Global Jewish Reflections | Learning in the Time of “Corona”

For Jewish educator Rabbi David Levin-Kruss, a monthly study circle was a chance to strengthen global Jewish connections even during the pandemic.

By Rabbi David Levin-Kruss - JDC-Europe Director of Jewish Education | May 11, 2021

Throughout the pandemic, Rabbi David Levin-Kruss's monthly Yibaneh gathering has brought together Jewish professionals from across the world.

Global Jewish Reflections is a recurring feature highlighting the spiritual wisdom of rabbis, Jewish educators, and others from around the JDC world.

Every month, three groups get together via Zoom to discuss the intersection between contemporary issues and Jewish insights. The program is called Yibaneh and is open to JDC employees as well as lay and professionals from Jewish communities in Europe and beyond. What makes the course special is that the content is powered by the participants and each person has the chance to suggest classes and do a small presentation.

I am the instructor, and this class has been my rock during the COVID-19 pandemic. Knowing that I had to prepare monthly, and that there was a community of students wanting to learn, was my anchor during this difficult time. In fact, when a friend died (not from COVID-19), our Yibaneh was the place I memorialized him.

Rabbi David Levin-Kruss

One student, Juliet from Barcelona, told me she feels the same: “That Yibaneh continued uninterrupted throughout the pandemic definitely gave a sense of stability. Moreover, because the topics did not focus on COVID-19, it was a pleasant distraction in a time of crisis. It was something ‘fun’ to look forward to when almost everything else was about ‘corona.’”

Sinhora from Mumbai agrees: “The group discussion gives me a sense of stability as I get to know the views and feelings of the other participants and I learn a lot. My mind becomes very peaceful and calm after every session. I await the next sessions. I’ve only been able to attend the Yibaneh sessions because of the coronavirus pandemic. Since I am working from home, I am able to take the time to attend.”

But I was surprised to learn that most participants did not share these sentiments, though some agreed with Sinhora: The pandemic gave them the time to take the class and made them more open to a Zoom experience.

But the class served other purposes, too. Galadriel and Oscar, both from Paris, shared: “Corona has taken a lot of our Jewish experiences (such as synagogue, family gatherings, or Moishe House events) away from us. Yibaneh provided a replacement for something that we were missing.” And Sarah, from Jerusalem, decided to join during the pandemic because she was craving interaction with her colleagues, and this was an opportunity to meet and learn from them.

Besides learning, it is a way to socialize and meet international friends, to get to know new people from Jewish communities around the world.

So why do some 35 people a month regularly attend the class? For Henrik, from Budapest, “Besides learning, it is a way to socialize and meet international friends, to get to know new people from Jewish communities around the world.” Marcel (Sofia and Madrid) agrees with the international aspect and loves learning about different communities. Laila (Stockholm) likes the diversity in age and background — echoed by Ilya (Budapest), who added that he appreciates the variety in locations, language, interests, and perspectives. For Hannah (Berlin), discussions with Jewish professionals from around the world are a way to strengthen Klal Israel (worldwide Jewish connections).

Participants also seek the intellectual atmosphere that Yibaneh cultivates. Henrik (Budapest) says, “Everyone can share their ideas and point of view without any taboos.” Galadriel and Oscar (Paris) “enjoy discussing sensitive subjects in a peaceful way.” For Magda (Warsaw), the draw was the “multiplicity of voices, a lot of space for discussion, and personal relevance.” Sarah (Jerusalem) enjoys hearing others’ stories and perspective, feeling at home in the forum, free to say whatever she likes; she appreciates the presence of those who are part of other, non-Jewish, traditions.

Others mention the effect Yibaneh has had on their life or profession. Laila (Stockholm) says, “I think this is a splendid way to add a bit of Jewish thought into management and everyday life.” Hannah (Berlin) points out that “Yibaneh offers Jewish professionals the opportunity to stay connected to Jewish education and Jewish content, something that sometimes gets lost in day-to-day work.”

Members of the Yibaneh study circle pose for a Zoom photo.

So, what did I, the facilitator, learn from all this? On some level, as JDC’s Director of Education for Europe, my job is to “sell” Jewish learning. Sometimes I may go too far in that direction, promising that Jewish studies will help you build a better organization, get you through a pandemic, and remind you of your life’s mission.

I really believe this is all very true, but so are the “old-fashioned” reasons for learning:  enlightenment, relevance, bringing people together, insights to integrate into one’s work and personal life. Yibaneh participants reminded me of this, and I, in turn, will remember this insight as I enter Shavuot, the holiday that celebrates the meaning and relevance of Jewish learning.

Or, as one of my students (Ilya from Budapest) put it: “I wish we could have a big learning day with all your Yibaneh students — preferably in-person.” Sounds like the perfect Shavuot.

Rabbi David Levin-Kruss is JDC’s Director of Jewish Education for Europe.

Thank you to:

Galadriel Vormes Goldberg, Social Media Director, EUJS
Hannah Dannel, Culture and Communication Officer, Central Council of Jews in Germany
Henrik Benke, Engineer/former Szarvas Unit Head
Ilya Tarbeev, Communications Officer, Szarvas Camp, JDC
Juliet Kent, Administrative Coordinator, JDC
Laila Takolander, COO, JFST
Magda Rubenfeld Koralewska, Regional Coordinator, Central/Eastern Europe, Limmud
Marcel Israel, Retired Engineer, Community Activist
Oscar Desjonqueres, Educator, Paris
Sarah Weill, Resource Development Liaison, JDC
Sinhora Sassoon, Administrative Assistant, JDC

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