By Eliana Leader and Rabba Yaffa Epstein
Two are better off than one, in that they derive greater benefit from their efforts. For if they should fall, the one will raise up the other, as opposed to if one falls
when there is no one to raise him.
Ecclesiastes famously teaches us that “Tovim Ha’Shnayim Min Ha’Ehad,” two heads are better than one. In classic Jewish learning circles this is known as Havruta – a methodology that allows for partnered learning. Students are asked to bring their unique perspectives, talents and opinions to the text, thereby enriching the text, and the learning of their partner. It is the core methodology of the Beit Midrash, and the guiding principle behind a recent organizational partnership between Ramah Darom and The Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies.
Our partnership began with a Shavuot retreat in May 2018, where each of our organizations had the opportunity to showcase our unique strengths. The Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, a leader in Jewish learning, provided transformative and innovative classes, designed to appeal to a wide variety of backgrounds, ages, and experience with classical Jewish text study. The Kaplan Mitchell Retreat Center at Ramah Darom provided experiential educational visioning and programming, and an exceptional immersive experience, where participants truly immersed themselves in Jewish learning and diverse community.
From Ramah Darom’s perspective, there was a desire to grow their portfolio of experiential learning opportunities and include a program which focuses on exploring the richness of our sacred texts in a relatable and accessible way for an audience of diverse Jewish practice and background. From Pardes’s perspective it was a natural fit to work with Ramah Darom, an organization that wants Judaism to grow and thrive, and where Jews of all backgrounds can come together for positive, inclusive, and inspiring experiences
But our partnership went further than simply a collaboration. The process of developing the vision and goals of the program, and marketing the event to the public was truly a Havruta. Each organization had an opportunity to weigh in on the others’ work, and the constructive feedback and shared outcome made for a deeply thoughtful and successful retreat.
As one participant remarked:
“I could think of no better place to celebrate Shavuot than with the institution that gave me the passion, empowerment, and tools to learn Torah” shared Rachel Dingman, retreat, a Pardes alumnus. “Davening by a lake, learning Torah at 4:00 AM, going on a Pardes-style hike to the waterfall, and being surrounded by an intergenerational community ready to learn with and from one another were just a few things that made this retreat so special. As someone who works as a Jewish Professional I am often facilitating experiences for others – I am so grateful that Pardes and Ramah Darom facilitated this experience for me (and all participants) to learn, celebrate, and reflect during Shavuot.”
Rachel’s experience perfectly sums up the three major takeaways we learned from this partnership.
1. Immersive experiences are an opportunity for real transformation.
While many of us have participated in Shavuot experiences in our hometowns, being away from the bustling city, and having a chance to focus solely on our learning, our fellow participants, and the community we are building, deepen and invigorate the learning experience. Our Torah study is taken outside of the classroom, and into the lakes, waterfalls, and mountains around us. Our Tefillah (prayers) becomes inspired, and inspiring to those around us.
2. Intergenerational Learning matters.
One of the most remarkable elements of this retreat was seeing the breadth of diversity in participants, not only in terms of their Jewish backgrounds, but also in terms of age. From toddlers to retirees, this program attracted a representative slice of the Jewish community. At the closing circle, many participants remarked on the intergenerational element, and how much they enjoyed getting to know people while build community with participants of all ages.
3. Innovative programming can engage alumni.
In today’s Jewish organizational world, the question of cultivating our alumni, and keeping them invested in the Jewish community, is one that many organizations are discussing. Our retreat found that the vast majority of participants were alumni of either Pardes or Ramah Darom programs. They were drawn to the experience through the connection they felt as an alum, but were served by that organization in a new way. The combination of the two organizations and their commitment to building a unique program in unison, while still connecting to their individual participant base, can be a model to other Jewish organizations grappling with the question of alumni engagement.And so, our two heads were certainly better than one. And the Havruta continues:
Pardes and Ramah Darom are thrilled to announce that we will continue this incredible partnership at our 2nd annual retreat, Pardes Beit Midrash B’Darom, over Presidents Day Weekend, February 15-18, 2019. Save the date and stay tuned for more details!
Rabba Yaffa Epstein serves as the Director of Education, North America for the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. She has taught Talmud, Jewish Law and Liturgy at Pardes for over a decade, and has served on the faculty of The Wexner Foundation, Yeshivat Maharat, and the Drisha Institute. Yaffa has spoken at Limmud events, Hillels, and Moishe Houses around the globe.
Eliana Leader is the Director of the Kaplan Mitchell Retreat Center at Ramah Darom, and a long time Jewish professional and experienced community builder. Eliana was recently named in 2017 Jewish Atlanta’s 40 Under 40, and is the recipient of the Abe Schwartz Young Leadership Award from Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta.