Jewish learning event sees big attendance boost

Jewish learning event sees big attendance boost

BY MIKE SHERWIN, STAFF WRITER

Judging by the attendance at the Second Annual Super Sunday of Jewish Learning, the Jewish community’s thirst for knowledge is alive and well.

Close to 250 people turned out to take part in the event, almost tripling last year’s attendance.

The St. Louis Rabbinical Association, the Central Agency for Jewish Education and the Jewish Community Center organized the event, which took place during the morning and afternoon on Feb. 11 at the JCC’s Carlyn H. Wohl Building.

“It was a huge success,” said Rabbi Brad Horwitz, director of the Helene Mirowitz Department of Jewish Community Life at the JCC.

“We’ve had an incredible response from the community for this program, which really shows how people really value Jewish learning and being together as a community,” he said.

Horwitz said last year about 90 people attended the first Super Sunday of Jewish Learning.

One of the main reasons for the boost in attendance, Horwitz said, was the addition this year of two national guest scholars, who each made two presentations at the event.

Dr. Michael Meyer, the Adolph S. Ochs Professor of Jewish History at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and Rabbi Marc Angel, from Congregation Shearith Israel in New York City, were the guest keynote speakers.

Their appearance was made possible by contributions from Myron and Billie Klevens and David and Marsha Soshnik in memory of Samuel H. Klibansky, late chief rabbi of St. Louis.

All participants were able to attend both keynote lectures, and to select a separate lunchtime seminar led by the guest scholars. During the morning and afternoon, participants picked two sessions from 12 offered which were led by local rabbis on a variety of topics.

Meyer, who has written extensively on Reform Judaism and Jewish history, gave the first keynote address, on “Jewish Spiritual Resistance in Nazi Germany,” sharing his research (from an upcoming book) on two rabbis, Joachim Prinz and Leo Baeck, who led Jewish communities in Germany under Nazi rule.

During a lunch seminar, Meyer turned to a dramatically different subject: analyzing what Jewish texts say about the treatment of animals.

Rabbi Angel spoke on two subjects he has written about extensively: converts to Judaism, and Sephardic Jews.

During his lunchtime session on “Choosing to be Jewish: What Jews Can Learn from Converts to Judaism,” Angel spoke about some unlikely converts to Judaism (including a Mormon raised in a family of Ku Klux Klan members who ultimately became a Jewish community leader in Idaho).

Angel said many Jews associate Judaism mainly with their ethnicity or heritage, but have become “blas é” about their religion, and should be reminded of its strengths. “As a people, we need to realize that our religion is a great religion,” he said. “We have a message that can reach all kinds of people in a powerful way.”

Isaac Amon, a junior at Ladue High School, attended the event with his father, and said he was particularly interested in hearing Rabbi Angel’s talk on “Sephardic Customs as a Reflection of a Religious Worldview,” because of Amon’s own Sephardic heritage.

“It was exciting to have the chance to hear renowned Jewish speakers, but also to take part in this Jewish community get-together, and really celebrate being a Jew,” Amon said.

Horwitz said the strong attendance bodes well for next year’s event, and he said he hopes they will secure funding once again to bring in guest speakers from out of town.

He said he enjoyed seeing Jews from different denominations come together to study with the guest scholars and the local rabbis.

“We all come with our different backgrounds, with different philosophies and different affiliations in the Jewish community, and it’s great to support those individual congregations or institutions, but what’s really wonderful about this kind of event is that we can kind of leave that behind and come together as one community,” Horwitz said.

“We have the notion of K’lal Yisrael, that we’re united and all together here. This program is an example of how we can do that,” he said.

Sign up for Your Morning Light