From Jews and Broadway to ancient mysticism, there was something for everyone at a day of community study in Metuchen.
Three synagogues and the JCC of Middlesex County in Edison cosponsored “Our Favorite Jewish Things,” which included six study sessions conducted by religious leaders and organizational representatives.
In between, attendees noshed on kasha varnishkes, bagels, noodle kugel, and baklava.
Rabbi David Vaisberg of Emanu-El spoke about the Sefer Yetzirah, the Book of Formation, focusing on whether the ancient text is a mathematical philosophy or Jewish mysticism.
“It really is giving a scientific explanation to how God created the world,” said Vaisberg. “It combines the science of the day with religious thought and mystical ideas.”
Rabbi Ari Saks of Beth Mordecai spoke about reading from the Torah scroll, based on a lifetime of experience. Torah reading, he acknowledged, can be difficult “because it has so many layers.” But when someone takes the time to learn the necessary skills, “you feel this scroll belonging to God has now become yours. Torah in many ways is something very challenging, but the love of Torah is something that can inspire.”
JCC board member Barbara Spack outlined 10 unique places to visit in Israel, including Kibbutz Keturah in the Negev, founded in 1973 by veterans of Young Judaea, the youth movement of Hadassah. It has developed thriving agriculture, a solar venture, and algae farms. It is also home to the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies and Together in the Arava, a home for adults with special needs.
Spack, marketing and communications chair of Hadassah, also recommended a visit to Utopia Orchid Park on Kibbutz Bahan in the Sharon region, the Megiddo archaeological site in northern Israel, and the bell caves and archaeological treasures of Beit Guvrin-Maresha National Park.
In a program about Broadway musicals, Hazzan Sheldon Levin of Neve Shalom sang hits penned by leading Jewish songwriters.
“I truly believe in my heart that Yiddish theater was the premise that eventually became Broadway,” said Levin. “A huge majority of Broadway composers were Jewish. I think it was their way of bringing their dreams into the mainstream and assimilating from the Lower East Side tenements.”
JCC director of Jewish programming Jennine Shpigel came with costumes, children’s books, crafts, song sheets, and ideas to make an entertaining and child-friendly Passover seder. She demonstrated how children can make their own seder plates or matza covers to help them “take ownership of the seder.”
Rabbi Eric Rosin of Neve Shalom focused on what Jews have to teach the world.
“All of us have human dignity and were created by God as equals, “ said Rosin, but what sets Jews apart is “we were a people before we were a faith.”
“Buddhism started with the teachings of Buddha,” he said. “Christianity started with the teachings of Jesus. We were already a community, and that allowed us to see things with our own perspective.”
While everybody heard the word of God in the desert after fleeing Egypt, “everybody heard it differently,” said Rosin.
Even when the schools of Shammai and Hillel had their disputes in the first century BCE, they did so while appreciating the other’s views, said Rosin.
“We don’t throw out the other because we have a dispute,” he said. “That is part of what we have to teach the world, that we stay a part of a community.”
Janice Samuels-Siena, an Emanu-El member from Woodbridge, attended the Broadway and Jewish teachings programs and thought “the whole thing was great.”
“It’s very exciting to get Jewish people from different congregations together to learn and talk to each other over good food,” said Neve Shalom member Morris Gelber of Colonia.