JEWISH TRIBUNE - Spreading the PaL Light!
For those of us who are fortunate enough to live right ‘in the cholent pot’, as the expression goes, getting our hands on everything necessary for Jewish life, from kosher milk and bread to a daily shiur or chavrusa, is as easy as stepping out of the front door.
However, while 72% of the UK’s Jewish population lives in the Greater London area, with a further 10% in Manchester, did you know that there are as many Jews living in Hull as in Gateshead? And a further eight percent scattered in communities around the British Isles that are too small to quantify?
Sadly, Jews in places with unfamiliar sounding names like Musselburgh, Melksham and Canterbury are probably not be all that interested in purchasing a loaf of ‘Family Bread’. But without any form of access to Jewish learning opportunities in their area there is very little chance that they will be able to move forward in their connection to Judaism.
Fortunately, since 2005 there has been an option for people like Alex Blair in Musselburgh, Rose Gordon* in Melksham and Evie Lawton in Canterbury. PaL, Phone and Learn was established in the UK by Rabbi Paysach Krohn at the hesped for Sammy Homburger z”l, as a means of connecting Jews in the far-flung corners of the UK with their counterparts in Golders Green, Gateshead, Stamford Hill and Salford. And in the words of Alex, who has been a PaL partner since November 2011, “My tutor Rebecca Frankel is quite simply wonderful..... She helps, guides, understands, supports, and is my friend as well as my tutor. She's such a blessing; I’m so grateful to PaL for getting us together.”
PaL offers the ‘WWW’ option – allowing ‘partners’ to learn ‘whatever’ Jewish topic they’re interested in, at a time (‘whenever’) and location (‘wherever’) that suits them. It is this innate flexibility that allows PaL to step in where geographically-centred kiruv organisations are unable to assist.
Indeed, Evie Lawton was referred to PaL by the Jewish Learning Exchange in Golders Green when she moved from Manor House in London (a location that allowed her to attend the JLE), to Canterbury, Kent for her university course. She takes up the thread:
“PaL has been a great thing for me this year. There are very few Jews in Canterbury so when I was introduced to the programme it meant I had a way to continue with my Jewish learning even though I was far from any kind of Jewish centre or people. Thus each Tuesday morning Judaism entered my room and spread its light. Furthermore, I have earned a wonderful friend from a different walk of life, in the process.”
Evie’s PaL tutor, Mrs RD of Gateshead, is equally enthusiastic. “I’m enjoying learning with Evie so much and really growing from it”, she says. “We’re learning Derech Hashem together, which is extremely rewarding. Also, being at home a lot with young children, Evie is a very real friend and part of my social life!”
Of course, sometimes people living in the heart of an established Jewish community can find it just as difficult to gain access to an experience of Jewish life. For a variety of reasons – be it shyness, embarrassment, disabilities, or heavy work and family commitments – these men and women don’t appear in shul on a shabbos morning and will certainly never turn up at a locally advertised shiur or event.
PaL partner Laura Douek, from Borehamwood, first signed up to the programme in 2007. She explains:
“I am a single mother of two great kids. Living in an amazing community such as Borehamwood technically allows me to go to many shiurim. However, being single means in this setting means that I would need a constant babysitter – which is something I just can't afford. This, for me, is where PaL steps in and just leads the way, where other programmes can’t, because with PaL I'm obviously still able to study and grow without the need to leave my home!”
As with Alex and Evie, Laura also highlights the wonderful relationship she has established with her tutor, Mrs SW from Stamford Hill.
“In my PaL tutor I have gained the most amazing, yet highly unlikely friendship that I doubt I would have had access to in any other way. Here I am, a struggling-to-get-to-grips-with-Orthodoxy person, who has made friends with someone from the Bobov community!”
PaL’s Programme Coordinator, Judy Silkoff, has been with the organisation since January 2008 and has seen the programme quadruple in size in that time. She says: “Here at PaL we work extremely hard to ensure that all of the UK’s Jewish population has access to the flexible – and completely free! – Jewish learning that we can offer them. We’re constantly coming up with new ways to reach out to Jewish women and men across the UK, by linking up with provincial communities, attending Anglo-Jewish events, and working together with kiruv organisations such as the JLE, Kesher and seed.”
Mrs Silkoff clarifies however, that PaL’s work is only possible because of the continued dedication and commitment of its force of volunteer tutors.
“Our tutors register with PaL after deciding to commit an hour a week of their time to reach out to a fellow Jew who has not had the same benefits in life as they grew up with,” she explains. “But without exception, they have also been the beneficiaries of a highly inspiring and enjoyable experience.
We are so grateful to them but must stress that we are always looking for more tutors to sign up.
Approximately 25 men and women come through our doors per month looking to learn more about their heritage, but if we can’t match them with a tutor within the first few days, there is always the danger that they will lose interest.”
As new PaL recruit, Rose Gordon* from Melksham, Wiltshire commented when she registered recently: “I joined my local Reform synagogue because it was the only one available to me. But I am a Jew and I want to learn more about what that means.”
Could you be the one to teach her?
To register as a tutor or partner, or make a donation to help PaL with its continued growth, visit www.phoneandlearn.org, telephone 0800 055 3276 or email email@example.com.
*not her real name