By Clarice Silber
This year marks the ten-year anniversary of the Maimonides program at the University of Maryland.
The Maimonides program is broken up into two levels, including Maimonides One and Maimonides Two. Students that partake in Maimonides One come to the Meor House, better known as the “Knox Box,” once a week for a three-hour learning session on Tuesdays or Wednesdays. Throughout each session students learn and hear from a speaker.
“It’s interesting that the ten year anniversary coincides with our moving into this house because moving into the house represents a major upgrade for our visibility on campus and the potential we have now to do a lot more,” said Rabbi Ari Koretzky.
Diana Goodman, a sophomore kinesiology major, feels that Maimonides is a good way to stay connected to Judaism.
“I’ve been really enjoying it. I think it’s a good way to reopen a lot of doors about Judaism that I haven’t really thought about,” Goodman said.
She added that the speakers are able to give a lot of perspective on a variety of Jewish topics.
According to Rabbi Ozzie Burnham, one of the educators in the program, all Jewish students can benefit from joining Maimonides. “I think every Jewish student has a part of themselves that can’t be satisfied until they understand the spiritual side of themselves,” Burnham said.
Undecided major Gabe Fishbein, a participant of Maimonides One, said that although he likes the program, the meeting time is inconvenient. “I don’t like that it’s from seven to ten at night. I’d rather have it two short time periods earlier in the day,” Fishbein said.
Koretzky said that one of the major challenges that the staff faces is keeping participants focused and engaged during sessions. Koretzky felt that the shabbaton weekends that the program offers in New York and Silver Spring are helpful in combating that issue. Koretzky explained that these weekends help keep the students interested and undistracted because of the environment surrounding them.
“The magic of the Maimonides program is that the more authentically we present Judaism, the more alive and relevant it becomes,” said Rabbi Zalman Goldstein, another educator of the program.
“It’s more of a welcoming community than I’ve experienced just about anywhere else on campus,” Goodman said.
Burnham explained that the most satisfying part of the program is seeing the effects it can have on students in the future, as he cited a recent encounter with a former student.
“We went out to lunch in D.C. and it’s so extraordinary to think, here’s a guy who’s really living a life full and who has a lot of Judaism in his life and lot of that had to do with the fact he was part of the Maimonides program,” Burnham said.
The Maimonides program, which came to Maryland in 2003, was modeled heavily on the Maimonides program that originated at the University of Michigan in the early ‘90s. According to Rabbi Koretzky, educators on the Michigan campus wanted to bring the program to Maryland. Koretzky started to run the program with Bruce Luchanski, who served as an educator.
“One night I remember we walked across from Hillel to Cambridge and it was freezing. We did 18 or 19 interviews in a row at Cambridge Community Center and that was our first group. We started out with 17 people in STAMP,” Koretzky said.
“I tell people I hope it stimulates a life long love affair with Jewish learning and living, and in that respect, Maimonides is just a spring board, it’s a jolt. But hopefully it makes people alive to the possibilities that are out there,” Koretzky said.