!
Two years ago at Hillel Institute, I came back with some ideas regarding Beach Hillel, one of which was to incorporate some Jewish content in each of our weekly Beach Hillel staff-and-interns meetings. While I don’t remember from whom I heard the idea, I do remember coming back from that conference with the idea that any Jewish organizational meeting should have some element of Jewish content. In consultation with Rachel, we decided to incorporate a morsel of Jewish learning into our meetings.
That fall, all of the Jewish content pieces were Talmudic excerpts pertaining to the sage, Hillel, whether statements of his or stories about him, so that our staff and interns would be knowledgeable about our organization’s namesake, so they could respond when asked about the name of Hillel.
Last year, instead of having staff and intern meetings, we simply had staff meetings, so while we began with Hillel the sage-related Jewish content pieces (we had new staff, so we could re-use the material), we then spun off into Jewish content pieces in which our staff was interested in exploring. It went really well and we had very involved discussions. However, it often went too well, with the discussions on the Jewish content taking up too much time for us to effectively deal with the actual business with which we needed to deal.
At this year’s Hillel Institute, I heard the Senior Jewish Educator at the Hillel at UC-Berkeley mentioning that their staff has weekly Jewish learning meetings. I realized that having a separate staff Jewish content learning session would solve the issue of our not having sufficient time to get to the business at-hand for our meetings. Also, it would serve not only as an opportunity for our staff to develop greater confidence in their Jewish knowledge and identity, but it would also serve as a way for us to model to our students that we, too, were engaged in Jewish learning. Furthermore, the content often connects with holidays, which enables our staff to be able to knowledgeably discuss what they are.
Every year is something new in this regard. I am hoping that as we hire new interns for the school year, we can also incorporate some of those morsels regarding Hillel, the sage, so that they are both aware of our organization’s namesake, as well as being Jewishly enriched.