Night of Learning offers smorgasbord of topics

Night of Learning offers smorgasbord of topics

From astrology to adoption, genealogy to Jewish ‘hotspots’

Scott Lazar is cochairing the 10th Annual Leil Iyun with Stacie Friedman.
Scott Lazar is cochairing the 10th Annual Leil Iyun with Stacie Friedman.

For those who love learning something new and enjoy the warm tummel of a community get-together, Leil Iyun — the Night of Jewish Learning — at the Wilf Jewish Community Campus has become an annual treat.

This year’s, on Saturday, Jan. 9 — the 10th time the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey has held the event — will offer a range of subjects more varied than ever. Each of the two 50-minute sessions will present a choice of 13 topics. They vary from Torah and the environment, to eating disorders in the Jewish community, b’nei mitzva for children with special needs, Jewish “hotspots” around the world, astrology in the Torah and Talmud, little-known Jewish customs, and Jewish adoption.

Some are repeated in the second session, but many people will be reiterating the complaint from previous years — that they wanted to be in five classes at a time.

Scott Lazar, who is cochairing the event with Stacie Friedman, said, “We’ve tried to vary the offerings and make things even more intriguing than they usually are. This is not only a great opportunity for our community to congregate and learn but also just to congregate as a community, regardless of our particular branch of Judaism.

“We hope our offerings will resonate with the entire Jewish community and underline our commonalities and joint interests.”

The speakers — some new, others who have participated many times before — are rabbis, teachers, and other leaders from the Central area and from further afield.

Susie Meyersdorf, a teacher at Congregation Beth Israel in Scotch Plains and at Yeshiva Beis Hillel of Passaic, has spoken at Leil Iyun a number of times. This year, she chose as her topic: “How to respond to the claim that the Jews stole ‘their’ land.” Asked why, she said, “Though this topic is always on my mind, what spurred me to discuss it now is that two of my children made aliya in August 2008. My daughter lives in Jerusalem and is the program director for the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel; my son is on active duty in the Golani Brigade. My heart is in Israel.”

She said Jews of all ages need answers at their fingertips. “With anti-Semitism rampant, either in its own right or under the guise of anti-Zionism, Jews (including my seventh-graders at CBI who will be in college in a few years) should be able to confidently state why Israel is ours,” she said.

Among the new speakers this year is Dr. Stephen Cohen, a founding member of the Genealogy Club at Beth-El Synagogue in East Windsor. He describes his talk on Jewish Genealogy as “a ‘yes, you CAN do this at home’ talk, based on my own research as an example of how to go about it.”

He will talk about objects in the home — like yarmulkes, birth certificates, wedding invitations, photographs — and items on the Internet, such as emigration and census records and newspaper articles — that can be used. “Then I will discuss some ‘logic-based’ methods I used to link my family with a distant cousin in Israel.”

Jackie Lieberman, a Scotch Plains-based food writer whose work is published in national magazines and local newspapers and on websites, will offer “Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Jewish Foods of the Mediterranean: a Cooking and Eating Class.”

She said, “Many of us have one idea of what Jewish food is, and that’s usually what your grandmother made. Maybe you loved it. Maybe it was high in cholesterol. Maybe your bubbe wasn’t much of a cook. I want to open people’s eyes and change their perceptions of Jewish cooking.”

Linda Poleyeff, the federation’s director of Jewish education, said that to save money this year, rather than printing the large brochure issued in past years, a promotional postcard was sent out and the full program has been posted on the federation website and printed on its pages in NJ Jewish News.

Poleyeff said it proved easy to line up the extraordinary range of speakers. “People have been eager to volunteer their time,” she said. “They really want to encourage people from different parts of the community to learn together.”

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