In Partnership: How A New Program Makes Jewish Learning Meaningful for Parents Today
August 3rd, 2023
It is a gratifying thing to pursue a program of meaningful Jewish learning that checks all the boxes. This was the experience of a pilot program that emerged organically from Pedagogy of Partnership’s (PoP) longtime partnerships with two Jewish day schools. For years, PoP, Powered by Hadar, has been working with teachers and leaders from Boston’s Jewish Community Day School and Schechter Boston to root PoP’s havruta -based method of “learning Jewishly” to meet their schools’ respective and unique visions for their students and faculty. Particularly after the disruption of covid, the time was ripe for weaving back together the many connections and relationships that make day school communities special: relationships among parents, connection of parents to the heart of their children’s Jewish learning experience, and a shared relationship to Torah for all members of the community.
The pilot program brought PoP’s orientation and tools for havruta learning together with Hadar’s Project Zug (PZ) course, To Share or Not to Share: The Torah of Social Media, and the personalized invitation and havruta matchmaking ability of each school’s educational leadership. Together, we formed the how, what, who, and where of this learning opportunity for the parents of each community. We hope that sharing this model is helpful to others designing programs meant to build relationships through Torah learning.
The basic structure of the program was simple. The schools sent out an invitation to parents to sign up for a four session havruta learning experience bookended by an in-person communal PoP introduction to havruta learning at the beginning, and a PoP siyum, closing celebration, at the end. Parents could choose to be matched with someone new or sign up with a friend, spouse, or someone they have always wanted to get to know better. After the group introductory session, each havruta pair arranged to meet together at a time, frequency, and location that worked for them as they charted their own course through the PZ learning materials.
In the opening session, we oriented parents to a shared understanding of havruta learning by introducing them to select PoP frameworks including, “The Havruta Triangle.”
Parents energetically unpacked the implications of this relational conception of Jewish learning by considering what it means for the text to be a partner; what it looks like to enter into a balanced give-and-take with another person and a text, and what dispositions we might need to call upon to enter into this kind of learning. Parents named such dispositions as “openness,” “curiosity,” “empathy,” “listening,” and “humility” as core attitudes that would animate this triangle in action.
A highlight of this discussion came from the parents’ children themselves! Each school made a video of their students, who learn through PoP at school, reflecting on the very questions we asked parents to consider about the nature of havruta learning. The students offered practical advice for how to make the most of one’s learning. Parents were enchanted and took to heart their children’s sound advice:
You don’t always have to agree with [your havruta partner] and sometimes it is better if you disagree. If you disagree with your partner, you can end up learning more than you would have if you agreed.
– Seventh Grade PoP student
You should be caring and help each other. You should learn something, you should teach something…
– Third Grade PoP student
Adults studying in havruta should remember to look at the text a lot more than they think they need to
– Seventh Grade PoP student
You need to focus on what you are reading and understand it…actually understanding what does the text say but also making sure that you respect your partner.
– Third Grade PoP student
With this orienting framework, parents started to form their own havruta relationships with a “havruta warm-up” exercise to identify strengths and skills they could each bring to their learning. With a sense of shared purpose, tools, and compelling questions about the text itself, parents were ready to go on to study the rich course materials on their own until we gathered again a couple of months later to celebrate and share learning and reflections.
The content that parents studied together in the The Torah of Social Media PZ course, curated by Yitzhak Bronstein, constitutes a complex and multi-layered compilation of traditional Jewish sources that raise and address critical questions about how we talk about one another and to one another. Amplified exponentially by the onset of social media, ancient considerations about what constitutes gossip, how we balance the prohibition against gossip with the responsibilities to rebuke wrong-doing and also to judge one’s fellow favorably, reverberate in our present-day lives with heightened significance and consequence.
Parents commented on how the sources presented them with new ideas or extended how they thought about the unintended harms of talking or writing about others, such as the idea that gossip not only harms the object of gossip but the teller and the receiver of that gossip [Mishneh Torah, Hilchot De’ot 7:1,3]. Many parents shared stories about how their learning had an immediate impact on how they navigate everyday decisions about speech and sharing information.
The Power of Havruta to Build Relationships
Reflecting on their havruta experience as a whole, parents expressed deep gratitude for the meaningful and substance-rich connections they formed with their partners. Some commented on having made a brand-new connection with a fellow parent with whom they share much in common—and others shared that their new connections were refreshing precisely because of what they did not have in common! A parent with young children matched with a parent of older children appreciated the ways they could learn from one another and see themselves on a developmental pathway held by their respective journeys through the school. Participants reported having experienced firsthand what it is to get to know another person through the study of Torah—where the text serves as a mediator inviting two people to meet in conversation in a way they would not have otherwise.
Parents also reported that the PoP frameworks provided shared language and routines, and thereby helped to bring together those parents who were new to havruta learning with parents who have a lot of experience. One parent shared with us that she had always admired those who studied in havruta, and she prioritized a Jewish education for her own children to learn to develop those skills, but she had been too intimidated to try it herself until this pilot program. Having been paired with a very learned and experienced partner she was even more nervous until they sat down together, and using the PoP learning routine, created a flow of lively and fascinating Torah discussion. Both partners came away enriched with Torah and shared their appreciations for one another at the close of the course. In both school communities the siyum celebrations ended with a resounding request for more learning.
The PoP-PZ-School partnership pilot happily checked a lot of boxes from a programmatic standpoint. More important, however, is the uplift, connection, and Torah-insights that participants within this program framework were able to create on their own for one another by bringing themselves to their havruta learning with openness, curiosity, humility and desire to learn. Parents were able to demonstrate for themselves the PoP idea that, “If all the havruta partners work together, we will come to learning and insights that we would not have come to on our own, in the same way, or with a different set of partners” (Cook & Kent, 2018. Exploring the Partnership Stance).
Allison Cook and Dr. Orit Kent and the Founders and Co-Directors of Pedagogy of Partnership, Powered by Hadar. PoP offers trainings, coaching, and resources for Jewish educators, school leaders, adults and families. To hear from PoP students directly about the power of learning in havruta, click here!
 Havruta refers to the traditional Jewish social learning practice in which two learners study texts together as a pair. The term havruta can also refer to one’s study partner, as in, “I am learning with my havruta.”