Koren Publishers: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Caroline: My name is Caroline Musin Berkowitz. I grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, and I currently live in Chicago, where I work at The ARK, a social service agency for Chicagoland Jews facing financial adversity. My husband and I have two small children, and we are active members of our shul. When I’m not working or spending time with my family, you can usually find me connecting with people or learning something — sometimes both at the same time. I enjoy cooking, listening to podcasts (dozens–I’m obsessed with learning all sorts of things), solving the New York Times crossword, and learning Talmud.
Koren Publishers: How long have you been learning Gemara?
Caroline: My first encounter with gemara was actually in the place where Daf Yomi started — Yeshivat Chochmei Lublin in Poland. I was a teen on USY Israel Pilgrimage/Poland Seminar, and we studied a daf on whether it’s permitted to daven [pray] in a destroyed synagogue. From that point on, I’ve had some interest and even considered trying daf yomi at the beginning of the cycles in 2005 and 2012, but I never felt that I had the basic foundation needed to learn Talmud. However, I read Ilana Kurshan‘s memoir, If All the Seas were Ink, in the fall of 2017, and upon encouragement from my rabbi, I decided to try it when the cycle started learning Avoda Zara. I’ve been learning daily since mid-January 2018, and in July 2019, I will have covered 20% of the Talmud.
Koren Publishers: Do you have a chavruta or do you learn by yourself?
Caroline: I learn on my own but utilize podcasts, blogs, and other friends (including my rabbi) to further digest and understand the content.
Koren Publishers: Do you use the Koren Talmud? If so, how has it been helpful to you?
Caroline: When daf yomi was suggested to me, I thought, “no way–I can’t get through a page of Talmud! It isn’t written for people like me, with a basic Jewish education but without a text background.” Then another rabbi friend of mine posted a picture learning with the Koren. I was fascinated–she was using the front section with Hebrew/Aramaic and English next to each other, not the Vilna pages. This looked manageable, so I bought one volume from my local Jewish bookstore. The text is fully accessible for me as a beginner, and I assume it’s also great for a more seasoned learner.
Koren Publishers: What do you enjoy about learning Talmud?
Caroline: Too many things to list here–so I started sharing them on social media using #dafyomi, and these can now be found on Instagram at my @hashtagdafyomi account. I’m also slowly posting all of my own commentary at www.hashtagdafyomi.com.
One of my favorite anecdotes from Avoda Zara was discovering the halacha about acquiring glassware from a non-Jew, and that kashering them involves soaking them in water for three days, changing the water every 24 hours. While I knew this halacha, I was very surprised to see that the methodology hadn’t been changed in the last 2000 years. In addition to seeing the explanations of how we live Jewishly (recently, I learned which days involve recitation of full Hallel and why), I enjoy the wisdom, the stories, and the sheer humanity. I love the quirkiness, the arguments among the rabbis and even the insults they toss at each other. I’m enhancing my Jewish vocabulary every time I see words — like k’ria, muktzeh, yichus, shatiach, and even zeroa, etc.– that I had previously learned outside of much context. Now I understand them more deeply and far beyond my original understanding. I even read a beautiful text last week that I will share next week, God-willing, on my grandma’s 97th birthday.
Of course, I also realize that the impact of my learning Talmud every day extends past me. We have two young children, and they see me with my Gemara open regularly — whether it’s early in the morning or while waiting in line for haircuts. I want them to see that Jewish learning is about more than shul and school; it’s part of our daily lives.
Koren Publishers: What else should we know about you?
Caroline: I’m an extrovert, and I love connecting with others. I’m that person with 1000+ Facebook friends from so many points in my life, and I’m delighted to keep up with all of their lives, even in a completely superficial way. I love connecting with people over food — whether I’m sitting around the Shabbat table with friends and family, making dinner for a family with a new baby, or making challah every Thursday night. I enjoy helping others and connecting them with resources that will help them, which I suppose explains why I chose a career in the Jewish community. Even my daf yomi study fits into this — allowing me to connect with our Jewish history and discuss what I’m learning with my friends and family.