I received the email from Jewish Federation — the letter was dense and filled with ‘organization speak,’ a lot of words essentially saying nothing. The bottom line was clear: The Federation will close its educational opportunities offered for decades.
I am distressed. I have gained a tremendous amount through the years with various classes, including Melton and Biblical Hebrew. In this past year, I enjoyed Kathleen Sitzer’s play reading, Elai Rettig’s lectures and Carol Rose’s imagery series.
Not only is each a remarkable teacher, but I also studied with people I would otherwise not meet. True community.
For years Esther Zimand did a wonderful job both teaching and organizing classes. Cyndee Levy’s endless passion for learning is greatly appreciated, her commitment palpable. And of late, Rabbi Tracy Nathan is enthusiastic and helpful. These three educators are jewels.
The Federation is making a big mistake by not valuing education. If the Federation valued education, they would continue the program. It’s shameful. This is a big loss for all of us, for our community.
Susan Shender, St. Louis
Is there commentary on what a community might do to sustain itself in an interior way during a period such as this?
I think back to Maimonides (12th c.) and Nachmanides a century later who preferred the language of opening the eyes, the language of vision, not prophecy but certainly vision. Those are the right words: what we need here is a little vision. In my experience, great ideas are rarely created by committee. Great ideas come from individuals with vision.
Thus it was discouraging to hear the adult educational arm of the community is being discontinued; it will cease to exist just at the time it ought to pump up and move up. Vision. An opening of the eyes. This is exactly what we need now, thus spoke Nachmanides in the 13th century.
More dramatic and more recent guides came from some of our greatest minds and spirits who were drawn to Berlin a hundred years ago in the 1920s. Some saw what was coming — some did not. They all felt squeezed. Franz Rosenzweig brought [fellow German Jewish thinker] Martin Buber in and asked what to do for a community in such a squeeze time?
The obvious answer was to focus on the children. Rosenzweig said switch on the adults to serious learning and the children will follow. Teach by modeling — if it’s meaningful to the parents it will be meaningful to their children. He created a proud adult education program and brought Buber in, who gave his first lectures under those auspices. Those lectures would later become the book “I And Thou.”
Of course, that community had big trouble, half of them would leave during that decade for Israel: Buber, Gershom Scholem — Franz Kafka and his sweetheart, Dora Diamant, were studying Hebrew, but Kafka didn’t live long enough to leave. Scholem tried unsuccessfully to convince Walter Benjamin to join him in Jerusalem. By then Rosenzweig was ill with ALS, and after 1922 he didn’t leave his apartment.
They were squeezed and they responded with vision: teach the adults. Teach in a new way. They disagreed on almost everything else but they created the Lehrhaus concept of visionary adult learning, and my mind goes there when I hear that the community has decided to jettison its adult education effort. Shame. This is small minded and uninformed. No vision.
I am sure there is a case made for this decision, but it will not be visionary. Extraordinary times require extraordinary responses.
Rabbi James Stone Goodman, Central Reform Congregation