Rabbis tackle tough issues

BY KEREN DOUEK, STAFF WRITER

From euthanasia to Kaballah to ethical wills, the nine rabbis from across the community and the different denominations the Jewish community has to offer will be teaching classes on a variety of hot topics in “The Cutting Edge — Jewish Perspectives on Contemporary Issues,” a new program being offered by the Jewish Community Center.

“What makes it special is that it is being taught by nine different community rabbis from St. Louis from various denominations, all teaching about a different contemporary issue from a Jewish perspective,” said Rabbi Brad Horwitz, director of the Helen Mirowitz Department of Jewish Community Life.

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Rabbi Lynn Goldstein of Kol Haneshama said the Rabbinical Association brought the idea of this program before the JCC approximately one year ago, and she is excited to see it being put into action.

“We actually had a committee we put together to focus on ways the J and the St. Louis Rabbinical Association can work together more closely, and this was one of the proposals we made to the J last year, and we are really pleased they have picked up on it and are doing it.”

The class is being offered through the Class of the J program, which offers classes to improve the mind, body and spirit and covers topics related to Jewish culture, personal growth, arts, humanities and wellness.

Horwitz said the mission of the JCC is “to instill Jewish values and help people with their Jewish journeys, and this new education series is an attempt to teach these values by local rabbis, and in an open and welcoming forum.”

He said the series is one of many new programs at the JCC to place an emphasis on Jewish education.

“The hope is to inspire dialogue and discovery,” Horwitz said. “We feel here at the JCC we are fortunate that different rabbis from various denominations have agreed to be a part of this program and share their wisdom, and it can be seen as a real community endeavor, which is really what the JCC is all about.”

Horwitz said he also sees the program — and the fact that many rabbis are participating — as a symbol of the strengthening of the relationship between the JCC and the community.

The first class will be on Wednesday, Feb. 15, and will be taught by Rabbi Mordechai Miller of Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel. The class is titled Rediscovering the Art of Prayer and will take place from 1:30 to 3 p.m. It will be an exploration of prayer and a chance to look at the menu of the service and to sample some of its offerings.

“It seems to me a lot of people while they attend services do not necessarily have a sense of what the prayers are about, because they involve poetry, and of course they are in Hebrew so they may have to depend on the translation and not be able to catch all the nuances of the Hebrew,” Miller said. “And of course, it is a very different kind of activity than the sorts of activities people are trained to engage in. But there is something very beautiful about prayer, and it is something that has been part of the tradition for thousands of years, and I would like to work toward engaging people and opening up doors, and to see if people can enjoy what they are doing when they go to services.”

On Wednesday, Feb. 22, Rabbi Anne Belford of Congregation Shaare Emeth will be teaching a class titled “When Bad Things Happen to Good People: Making Sense out of Natural Disasters.” The class will be a discussion of hurricanes, floods, epidemics, global disasters and personal loss, and how Judaism helps to find meaning in the face of tragedy and loss.

“I think my class and all the classes are really timely classes people can deal with on a global level but also on a personal level,” Belford said.

Rabbi Hyim Shafner of Bais Abraham Congregation will teach a class titled “Stem Cell Research, Cloning and Genetics: A Jewish Perspective” on Wednesday, March 1 from 10:30 a.m. to noon. The class will examine the complexities surrounding these controversial yet promising advances as they relate to Jewish values.

On Wednesday, March 8 from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Rabbi Mark Fasman of Shaare Zedek Synagogue — also a trained musician — will speak about The Sound of “Jewish” Music and the contribution of Jewish religious music and how it has evolved.

Horwitz will lead a class called “War: A Jewish Perspective” on Wednesday, March 22, from 10:30 a.m. to noon. The class will address such questions as: Is it ever appropriate to wage war? Are anticipatory or preventive strikes ever justifiable? What does Judaism have to say about issues such as treatment of detainees and war prisoners?

“It is important for members of the Jewish community to participate in public discourse on current issues and have Jewish values and Jewish texts to help inform their views,” Horwitz said. “The class I will be teaching on the Jewish Perspectives of War, for example, will provide people with relevant Jewish texts and Jewish ideas as they think about and discuss our country’s involvement in Iraq and the war against terrorism.”

On Wednesday, March 29 from 10:30 a.m. to noon Rabbi Neil Rose, senior scholar-in-residence at Congregation B’nai Amoona, will explore the post-modern search for religious meaning in a class titled “Jew-Bus, Hin-Jews and the Kaballah Center: The Contemporary Quest for Spirituality.”

Rabbi Ephraim Zimand of Traditional Congregation will speak about “Is Euthanasia ‘Kosher’?” on Monday, April 10, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. and develop insights into Jewish ethical values relating to euthanasia, life support and other modern medical dilemmas.

Rabbi Andrea Goldstein of Shaare Emeth Congregation will speak on Wednesday, May 10, from 10:30 a.m. to noon on “Workers’ Rights in the Jewish Tradition.” The session will explore what traditional and contemporary sources have to say about the Jewish tradition’s emphasis on the values of study and prayer, and importance of the value of work, dealing honestly in business and of caring for one’s workers.

Goldstein will teach a class called “Ethical Wills: An Old Idea with Contemporary Relevance” on Wednesday, May 24, from 10:30 a.m. to noon.

“They are marvelous documents because an individual leaves to those they care about not possessions but really a summary of all the values and ethics they hold near and dear,” Goldstein said. “We are looking at the concept of ethical wills, different styles and categories, and how participants can write their own.”

Individuals are invited to sign up for all of the classes, or each of them individually. The fee for one class is $5, or $35 to sign up for all nine classes.

For more information, contact Fran Kravitz at 314-442-3150.

Keren Douek is a staff writer for the St. Louis Jewish Light.