As I walked into the room I didn’t know what to expect.
I had traded some text messages with Daniel and we’d spoken on the phone, but we had never met in person.
I spotted a guy and had a feeling this was him.
I found out later he had played football. At about 6 feet tall and 250 pounds, he certainly had the right build.
Daniel had recently finished serving in the IDF as a Lone Soldier. Originally from Texas, Daniel had been inspired by a Birthright trip to make aliyah and serve in the IDF.
But, I wasn’t meeting Daniel to talk about his army experiences. I was meeting him at Hebrew University to learn with him as part of the RRG Hillel Beit Midrash Program.
A Beit Midrash at Hebrew U?
That’s a mouthful. Let’s take a step back and explore this a bit.
Of course, Hebrew University of Jerusalem is a secular institution dedicated to research and teaching students in all academic fields.
But it’s also located in Jerusalem and the Mount Scopus campus has a commanding view of the Old City and the Temple Mount.
It’s inevitable that some students at a place like HU will also be interested in delving into their Jewish roots.
Hence, for the past 30 years the RRG Hillel Beit Midrash Program has been there to help.
The Beit Midrash program caters to university students from all over the world who are studying Hebrew U. Most of them are spending a semester or two at HU and plan to return to their home universities. Others, like Daniel, have moved to Israel.
What they all have in common is a desire to take advantage of their time in Israel to learn more about what it means to be a Jew.
The Beit Midrash program, coordinated by Rabbis Reuven Grodner and Yonatan Udren, fills that role.
How it Works
At the beginning of each semester and throughout the year, the rabbis meet with students. They find out what each student wants to accomplish and then find a tutor suitable for the student.
The students and tutors meet every Monday evening at the Hebrew University Hecht Synagogue.
The evening program starts with dinner. Students and tutors balance plates and cups as they chat with each other. After dinner everyone gathers in a circle to hear words of inspiration from one of the rabbis or students.
Then everyone goes into the shul for the real focus of evening.
Often the tutor has brought source materials for their learning time. This is serious chevruta learning with each student / tutor pair exploring their chosen text together.
The students are from all over the US and many other countries and have chosen to come to Israel. Most of them have limited backgrounds as to what it means to be Jewish. They are interested in learning more.
The HU Beit Midrash gives them an opportunity to explore Jewish thought and ask questions.
The tutors are mixed bunch of current HU students and residents of Jerusalem and its suburbs. Every year a fair number of the tutors are helping in the program because of the positive experience they had years before when they were students at Hebrew U.
The tutors are trained to be accepting and welcoming. No pressure is put on the students to become more observant. The expectation is that by learning Torah growth as a person and a Jew will naturally result.
There is evidence that many students return to their home universities and continue on the growth path they started at the Beit Midrash Program.
More Than Monday Night
I’ve been a volunteer tutor in the Beit Midrash for 4 years. That why this article has focused on the Monday evening program.
There’s also a weekly Lunch and Learn program and R. Grodner teaches Gemara to interested students.
Several times a year they have special Shabbat programs in various communities around Jerusalem.
In addition, Rabbis Grodner and Udren make themselves available to students at other times as well. R. Udren also helps students find Shabbat and holiday hospitality.
You Can Help
As you can imagine, a program like this costs money to run.
The RRG Hillel Beit Midrash depends on generous donors like yourself. Your donation today can ensure that the RRG Hillel Beit Midrash Program will be there for the next group of students who come to Hebrew U.
Donating is easy. Just click on this link which will take you to the Root Funding campaign for the Beit Midrash program: http://www.rootfunding.com/campaign/5706
Yeah, it’s got my name on it, but I’m not getting a cut. That’s just for my ego so I can see how much I’ve helped them raise. 🙂
Update: This campaign has ended. You can still make a contribution by contacting the RRG Hillel Beit Midrash directly.