For Rebekah Marks Costin, studying Talmud brought deep pleasure, a kind of guidance, and a sense of Jewish connection that she also wanted for her children and other youngsters.
So she — with the support of her husband, Dr. Andrew Costin — worked with educator Livia Mezrich to create a course for high school students to explore Jewish texts and important concepts.
Mezrich is founder of Rimon, the Mordecai Mezrich Center for Jewish Arts, Culture, and Religion in East Windsor, an Orthodox Jewish learning center. The program they developed is called the Rimon Teen Learning Initiative.
Since January 2009, the initiative has held weekly sessions through the college year in conjunction with the Princeton University Center for Jewish Life/Hillel. The participants meet in the center’s cafeteria on Sunday evenings for a kosher dinner, followed by an in-depth discussion about the topic of the week, drawing on the teachings of the Jewish sages.
“I thought that studying Talmud and great Jewish teachers could be a way to get children — non-Orthodox as well as the Orthodox — thinking and learning about back-and-forth debate and how to find just solutions to complicated situations,” said Marks Costin.
The Costins, who live in Princeton, also facilitated the establishment at Rimon of Traveling on the Path (TOP), an outdoor community service program for teens.
On Aug. 14, the couple will be honored for both achievements as they receive Rimon’s Avodat HaLev service award at the center’s annual Summer Musical Interlude (see sidebar).
An attorney by training and a teacher, Marks Costin began to learn Talmud while working toward a master’s degree in Judaic studies on-line through Hebrew Union College.
Each 10-week session of the Rimon Teen Learning Initiative has been led by a pair of Princeton undergraduates. Between six and 10 teens have participated, a number of them staying on for session after session. Marks Costin — who taught a course on Jewish history at Rimon — came up with the idea of having knowledgeable undergraduates lead the teen study group, with a different theme each semester.
Mezrich, who also serves as program and curriculum developer at Rimon — and was the daughter-in-law of its late namesake — said she and Marks Costin both felt that having role models close to their ages would also encourage the teens to continue their Jewish studies.
Two of the Costin’s three children, Nate, 19, and Alex, 16, have participated in the program. Marks Costin said she believes it played a significant role in Nate’s choice to do a thesis, as a student at the University of Michigan, on ethical issues and social structures, and in Alex’s intention to study law.
Mezrich said the program is a wonderful fulfillment of the injunction that Torah be taught to one’s children, and an expression of Rimon’s commitment to convey “the beauty and richness and depth of Judaism.”