Congregations join for Torah study

BY JILL KASSANDER, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Generally it is each to their own when it comes to observing Jewish holidays. That is, each congregation plans its own celebrations and members usually attend the programs at their own synagogues. Yet, the great Jewish commentator Rashi described the Jewish people coming together “like one person with one heart” when we stood at Mt. Sinai. This year the St. Louis Jewish community has an opportunity to feel what it is like to come together as one to celebrate the giving of the Torah. An evening of inter-denominational Torah study for the entire community in honor of Shavuot is being sponsored by Bais Abraham Congregation, Central Reform Congregation, Shaare Zedek Synagogue and St. Louis Hillel at Washington University.

Bringing several denominations of the St. Louis Jewish community together on Shavuot seemed like a particularly good idea to Rabbi Hyim Shafner. He had heard of it being done in other communities and had seen it done in Chicago. “We know we sometimes argue amongst ourselves,” said Rabbi Shafner. “But we know when we received the Torah we were really like one person. What could be more fitting than bringing the Jewish community together around studying Torah — which is our mutual heritage.”

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“People open their minds and hearts to get a fuller picture of what Torah is all about. They are open to investigating a different perspective from their own,” said Rabbi Avi Katz Orlow.

Said Rabbi Randy Fleisher, “Study is a part of spiritual practice; it is a spiritual practice. Study along with doing acts of justice and deeds of loving kindness and opening our hearts to prayer and wonder. These are a part of what makes us better human beings.”

The evening of celebration begins at 10 p.m. because the tradition is to be up all night studying to prepare to receive the Torah. Said Rabbi Shafner, “Why study? Because we received the Torah to study it. Can you imagine getting a gift and putting it aside and never opening it?”

Participants will be able to choose from at least two classes offered in each of the three time blocks of classes. Topics will include: classic midrashim on what was really received on Mt. Sinai, an exploration of Sinai as the setting of the Torah, the readings of Ruth and how does Israel relate to God. Teachers will include: Dr. Wendy Love Anderson, Rabbi Mark Fasman, Rabbi Randy Fleisher, Rabbi Avi Katz Orlow, Rabbi Hyim Shafner, Phyllis Shapiro and Rabbi Susan Talve. There will be space for people who want to study on their own or in small groups. There will also be plenty of cheesecake and coffee available.

Last year, Shaare Zedek Synagogue and St. Louis Hillel at Washington University held a similar program which attracted a lot of college students said Rabbi Avi Katz Orlow.

“Some students will be returning to area universities for summer school. But, more importantly, college students who live in St. Louis are returning home for the summer. This is just one of many programs we have planned for our college students this summer,” said Rabbi Orlow.

“Like all good ideas this one stemmed from my wife, Sara Winkelman, who suggested we need to do more classes at places like Starbucks. The truth is programs at non-traditional spaces do attract people. My vision is to grow this learning opportunity and attract more and more people each year. It would great to get a grant to hold it in a much larger space, like COCA,” said Rabbi Shafner.

For this year, the Shavuot night of Torah study is on Thursday, June 1 from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m. and later at Bais Abraham Congregation, 6910 Delmar Blvd in University City. Feel free to bring your pillows. For more information, call 314-721-3030.