Me’ah was one of those things you heard about at synagogue meetings, Kiddush, the JCC or other places Jews in the community gather. Most of our friends knew about the two year course of study, and some of the braver types with young children had even taken it. Everyone we spoke to said we must do it! So, as soon as both our kids were off to college, we signed up.
One of the first things we ended up doing in our first class was go around the room, introduce ourselves and tell the class a little bit about what brought us to Me’ah. Some had taken Me’ah before and were there for a “Round Two refresher,” some were lifelong Jewish learners, some had never had the opportunity to study Judaism as adults, and then there was my husband, Fred, and me.
Our motivation for Me’ah was envy. While both of us had attended Hebrew-school programs after school, our kids had the good fortune to attend Jewish day school through 12th grade. We saw what they were learning over the years, and came to realize that they were studying some pretty intriguing material.
Sometimes we would hear the results of an in-class Talmud discussion or an innovative lesson from a Tanach teacher. I can’t remember the exact point now, but I do remember our son trying to argue his way out of a punishment by quoting Rashi! That did it. We had to study some of this stuff ourselves just to keep up!
Our class was unbelievably diverse. Some had backgrounds in orthodoxy, some were Conservative, some Reform or Reconstructionist and some defied labels. Some had studied more, some less and some not at all. Some of my classmates were spiritual, some had a more intellectual approach, but everyone was there to learn, to deepen their basic understanding of Judaism.
For two years we sat in the same seats, tried (some weeks were better than others) to do the reading and soaked up what we could in the time allotted. Most nights I would start off a little sleepy but would definitely get a second wind at the halfway point (the snacks had something to do with it).
Speaking of snack…it wasn’t always the high point in our class, but we bonded enough over this and other things to agree to have a potluck “graduation” dinner where we could make up for the ocassionally less-than-stellar snack time! I was fortunate enough to host this graduation dinner. It was a delicious feast, with contributions from everyone, and it gave us all an opportunity to get to know each other a little better at the end of our two years. We even talked about figuring out a way to continue our study together.
In two years, I probably learned a microcosm — a tiny fraction — of what my kids studied. There is way too much material to fit into four neat little periods, but that’s OK. Now I see that’s why some folks take Me’ah a second time, or go on to study one of these periods in more depth. I learned that it can be wonderful and exciting to do Jewish study with other adults. I learned that learning keeps your brain agile and challenges you in ways that everyday work situations may not.
I also learned that studying Jewish texts and history maintains your connection to Judaism. Learning can be personal, it can be interactive, it can be academic or spiritual, goal-oriented or for the sake of study itself. But this time it’s for life!