Stipend-for-study: Rabbis, participants reflect on goals for Jewish learning programs

posted in: April 2015, Campus, Features | 0
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By Senaya Savir, staff writer, @SenayaSavir

The direct translation of the Hebrew word “kiruv” is to bring close, whether that be emotionally, physically or spiritually. Over the years, the term has been associated with forms of Jewish outreach.

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, started the idea of kiruv in an attempt to bring Jewish people who strayed away from religion closer to God and to the Torah.

Various Jewish groups and religious sects have adopted the trend of kiruv, coming up with their own means of bringing Jewish people closer to their heritage.

At this university, Jewish groups such as Meor and Chabad offer their own stipends for learning, giving students the opportunity to design their own religious or spiritual journeys.

Although most Jewish people are brought up with some sort of religious experience, a lot of the time they don’t necessarily connect to it, Rabbi Ari Koretzky of Meor said.

“Meor offers kiruv programs that will offer students with a fresh new perspective and way of learning,” Koretzky said.

Kiruv programs such as Maimonides, Maimonides 2 and Maimomax are targeted to eager students looking for a way to connect and are open to students of all levels of observance.

“We hope everyone comes out of learning feeling more inspired, welcomed and informed than they were coming in,” Koretzky said. He said that on a deeper level, every student’s experience is different based on their background and prior knowledge.

The idea of kiruv often attracts students who grew up without any Jewish experience and may want to be religious themselves but come from families who are against the idea of being religious. This can often cause a divide between parents and their children.

Koretzky articulated his approach to students in this position, emphasizing the core religious value of respecting one’s parents.

“The key in everything we do is to encourage the religious value of respecting your parents; therefore, we encourage students to bring their families closer to get them involved as well,” Koretzky said.

Koretzky defined kiruv as “a life-long journey,” and said one’s family needs to be a key component of that journey.

“Students should be doing things at a measured pace. Making dramatic changes are unhealthy, and I think understanding that can help prevent alienation between students and families,” Koretzky said.

Rabbi Eli Backman of Chabad shared his opinion on the meaning of kiruv and why he personally disagrees with its direct translation of “bringing close.”

“The challenge I find with the concept of kiruv is I don’t believe I am closer to Hashem [God] and can bring anyone closer,” Backman said. “Everyone inherently has their own connection to Hashem.

Backman said that a connection to God is not a matter of close or far, rather everyone has their own experiences and by doing mitzvot and learning can personally feel closer to God.

Chabad hosts free non-RSVP Shabbat meals every Friday night and holds various events for each Jewish holiday.

The learning programs offered at Chabad — such as Sinai Scholars, a group that spends the semester learning and analyzing the Ten Commandments — are open to all students. Sinai Scholars participants are offered a $300 stipend at the end of the program.

Aaron Pludwinski, a sophomore finance major, said the Sinai Scholars program did not guide his personal decisions of Jewish practice but gave him a greater understanding of the Ten Commandments and their significance in Judaism.

“The program certainly showed me some different perspectives of Judaism, but it did not in any way change mine,” Pludwinski said.

People often associate the word kiruv with people who are completely unobservant. Backman explained that at Chabad, learning is designed specifically for that student whether that be learning Talmud in depth or delving into the meaning of Shabbat.

Backman stressed Chabad is a Jewish organization intended to share Judaism with everyone, instead of taking the connotation of the term kiruv to mean bringing a specific type of Jew closer to God.

Backman said he hopes for students to feel more “comfortable with their connection to Judaism” when they come to Chabad and feel like it’s something they can relate to and find interest in.

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