Last year, the YM-YWHA of North Jersey offered a series of lectures delivered by seven area rabbis.
“It was so well-received, we wanted to offer it again,” said Cheryl Wylen, the Y’s cultural arts director. “It’s wonderful having different rabbis in the community teach here. Each congregation publicizes it, and for each program we get a good percentage [of attendees] from that rabbi’s congregation as well as those who come for the full series.”
Last year, each rabbi selected his or her own topic, said Wylen. This year, each of the 10 participating rabbis has been invited to choose a subject related to a common theme, “Towards a Meaningful Life.” That theme, she said, was based on a suggestion by Rabbi Michael Gurkov of Wayne’s Chabad Center of Passaic County. The lecture series will begin on Thursday, April 14.
“When you have rabbis working together, it brings more to the program than everyone doing their own thing,” said Rabbi Randall Mark, religious leader of Shomrei Torah in Wayne and president of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis, which is co-sponsoring the series.
He recalled that several years ago, he and Rabbi Stephen Wylen, of Wayne’s Temple Beth Tikvah, teamed up with Rabbi Chaim Listfield – who formerly led a congregation in New Jersey – to offer “The Three Rabbis” educational forum.
“On three consecutive Tuesday nights we did a lecture series on a theme,” he said, explaining that the rabbis took turns hosting. “One hosted, another spoke,” he said. “Cheryl [Wylen] said she’d like to bring the Y in on this.”
Mark said all of the rabbis in the Y’s catchment area were invited to participate in the upcoming series. In addition to Mark himself, those who signed on include (in order of presentation) Rabbis Baruch Zeilicovich (Temple Beth Sholom, Fair Lawn), David Saltzman (Lakeland Hills Jewish Center, Wanaque), Ken Emert (Temple Beth Rishon, Wyckoff), Wylen, Gurkov, David Bockman (Cong. Beth Shalom, Pompton Lakes), Joshua Cohen (Temple Emanuel of North Jersey, Franklin Lakes), Ellen Bernhardt (Gerrard Berman Day School, Oakland), and Elyse Frishman (Barnert Temple, Franklin Lakes).
Discussion topics range from tzedakah to dealing with pain, loss, and suffering.
Mark, who will explore how text study can enhance someone’s life, said the topic “coincides nicely with what I’ve tried to do at synagogue – help my contemporary American Jewish congregants see that there is actually value and meaning in the study of Jewish texts. We can read the ancient rabbis and pull out lessons applicable to life today.”
What he may do, he said, is follow a text though the rabbinic tradition, seeing how it plays out in the Bible, Mishnah, Talmud, and codes.
Wylen, who has selected as his topic “The Five Questions They Will Ask You at the Gates of Heaven,” said that “one of the enduring legends that exists in nearly every culture is that when our life comes to an end, we have to explain ourselves and justify our existence at the gateway to the next world.”
He noted that the talmudic version of this legend is that there are five questions we are asked at the gates of heaven. During his presentation on May 5, “We will ask those five questions and see how they apply to our own lives. Hopefully, this will give each of us direction to discover the sacred meaning of our own existence.”
Bockman – who plays the trumpet – said he will explore how music adds meaning to our lives, using both music itself and teachings from traditional Jewish texts. While his first choice, he said, would have been to focus on prayer, the two topics are not dissimilar.
He said, “We can look at music in three ways: production, or making music; experiencing the music; and the music itself, the form of the music.” While making and listening to music “are not necessarily religious experiences,” he said, in some contexts “they can be understood as analogous to religious experiences.”
Whether music “becomes religious,” he said, “has to do with the group of people who are producing it and listening to it.”
For further information about the series, call (973) 595-0100, ext. 228.