Dear Bronfman Community,
It would not be an exaggeration to say that this year’s Spring Seminar, which took place at the Isabella Freedman Center from April 16 to 25, was one of the most emotional educational experiences I was ever a part of. The 2020 Fellows had waited all year to be together in person, and to finally see the Fellows - to see them seeing each other - was incredibly moving. And teaching and learning in-person again was nothing short of life-giving.
Our time together was filled with a remarkable range of experiences – from learning to hiking; from meeting illustrious Jewish scholars Dr. Mara Benjamin (Mt. Holyoke College) and Dr. James Loeffler (UVA) to making goat cheese; from discussing Jewish multi-lingual identity and translation with Jerusalem-based poet-scholar-activist Almog Behar to late-night open mic; and so much more.
The seminar's topic was "Vision" and we explored many dimensions of the concept - with deeply personal, political, and artistic visions, as well as visions of obligation and healing, and the mystical and apocalyptic ones. We read Talmudic and midrashic texts, Jacques Derrida's work, and poetry by Adrienne Rich, among others. But, above all, it was the literal line of sight - the vision of the group learning together that was its own text, a poem that continued to resonate throughout the seminar's duration.
To give you a further glimpse of the seminar, I would like to share with you a blessing/ ritual I composed (with the help of my colleagues and faculty members Micha’el Rosenberg and Arielle Tonkin) for this occasion – a blessing for taking off masks. The ritual was pre-approved by our public health consultant, and, needless to say, for anyone wishing to use it, my hope is that the act taking off the mask occurs in the safest manner possible.
In our first hour together, we spread into a broad circle outside. After the blessing, in English and Hebrew, we took off our masks, and stood together for a silent half-minute, allowing ourselves to see and be seen, finally, in person. Prior to the blessing I invoked Emmanuel Levinas who famously wrote: "the face is present in its refusal to be contained” – a near-liturgical phrase that echoes in the blessing, and in the moment felt more visceral than ever.
Blessing for Taking off Masks
ברכינו אבינו ואמנו, כולנו כאחד באור פניך, כי באור פניך נתת לנו רוח העולם אור פנינו, אור אין סוף, ותורת חיים, אהבת חסד, צדקה וברכה, ורחמים ושלום. ברוך אתה רוח העולם המגלה עולם בפנים ובחוץ
and in English:
May we be blessed, all of us together as one, with the light of your face, for in the light of your face, Spirit of the World, you’ve given us the light of our own faces, endless light that will not be contained, and the Torah of life, love of kindness, charity, blessing, mercy, and peace. Blessed are you, Spirit of the World, who unmasks the world that is around us and the world that is within.
It was a beautiful moment. We then put our masks back on and proceeded to the rest of programming, feeling truly grateful for this opportunity to learn and grow together.
If you'd like to read more about this blessing, or share it with others, it is now on RitualWell.
- Jake Marmer, Education & Programming Director; and the Bronfman Fellowship Team