We do it every day. Every minute of every day. Yet as we get older, too many of us lose the joy of discovery, which, at its heart, is what learning is about.
As a child, each new experience is a wonder. Some, like trying ice-cream for the first time or petting an animal, are fantastic. Others, like reaching out to a flame or eating broccoli, not so much. What is great about all of these experiences, however, is the constant state of wonder — the pure desire to do, to try, to learn.
But as we get older, the term "learning" takes on another meaning. A term that should always contain the joy of new experience becomes the exclusive realm of the classroom. The classroom does provide positive experiences for some, opening up doors, inspiring creativity. For too many, it just serves a rote function and is then left behind.
In the Jewish tradition, learning has a special place. Rabbis are often respected for their erudition even more than their position as spiritual leaders. As an immigrant community, assuring the next generation's education became a mantra of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. But while learning has become a source of pride and status, it is usually defined in terms of formal education.
That is not enough.
We need to reinvigorate the importance of Jewish learning in particular. This is especially true in light of the new Jewish population study in Philadelphia, which found a decreasing connection to being Jewish and being part of the Jewish community.
As individuals and as a community, we cannot assume that formal learning alone will instill a love for Jewish culture and the pursuit of a Jewish identity. Jewish learning has to be an organic part of an individual's life. Ideally, the earliest memories should be infused with Jewish learning.
A parent singing a Hebrew song as part of the bedtime ritual, enjoying Shabbat dinner together as a family, attending Jewish storytime at the local bookstore. With each of these experiences, the child does not just learn something new, she also has a positive experience. Good experiences as a child lead to positive memories — and a desire to keep learning as a teen and an adult.
As a community, we need to make sure that similar happenings are available for people of every age. For years, we have known that summer camps and Israel experience programs for teens and 20-somethings are two of the best ways to instill Jewish identity. This is because they combine peer interaction with informal experiential learning. But not everyone has, or had, access to these kinds of programs. Every person who identifies as Jewish should be able to have their own enjoyable, communal Jewish learning experience.
This weekend is Philadelphia's own second-annual Jewish learningfest — LimmudPhilly 2010. Limmud literally means learning — and we mean it in the broadest and most magnificent sense: where erudition and the arts meet the pure wonder and joy of new discovery.
At LimmudPhilly 2010, more than 75 scholars, artists and educators will present the vast landscape of Jewish history, text, art, culture and life through a variety of dynamic learning approaches, including lectures, workshops, performances, group study, films, meditation and more. Basically, this is camp for adults. We like to say that at Limmud, like in life, every person is a learner, and every person can be a teacher.
We hope this annual learningfest will act as a catalyst, inspiring attendees to seek out more learning opportunities in the community, both formal and informal.
At LimmudPhilly, there is a young Limmud program designed for children, but there is also ample space for the inner child in each of us. Just as when we were young children, we continue to learn every minute of every day. We just need to take the time to enjoy the wonder that new knowledge can bring.
Ross Berkowitz is executive director of LimmudPhilly and the Collaborative. Information about LimmudPhilly 2010 can be found at: www.limmudphilly.org.