Sara Bamberger, Executive Director
Julie Lieber, Education Director
Jaimie Baxter, Program Director
Kevah, meaning “a set practice,” supports a national, pluralistic network of self-organized study groups. We work closely with educators, group organizers and participants to foster a consistently high-quality learning experience. Kevah builds community through Jewish conversations, and empowers adults to take ownership of their Jewish and spiritual lives.
The rabbis of the Talmud, in the wake of the national disaster that was the Temple Destruction, came up with a revolutionary approach to Jewish living. They placed the study of the Torah at the center of the Jewish spiritual experience, and created a method for exploring texts that expanded beyond the words of the text into the kind of philosophical exploration of life that would transform the learner. The application of that transformation was called Halacha, or The Way. We seek to reintroduce the contemporary Jew to that transformative experience and give them tools to apply it. But just as the rabbis reconstituted Judaism for their communities, so does Kevah reconfigure the rabbinic learning experience for a pluralistic audience that has moved beyond the paradigm of legal obligation. Our learners are not expected to follow directly in the rabbinic tradition, even as they find access to it. Instead, we strive to empower our learners to re-encounter these texts for themselves, and grapple with new ways of applying them that reflect their values and needs. In doing so, they will, in essence, be creating a new Halacha. So we have Parenting groups, Tzedakah groups, Leadership groups, Social Justice groups - and on and on - and in each of these settings, the micro-community of the group gathers to experience the magic of Torah study, and then discuss how they might take that experience and turn it into applied Jewish living.
The Kevah learning model reconstructs the classical Beit Midrash into a new, accessible format, by combining the virtues of what was one a two-tiered learning system: The Chevruta and the Shiur. In the Chevruta, a pair would work together to wrestle with the meaning of a text and come up with their own reading. This is where the richest learning happened. Then, after several hours of this independent study, the pair would move into the Shiur. There the teacher would test knowledge, give deeper insights, and push the students forward. In the Kevah group, those two modes are combined: the group acts together as one large Chevruta, and the teacher's role is both to facilitate their independent exploration and at the same time, to keep them on track and occasionally offer higher-level insights. This combination gives learners - who are unable to navigate Jewish texts independently, but seeking an empowered relationship to those texts - access to the transformative power of Beit Midrash learning.
In 2015-2016 Kevah supported over 60 Kevah groups in the Bay Area, Boston and Denver and almost 700 regular learners. After every semester of learning, we send out an in-depth survey to collect reflections on the Kevah Group experience.
According to the 2016 end-of-year survey results:
o Over 80% of respondents either agree or strongly agree that their Kevah Group has "exposed [them] to a diversity of Jewish opinions and ideas."
o Over 75% of respondents either agree or strongly agree that their Kevah Group had “contributed to [their] interest in regular Jewish learning in the future”
o Over 65% of respondents either agree or strongly agree that their Kevah Group has "contributed to Jewish learning becoming a core part of my Jewish identity”
After years of experimentation, we have arrived at both a learning modality and a pedagogy that we believe best serve the needs of our learners.
The structure of our learning model is comprised of three primary axis points: The Text, The Teacher and The Group. The group works best when it is formed out of a network of friends who trust each other and are excited to come together to learn - as much for the development of their relationships as for the content. The ideal setting for a Kevah Group is in the comfort zone of a living room, which becomes a makeshift "Beit Midrash." This communicates to our learners that they need not go out into the institutional Jewish world to have access to the tradition; they can claim the learning experience in their own spaces.
The Teacher is an outstanding Jewish educator who acts as a tour guide through the sometimes cryptic world of Biblical and Rabbinic material, alternating between the role of facilitator and expert.
The Text is the medium through which the group encounters Jewish wisdom, in a process that engages both their intellectual and emotional intelligences. We have found that the canon of traditional Jewish literature is particularly well-suited to this sort of exploration, both because it is concerned with the essential questions of meaning in human life, and because it has been cast through an interpretive tradition that welcomes personalization and debate.
Our pedagogical approach is centered around the pursuit of a conversational mode of learning, in which each participant is encouraged to actively engage the material, to first understand it on its own merits, and then begin to offer original insights and interpretations. In this style of teaching, questions are the tool for moving the conversation forward. The "movement" of these conversations progresses as follows: first, each participant encounters the text and learns to understand it; next, participants are encouraged to come up with their own interpretations of the text; finally, participants attempt to personalize and internalize the insights that have emerged. Through this process, Kevah learners are able to rediscover Jewish tradition and, from it, create meaning once again, as students of the Torah have been doing for centuries.
Because we believe in the dynamism of this pedagogical approach, we have also begin to invest heavily in training teachers in a number of venues: a 2 week bootcamp, regular educator feedback and formal evaluations, and ongoing mentorship for young educators.
Perhaps the most important lesson we have learned from our participants, however, is represented in the name we chose for our organization. "Kevah,' meaning a regular practice, stands for the principle that the learning of Jewish wisdom must be repeated and ongoing if it is to have a true impact on the lives of the learners. We are not striving to provide "bursts of inspiration," but to facilitate a lifetime of learning. Through the Kevah educational model, Jewish adults become engaged in the regular practice of learning and through it, discover Jewish wisdom that is relevant, meaningful and transformative.
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