Rabbi Bennett and Rabbi Krakoff share diverse opinions in popular JLearn course.
Take two well-known local rabbis. Add a group of adults from all walks of life. Sprinkle with thought-provoking topics. Stir in lots of lively discussion. Serve with coffee.
That’s the recipe for the Jewish Community Center’s (JCC) breakout JLearn class, better known as “The Perfect Blend: Coffee With The Rabbis,” a class begun last year that was so popular and filled up so quickly, it’s been expanded to three sessions, beginning in March.
The program was the culmination of a conversation between JLearn/Melton Director Shelley Wish Chaness and Rabbi Joshua Bennett of Temple Israel.
“He said, ‘It’s too bad we just can’t get together and talk on a less formal scale. That’s what people really want to do with a rabbi,’” Chaness said. That’s how the class was born.
Last year, the class quickly grew to 35 participants. “The class has taken on a life of its own. I can’t believe how big this is getting,” she added.
During the classes, Bennett and his friend of more than two decades, Rabbi Joseph Krakoff, senior director of the Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network, engage students on themes including death and dying, Jewish holidays, gratitude, humor and sexuality. They offer Reform and Conservative viewpoints with respect and insight, during conversations filled with both laughter and serious reflection.
“This class isn’t intended to pit Reform Judaism against Conservative Judaism,” Bennett said. “Rather, it’s an opportunity for dialogue with a friend who comes from another perspective. It’s an example of what can happen when two people with diverse opinions agree to listen to one another.”
Krakoff agreed. “In this complex world, it’s important that we authentically listen to and hear other voices,” he said. “When we honestly consider another perspective, our own approach to what we do can be thoughtfully challenged and even deepened.”
According to Bennett, “Every time I study biblical narrative and the teachings of our rabbinic tradition, I find tools to be a better human being. By doing this work in a communal setting, I add the wisdom of others to this opportunity for personal growth.”
Krakoff echoed his colleague’s sentiments on the importance of growth through Jewish education. “It’s so inspiring to see how much adults love to learn,” he said. “One of the reasons I enjoy these classes is because it makes us as rabbis very accessible.
“People have burning questions they’ve never posed, and this class allows them to pose their questions in a nurturing environment where they’ll be taken seriously and provided with not just one answer, but two or more. We’re able to show while our beliefs at times may differ significantly, at the core, our Judaism can truly unite us.”
The classes, which have already been filled, will be held at the Max M. Fisher Federation Building on three Thursday mornings: March 19, April 23 and May 21. Chaness said plans are in the works to offer the class next year in a presentation format to accommodate the growing number of students.
“Rabbis Krakoff and Bennett are role models for friendship and respect,” she said. “People are looking for logic, safety, hope and even laughter in this crazy world we face. We give them an hour and a half of pure enjoyment while learning at the same time. I’m proud of what we’re creating here. We truly are recreating adult Jewish learning in Detroit.”
For more information, call (248) 205-2557. Note: The complete catalog of classes can be found at JCCDET.org/JLearn.