Zoom room opens door to Intro to Judaism

PHOTO: Havurah Shalom Rabbi Benjamin Barnett explains the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, healing the world, during the fall session of the Oregon Board of Rabbis Introduction to Judaism class on Zoom. 

No geographic, transportation or time barriers will keep people from participating in the next 18-week session of the Introduction to Judaism class that begins Jan. 21.
Classes taught by members of the Oregon Board of Rabbis normally meet at rotating Portland-area synagogues from 7 to 9 pm Thursdays. But this term will be held online via Zoom, with recordings available for students who miss a class. Should conditions change and classes are able to return to physical gatherings, the OBR has committed to retaining the online option for those who need it through the end of the term on June 3.
“I feel I lucked out with COVID and being able to access the classes virtually,” says one participant of the fall term. “If we were living in normal times, it would be hard for me to take the classes at different locations as I’m disabled. So if the classes ever start up in person again, I think it would be really helpful to others to offer the class online as an alternative.”
Another student comments, “If not for Zoom, I would not be able to participate at all! I am so grateful to have access to this curriculum from my far-flung location in Corvallis. Thank you, thank you!”
The rabbis who teach the class represent a variety of Jewish affiliations. The carefully constructed curriculum includes Jewish history, life-cycle events, holidays, ritual and daily practice, theology, study of Torah and contemporary Jewish America. While not a conversion class, most OBR members consider it a prerequisite for students beginning study for conversion. The class is also a valuable resource for Jews who feel they would like a better understanding of Judaism.
“Students in the OBR class aren’t exposed to Judaism, but Judaisms – learning from not just one, but many teachers from all variety of Judaism,” says Portland Rabbi Brian Zachary Mayer, the founder of Religion-Outside-The-Box.  
Rabbi Ariel Stone of Congregation Shir Tikvah says the Zoom classes have been an unexpected asset, though she looks forward to offering in-person classes again.
“As a way to make the class as accessible as possible for those who wish to learn, Zoom meetings have been surprisingly positive,” says Rabbi Stone. “While we know that virtual community can never take the place of the real thing, Zoom rooms are easier to enter for the most uncertain seeker among us.”
The class shifted to Zoom on March 19 to finish last spring’s semester when the governor issued stay-home orders in response to COVID. The summer COVID surge made it apparent the class would have to retain the online format for fall. When class facilitator JoAnn Bezodis advertised the term, she received many more registrations than usual – showing the online format removed barriers from people attending. 
When the fall term graduates on Jan. 14, graduates will include students from far-flung locations, including a sailor who was completing a tour on a U.S. Navy ship.  Others came from Eugene and Corvallis and Underwood, Wash., with a Portlander temporarily in New York also able to participate. 
The spring 2021 session begins Jan. 21. Register online or contact JoAnn at 971-248-5465 or info@oregonboardofrabbis.org
For more information visit oregonboardofrabbis.org/introduction-to-judaism-class


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