“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, is was the age of foolishness… it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair...” These iconic lines, from the opening of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, certainly sum up the many contradictory feelings for 2020. It was a year that brought the promise of a new decade, but then quickly shifted into a time of uncertainty with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mixed emotions and tribulations aside, 2020 has also been a time of scaling back and focusing on what is truly meaningful in life. For the educators and students at Emet Outreach, it has been a year of moving forward with Torah study and strengthening emunah and bitachon in Hashem.
“When I look back on 2020, I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the resilience of our Emet family through this challenging time,” said Rabbi Akiva Rutenberg, Emet Co-founder and Director. “We were certainly put to the test starting in March when colleges shuttered their doors and impacted the bulk of our programming. But, our work at Emet could not and did not stop for a moment. We quickly adapted to online formats and switched to indoor and outdoor venues that allowed for safe, social distancing. We have continued to make adjustments to ensure that our students have ongoing access to Torah study and can continue their daily spiritual growth.”
During a time when things could have gone either way, the team at Emet redoubled their efforts and the result has been stronger programs and exciting new additions to Emet’s roster of beginner through advanced offerings. The staff is busier than ever, and an average of 500 students are involved weekly. Currently, there are 12 in-person classes each week. These classes include the introductory college fellowship geared toward St. John’s University students (held at the Emet office) and the cross-campus Forest Hills evening fellowship. For women, there is the Step It Up program in Forest Hills and the Ateret Emet Seminary in Jamaica Estates. Young men are participating in the Torat Emet Beit Midrash and TorahConnect community chavrusa learning, both in Forest Hills. There are also two accredited Judaic studies courses at St. John’s University. In addition, the Emet Center is home to a prayer series and morning learning for women, as well as two specialized learning chaburos, given by Rabbi Mordechai Kraft, Education Director. In tandem with the live classes, there are five Zoom classes a week, which brings the total since March to 650 Emet classes via Zoom.
“What truly sustained us this year are the strong relationships our rabbis and m’karvos have with our students. These relationships have enabled students to receive daily spiritual guidance and stay consistent in their observance of Shabbos and mitzvos.” said Mrs. Rivka Muskat, Associate Director. “In fact, in addition to our scheduled classes, 100 personal learning sessions take place per week.”
One of the standouts in Emet’s weekly learning programs has been the steady growth of TorahConnect. This program, which takes place both in-person and on Zoom, pairs Emet students of varying Jewish backgrounds with men and women from the community for chavrusa-style Torah study. There are 150 learning partners who are connecting each week.
Most notably, 2020 has actually been a time of acceleration and expansion for Emet. “We have been determined to push ourselves further to meet the evolving needs of our students at a time when people are looking to connect with Hashem and strengthen their Judaism,” said Rabbi Rutenberg. “This year, we launched EMETTORAH.com, a virtual Torah library of Emet classes in memory of Libby Schwartz, a”h. We also introduced “Dunkin’ Torah,” which offers personalized morning learning for women. We’ve added a “Halachah Hotline,” with Rabbi Binyamin Yuhanan, for questions in Jewish law from our students and the Bukharian community.”
In 2021, Emet will continue its expansive programming with two extraordinary new initiatives. The Emet Olami Beit Midrash will provide men with a daily morning Torah study program that will be geared to current Emet students, as well as alumni and community members. EmetMatch will strengthen Emet’s mission to build Jewish families with a sensitively-moderated, online shidduch network for Emet students and alumni.
As 2020 draws to a close, Emet would like to extend a sincere thank you and hakaras ha’tov to the Queens community, students, alumni, and partners who have kept the organization strong and more vital than ever!
For further information about Emet classes and programs, visit www.EmetOutreach.org.