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Introduction to Judaism: The Elephant in the Room

Introduction to Judaism: The Elephant in the Room


Due to unexpected demand, registration for the Intro to Judaism Online classes has been filled and is now closed. Please contact the coordinator, Frieda Hershman Huberman to get on the wait list/learn about more opportunities that will be available soon.

I imagine that we all have heard the story of a group of blindfolded men and women who, standing around an elephant, were asked to describe the animal based only on their sense of touch. Each person’s perception of the elephant varied widely from the others, based entirely on whether one stood near the torso, trunk, leg, or tail of the elephant.

“What does that have to do with an "Introduction to Judaism" class?” you might ask.

Like blindfolded people attempting to describe an elephant, it’s not always easy to describe what Judaism is, exactly. Is it a religion, a culture, a call to action, perhaps? How has it evolved over the years, and in what ways is it relevant to today’s world? What are the customs associated with its lifecycle rituals, holiday celebrations, and home observances?

In my travels to various synagogues and conferences around the country, I often meet people who are curious about Judaism, and its relevance in today’s world. Many were raised in Jewish homes, but have not had any exposure to Jewish learning from an adult perspective. Some are in interfaith relationships and would like to know more about their partner’s faith. Most are looking for ways in which they might develop their own sense of spirituality.

If you, like them, want to learn more – whatever your motivation – I invite you to join the inaugural online "Introduction to Judaism" class that I will facilitate beginning in March. Our study will open our eyes to the beauty and variety of Jewish practice, theology, and behavior in today’s world. The course will provide answers to the questions you may have about Jewish observance. And it certainly will raise more questions for us to ponder, as is the Jewish way!

Whether Judaism is your religion of birth, your religion of choice, or you are just plain curious, if you want to deepen your understanding of the place of Judaism and Jewish spirituality in your world, and you are unable to access a face-to-face class in your area, I look forward to meeting you online.

Our course, will be divided into three trimesters, and you can choose to register for any or all of them:

  • The first trimester will concentrate on big Jewish ideas, and how they are manifest in the Jewish home and in lifecycle rituals, including birth, b’nai mitzvah, weddings, and funerals.
  • The second trimester will focus on the Jewish calendar and the celebrations and symbols of the holidays.
  • The third trimester will concentrate on the Jewish story, from Torah up to modernity, and the lenses and methods of interpretation that maintain the story’s relevance and energy for today’s Jews.

Wherever you may be in your spiritual journey, I hope you will join a diverse group of fellow participants in this interactive, adult-level, exploration of Judaism today. Our online format will give us the opportunity to study text, interact with each other, engage as a community, view videos, and participate in online discussions between live class sessions. Office hours will offer opportunities for you to explore specific questions more deeply in a one-on-one or small group venue. Together, we’ll remove our blindfolds, share our stories, engage with Jewish ritual and text, celebrate, and emerge with a more complete view of Judaism and its place in today’s complicated world.

Cantor Ellen Dreskin teaches and consults in a variety of areas, including contemporary Jewish music, synagogue transformation, experiential education, enlivened liturgy, and Jewish mysticism. She serves as Coordinator of the Cantorial Certification Program at the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in New York, and as a former board member and conference chair of the American Conference of Cantors (ACC).  Ellen travels extensively to congregations around the country as a scholar-in-residence, and has taught for many years on the faculty of URJ Summer Kallot, Hava Nashira, and the URJ Kutz Camp Leadership Academy. She is married to Rabbi Billy Dreskin, and is proudest of all of their three joint projects: Katie, Jonah (z”l), and Aiden. Visit her website at

Cantor Ellen Dreskin
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