Deerfield River, Shelburne Falls.
Yesterday evening I drove to the town of Shelburne Falls. The drive takes about an hour, along some twisty back roads (including my favorite Cheshire shortcut to 116, and 8A through the backwoods of Hawley, and finally a short stretch of the Mohawk Trail.) I parked my car behind McCusker's Market, where I met the one other ALEPH rabbinic student in Western Massachusetts for dinner and some learning together!
I remember sitting with her in the dining hall of the old Elat Chayyim, back when I was still a prospective student -- I knew I wanted to apply, but had the usual anxieties about getting in. She urged me to apply, sooner rather than later. The work of becoming a rabbi in this program takes many years, she reminded me, so it might behoove me to begin. Besides, she pointed out, if I were in the program, we could study together, someplace between my town and hers. Last night, we finally brought that promise into reality.
Over sandwiches, we talked about how each of us is navigating the program: what courses we're taking, how we're fielding the various requirements, how we're juggling the program with the rest of our personal and professional lives. And then we settled in to do some learning.
The plan is to do an independent study in classical midrash. We've each picked up a lovely bilingual edition of Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, which will be our core text. We're still figuring out exactly where we want our learning to focus -- we hope to study some midrash, and then some Talmud, and see if we can trace how stories and references shift from one to the other. We're about to open a conversation with a rabbi from whom we've both learned in the past, to see whether she'd be willing to formally advise this independent study. So last night was really a preliminary meeting. But we wanted to do some learning, not just talking about learning, so we spent a while studying the beginning of the text, taking turns reading aloud and translating together. It felt great.
I love being able to connect with my fellow students virtually. (Yesterday afternoon, for instance, I had a Skype study date with a fellow student who lives in Florida -- which was terrific; it makes me happy to see his face on my screen and to hear his voice in my headphones.) But there's something about studying together in hevruta, in person, across a table, that just can't be duplicated. Two people learning together can arrive at insights that neither of them could have found alone -- their awareness can be more than the sum of its parts. Plus, it's just plain fun.
I'm already looking forward to next week, and to a summer of driving these mountain roads in order to learn.