Last week, new and returning SVARA-niks gathered to celebrate the re-launch of Mishnah Collective. What began two years ago as an informal drop-in SVARA space has become characterized by bountiful learning, juicy text exploration, and a particular kind of chevruta love. As the earliest days of the ongoing pandemic upended our ability to be together, Mishnah Collective quickly grew into an unimaginably special space for our community. We are in awe of y’all’s journey through Mishnah Collective’s first text adventure, Pirkei Avot, and it has become clear that y’all’s approach to Masechet Berachot is already off to a delicious start. Our incredible Emergent Programs Coordinator Ren Finkel has had a front-row seat to the power of Mishnah Collective for the last two years. In their most recent Hot Off the Shtender piece, A Love Letter to Mishnah Collective, Ren shared:
“I began coordinating Mishnah Collective in August 2020, and when I started I had no idea just how much this program would change me. It has been an ongoing space of healing and respite as the world has continued to mourn innumerable tragedies over the last two years, and I am endlessly grateful for everything this learning space has offered our community. Perhaps what is most incredible about Mishnah Collective is you, the folks who show up whenever and however you can. It’s the way y’all embody the text and how you reflect the lessons in the very process of your learning.”
We grabbed some time with Ren to catch up on this (literal) new chapter of Mishnah Collective. Whether you’ve been with us every week or haven’t yet taken the plunge, we hope you’ll join us for this one-of-a-kind SVARA community learning space. We meet Monday through Friday to clap each other up as we work through the text, piece by piece, in the SVARA method.
What kind of glorious celebrations went down as y’all officially kicked off Masechet Berachot last week?
Ren Finkel: Our first day back on July 6th was the highest attendance we’ve had since August 2020—EIGHTY-FOUR people came! Also, SVARA Faculty Rabbi Becky Silverstein and our incredible Program Director Elaina Marshalek have re-joined the Mishnah Collective teaching team, and we’re so glad to have them back in the fold!
What’s something folks should know if they’ve never been to Mishnah Collective before?
RF: Mishnah Collective is a place where it’s okay to not know things, more so than almost any other learning space I’ve ever been in. Folks with all different Hebrew backgrounds bolster each other’s learning, and participants ask and answer one another’s questions with incredible love and care. If the ongoing turmoil of late-stage capitalism has got you short on capacity but you’re hungry for some sweet learning, Mishnah Collective might be perfect for you! It’s truly a drop-in space, and there’s no wrong number of days to attend.
What feels most exciting about Berachot?
RF: Moving through Berachot feels like having an up-front seat in witnessing the Rabbis make Option 3 Judaism. Berachot is a tapestry of temple practices woven in with this wild new project of rabbinic Judaism, and it’s incredible to spend so much time closely examining each and every thread.
I think the SVARA method also encourages people to make the text uniquely their own and apply it to their lives today. It’s not about learning how to pray in a more halakhically “accurate” or “acceptable” way. Our study is a practice of looking at how the Rabbis responded to a crash, examining the methods they used to sculpt tradition and community, and noticing the lineage between their creative process and ours.
How has Mishnah Collective impacted your own learning? Your own journey through this wild space and time called “the present moment on earth”?
RF: Mishnah Collective has truly, honestly changed my life. I’ve taken a break from rabbinical school because I wanted to focus on the work that I do at SVARA, and Mishnah Collective was a massive part of that choice. The joy and profound learning that happens in this space makes it an honor to help facilitate.
There’s also something subversive about how slowly Mishnah Collective makes its way through a text. It’s not about who can memorize the most amount of text in the shortest amount of time. There’s no competition to prove who knows the most. The learning is somehow fast-paced and gentle at the same time. In a moment where speed and productivity are celebrated and necessitated, this practice is an invaluable reminder to slow down and take a breath.
Whether you’re searching for a way to deepen your study or just want an excuse to hang with some fellow queer Talmud nerds, join us as we dive into Masechet Berachot! No prior Hebrew experience or learning is necessary to participate. Come as you are, come when you can, and keep bringing your brilliance to this profoundly special space for our community. Learn more and register here!