The new Jewish Learning Center at Hillel, which officially opened on Monday, is only the size of an average University classroom, but organizers hope the spirit of learning that grows from this one room will be much larger.
The center will offer classes on a wide variety of subjects, from politics and philosophy to Torah study, Hebrew and meditation. All of these classes are free for all University students.
Rabbis and religious teachers from a wide variety of backgrounds will lead classes and help with informal study. Organizers hope to make the Jewish Learning Center a place “where people want to teach,” said Rabbi Jason Miller, who will serve as the director of the new center. Miller said he hopes to attract religious scholars from around the country.
Also known as a Beit Midrash or House of Study, the center will also seek to find students study partners for all subjects. It will be “sort of a dating service, but for study,” Miller said.
Miller envisions the Beit Midrash as a place where students can come together to study in a comfortable and intimate environment.
The newly renovated room, which once held only a few tables and chairs, now contains several bookcases of religious texts, as well as books about Jewish ethics, spirituality and mysticism. In addition, a computer in the new center offers Internet access and software focused on Jewish learning. A mini-fridge and microwave ensure that no students will have to go hungry while engrossed in study.
While the room is small, Jenna Eisen, an LSA junior and member of the inaugural class at the Beit Midrash, said she appreciated the new center’s intimacy.
“It was nice because there were just the three of us, and it was easier to learn; there was open conversation and a comfortable setting,” Eisen said.
But more important than the refurbished location, said Hillel staff member Lori Hoch, are the “amazing books.”
“Say you’re having a Jewish debate with someone, and someone wants to pull out a source,” Hoch said. “All they need to do now is go onto a shelf and pick out whatever book they need.”
In the past, students, “didn’t have a place to study Torah in a serious, albeit informal way,” Miller said. Now they have a place to “argue in a fun, friendly, respectful manner and both grow in knowledge and understanding of the texts.”
The idea for a study center came in part from University students who had studied at yeshivas, or Jewish learning centers in Israel, and wanted to replicate that type of learning environment, Miller said.
The remodeling of the space was funded by a donation by the Brodsky family and the new books were purchased with a grant from the Irwin and Bethea Green Foundation.
The new center will provide a place for both religious and secular study for Jews and non-Jews alike, Miller added.