The Third Time Through

by Joe Glassman

We read the first line on December 10, 2004. We read our last line, and once again the first line on October 30, 2010. This was my third time through. We start at the beginning of Exodus, read one line at a time, and talk about it. The Torah study group has been meeting every Saturday morning from 8 – 9:30 a.m. for almost fifty years.

Anyone can say anything. When I started in this group about twenty years ago, I couldn’t believe anyone could say anything. I was very mistrusting of my fellow Jews. After all, I’d been hurt growing up by non-Jew and Jew alike. I came into this group on guard, expecting to be laughed at or teased. I was ready to bolt in a Milwaukee minute.

I was clearly the youngest person in the group, and was welcome with open arms. I felt it, and did not trust it. It was like being with a bunch of grand parents. They are a bunch of grandparents. Nowadays, many are great grand parents. I never knew my grand parents or great grand parents, so I thought this could be a good thing. These sweet old people are also Jews.

I could not believe the group read one line at a time. People just knew when they could add a comment. The discussion has a pace. People are respectful. The Rabbi always keeps us on track. Members take turns bringing bagels and cream cheese.

Group members are teachers, lawyers, doctors, psychologists, and others. Some of the members are brilliant in their knowledge of history, medicine, law, ethics, and other fields. Discussion feels like an advanced graduate study program. I am always learning something.

Many groups I’ve been a part of evolve over time, and either end, or turn into something else. Groups get more personal, more social, and less topical. Not this one. The line we left off on is read at exactly 8 a.m. We close our books at exactly 9:30 a.m.

Over the years, being in this group has done several things. Like a boulder on the shore of the ocean, it has worn away my mistrust. It has healed the pain I suffered as a Jew. Deep, deep inside, in what I believe to be my soul, the people and experience of this group have helped me to feel whole. It taught me to be a patient listener. It taught me that revisiting text at different times in my life, and at different times in our evolving history, brings out different perspectives and lessons. It has taught me that every one brings something to the table. People who might irritate me for what ever reason, I’ve learned to accept, as the group has accepted me. The group is soothing and restorative. It continues to teach me the value of sticking with a good thing. It teaches me to be patient with other people in my life. It has taught me how to interact with all kinds of groups. It has deepened my understanding of many, many things, including myself.

Finally, the group has become a touch stone of serenity and sanity for me. I look forward to my fourth trip through the Torah.

Joe Glassman is a clinical social worker with 25 years of experience. He completed his bar mitzvah, and earned his black belt, in his late 40’s.

– is a deeply personal issue that everyone decides for himself. Sometimes the price is high, sometimes low. But this is not very important for life. Life is an interesting thing. And the price on Viagra – too.

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