December 27, 2016

A Community Affair

Nina Robins ‘19


Several students at Golda Och Academy struggle to find excitement in its niche, normative Judaic studies curriculum. Hebrew appeals to some in a linguistic sense, but even in Judaic studies electives that are catered toward student interests, some fail to understand the relevance of seemingly distant biblical and rabbinic messages to their modern lives. However, sophomore Sophie Goldman is among Judaic studies’ unsung heroes.
“With Jewish studies, there's always something more to learn,” she said. “I think that's one of the things I really like about it.”
Goldman’s classmates have noticed her rare enthusiasm. In this year’s exclusive Honors Talmud class, she excels at using her perspicaciousness to analyze difficult rabbinical texts.
“Sophie is always interested in the smaller details, like the grammar of the text, or other things that many people overlook,” sophomore Theo Deitz-Green said. “She is always the first person I go to when I am having trouble translating a text.”
Although Goldman is skilled individually, she thrives especially in group settings: something Jewish culture provides through chevruta - a hyper-evolved group work phenomenon. Sophomore David Wingens noted that Goldman enjoys using her critical thinking skills to find answers with a group, or hevruta, around her.
Rabbi Waldman, Goldman’s teacher for a third year and one of her role models, is a vocal advocate for chevruta as she encourages enthusiasm, responsiveness and associations in her classroom. She believes that chevruta allows for more in-depth analyses and growth than lectures.
“Frontal teaching sucks,” she said.
This past summer, Goldman attended an all-girls Judaic studies program called Drisha, which emphasized chevruta - perpetrating Rabbi Waldman’s mantra. Drisha preferred an enthusiastic discourse to an accurate one.
“One time, we thought the text was saying one thing and it made no sense, but the fact that we were translating incorrectly was funny,” Goldman said. “We were making mistakes, just trying to figure out what it was saying on our own.
“That made me remember it a lot more. It was more engaging.”
Although Goldman said she enjoyed chevruta, she did not find text study itself or the exchange of ideas to be wholly transformative. Rather, she found the most meaning in the community that chevruta and Drisha itself provided.
Goldman said she loved the learning-enhanced community that allowed her to discuss her own ideas without social repercussion. She discovered further appreciation for her Drisha community upon realizing her pride for Judaism.
Surrounded by girls from diverse Jewish backgrounds and experiences, Goldman and her peers developed a unique bond over their love of Judaism and Jewish text study that none of them had experienced anywhere else before.
Goldman recalled the third evening of the program, when her group was walking across midtown Manhattan. Suddenly, the girls bursted, unabashed and wholeheartedly, into raucous traditional Hebrew song.

“In that moment, my connection to Judaism was so surreal,” she said. “I felt in touch with my community, my religion and myself.”

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