Temple Rodeph Torah’s first Community Learning Day, held Sept. 9, marked the launch of a new educational concept designed to make Jewish learning more relevant to people of all ages.
Coinciding with the first day of the school year at the Marlboro Reform temple, the two-hour program was the inaugural event in what the synagogue is calling the Rodeph Torah Center for a Jewish Future.
The center is intended to help congregants and members of the Jewish community create a personalized vision of their own Jewish future, said Rabbi Don Weber, TRT’s religious leader.
Programs and activities offered through the new center will include: speakers and Community Learning Days, creative and progressive Shabbat services, interfaith programs, innovative lifestyle programs, progressive education opportunities for everyone from preschoolers to adults, and energized youth groups.
In Weber’s view, the terms “Hebrew school,” “religious school,” and “Jewish supplemental school” fail to describe an educational approach that says “who we are, what we do, and why we do it.”
This summer, said the rabbi, TRT teachers evaluated every facet of the curriculum to make certain that each lesson will contribute to the development of a Jewish future. “Our study of Jewish history will focus on how the lessons of the past can guide us to make good decisions in the future; even our study of the Bible will seek to make those ancient characters come alive for us today.”
It will be up to each individual whether that future entails tradition, holiday, philosophy, community, ethics, prayer, or culture, said Weber. Regardless of which area is the focus, however, the center will provide tools for everyone to find what he or she is seeking.
On numerous occasions during Community Learning Day, Weber urged his audience, which ranged from preschoolers to senior citizens, to challenge their teachers by asking, “What does this have to do with my Jewish future?”
“The intention is to get people thinking of what they can do to create a Jewish future, not just for themselves, but for their children and grandchildren and for the Jewish community in general,” he said in a statement. “We love the challenge the Center for a Jewish Future presents to everyone involved, which is to create the Jewish future we individually want to see.”
Weber said TRT created the center in response to community members asking for ways to embrace Judaism beyond life-cycle events — birth, bar/bat mitzva, wedding, and death.
Rabbi Shira Stern, the temple’s primary school educator, said the center “will provide the underlying foundation for TRT’s community and educational core and be focused on five components of Jewish Life: Sacred Time, Sacred Space, Sacred Language, Sacred Values, and Sacred People.”
She added, “We hope that congregants and members of the Jewish community will take the opportunity to strengthen their understanding of Judaism, enhance their own attitudes toward Judaism, and inspire others to do the same.”
Keith Krivitzky, executive director of Jewish Federation of Monmouth County, which provided funding to help publicize the center, called the new concept one of the more innovative efforts being undertaken in Jewish education. He congratulated TRT for exploring a novel pathway to bring Jewish meaning not only to kids, but to their families as well.
Community Learning Day, the official debut for the center, was open to the entire community, not just congregants. The event combined childhood and adult education, Torah study, an arts and crafts project, and a songfest in a compact two-hour program.
Music is an integral part of the TRT experience, explained Stern, noting that during the past year the temple has held a popular monthly Rock Shabbat, a musical service featuring professional musician Eric Komar. On Community Learning Day, Komar led the singing along with Cantor Joanna Alexander, music teacher Karen Joseph, and drummer Kevin Werbel.
As part of the morning’s activities, religious-school students put finishing touches on candleholders that Stern said emblemize “a light of the future.” Students were encouraged o write their names and goals for their own Jewish future on the candleholders.
“We also needed a visual symbol for the center, something the participants could take home with them and re-use on a regular basis to help them stay conscious of the theme of a Jewish future,” said Stern.
She said the idea was inspired by congregant Mort Blumenthal, who earlier designed ceramic Jewish stars with the words “We remember” on the top and a flat matte surface underneath where visitors might identify themselves or just scribble a thought.
Blumenthal said he got the idea at the unveiling of his wife’s grave, when he saw headstones marked with pebbles and small stones. He thought it might be nice to have an ornament that was more specific and provided room for people to write their thoughts and feelings.
Since then, the temple has enabled congregants to purchase the “Remember With Love” star markers.