|“Sweet Tastes of Torah” draws a diverse group every year.|
Rabbi David Bockman, coordinator of classes for the North Jersey Board of Rabbis’ annual “Sweet Tastes of Torah” community-wide evening of study, thinks that this year’s program will be special.
While the event – now going into its fifth year – always has drawn some 200 to 300 people, “there are a couple of things that are different this year,” Rabbi Bockman said.
Rabbi Bockman, the religious leader of Congregation Beth Shalom of Pompton Lakes, said that his job as organizer consists largely of “nudging rabbis” to develop teaching ideas.
Every “Sweet Taste of Torah” evening has had a theme, but in the past many rabbis have chosen to go their own way, he added. But this year, “people have glommed onto the theme and are excited by it. It caught their imagination.”
In fact, Rabbi Bockman said, of the 20 classes being offered at the Fair Lawn Jewish Center on February 1, 17 are closely connected to the topic chosen by his committee: “Building a Mishkan – Making Room for God in our Lives.”
“We’re looking at all different aspects of it,” he said, explaining that the idea arose from the Torah portion that will be read the morning before the program.
“Terumah is about donations for and instructions on how to build the tabernacle, or mishkan,” he said. When the committee came up with the idea of building a mishkan, “it gave almost everybody an idea. It really connected with a lot of people.”
In line with this theme, rabbis will tackle subjects ranging from “Old World Chasidic Melodies” to “The Ancient Ark as a Model for Personal Integrity,” Rabbi Bockman said. His own presentation is called “From Boring Texts to Fiery Devotion.”
Other presentations will include “The Collapsed Mishkan – When God Seems Anything but Present” and “Moving Day at the Mishkan,” exploring why the Torah provided so many details about taking down and building up the tabernacle.
While several of the presentations are planned as lectures, the majority of them will involve discussion, Rabbi Bockman said.
“Most will include reading together, studying, and discussing,” he said. Others will include singing, and two will involve chanting – “using the image of the space between the cherubim’s wings as the focal point for meditation.”
He said that participating rabbis – members of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis – look forward to the evening. He noted that after the YJCC in Washington Township lost funding for its Jewish Learning Project several years ago, he suggested at a meeting of the NJBR that local rabbis might fill the void.
“I said, ‘We’ve got all these rabbis. Why do we need to bring in expensive lecturers? There’s enough talent here.’ The rabbis are interested in teaching, and it gives them a chance to teach something they’re interested in to people outside their congregations.”
Rabbi Bockman said the treatment of this year’s theme – exploring the idea of the mishkan from many different angles – really isn’t new.
“For a long time, people who have studied the structure of the tabernacle have found that it is not just a physical space but also represents something that people can project their ideas and desires onto,” he said. “Because it doesn’t exist physically, it may be used metaphorically.”
The evening is important for two reasons, Rabbi Bockman added.
“It’s not about politics, and it breaks down any silos between synagogues and other institutions. This is about Jewish learning, and studying Torah is something we can all agree on.”
In addition, “Just being part of a larger group doing this together is enjoyable. Even if it’s just for that one night, seeing all those people go into classes is energizing and reaffirming.”
For his part, Rabbi Ben Shull – president of the NJBR and religious leader of Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake – would like to see the commitment to study extend beyond one evening.
“We’ve tried and will continue to offer the opportunity for people to continue to learn after the event,” he said, noting that the “ultimate hope” is for learning to extend throughout the year. He pointed out that some regional events already have taken place, especially in the Fair Lawn area, but for this kind of ongoing programming to be successful, “it would require more serious investment on the part of the larger community.”
“It needs people committed to it,” he said. “Rabbis have the interest – but there’s an inability to take it further because we need a professional to devote time to it and for laypeople to take it more seriously.”
Rabbi Shull noted that the evening is always hosted by a shul and that this contributes to its success. “It’s a warmer feeling than going to some other institution, without a host committee to welcome you” – and after a congregation hosts the event, its members are more likely to attend the following year. “There’s something important about the synagogue aspect,” he said.
Rabbi Shull said the night of learning “is really a shot in the arm for rabbis,” who get to join with many others in a common venture. Even rabbis who don’t teach that evening may sit in on colleagues’ classes, he said.
While it is up to rabbis to choose the style of their presentation, some styles have proved more successful than others, according to Rabbi Shull. “Over the past few years we’ve tried a panel discussion,” but “the response wasn’t what we would have liked.” For that reason, and because the committee could not select a “hot issue” suitable for this format, it decided to omit such a discussion this year.
Rabbi Shull said the “Sweet Tastes of Torah” program is particularly important to the community since “there’s no other opportunity for the whole community to get together to mingle and talk Torah together.” Participants “get to benefit from hearing a variety of rabbis and approaches and to get to know members of other congregations.”
The challenge, he said, is to attract different populations, noting that the program tends to attract older adults. While the committee has tried to devise ways to attract teens, “we haven’t come up with a formula to attract them.” Still, he said, the NJBR has put some thought into working with Limmud, using the approach and resources of the international Jewish learning program.
“We’d like to expand, and will have that conversation, but we’ve stuck with a formula that has brought us some success,” he said.
“It brings the community together in a really great way,” said Nickie Falk, the program’s longtime coordinator and a consultant to the Synagogue Leadership Initiative of the Jewish Federation of Northern Jew Jersey.
“Rabbis get to share their love of Torah, and attendees get excited and want to come again.
“It’s a real event.”
|What: “The Sweet Tastes of Torah” – Building a Mishkan – Making Room for God in Our Lives.
When: Saturday evening, February 1. Registration is at 6:15 p.m.; Havdalah at 6:50 p.m.; classes at 7:20 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., followed by dessert.
Where: Fair Lawn Jewish Center/Congregation B’nai Israel, 10-10 Norma Ave., Fair Lawn.
Cost: $18 per person preregistered by January 29; $23 at the door.
For more information: Preview the program and presenters at www.sweettastesoftorah.weebly.com. Register by mail by sending a check payable to the North Jersey Board of Rabbis, 32 Franklin Place, Glen Rock, NJ 07452.
For even more information: call Nickie Falk at (201) 652-1687 or email firstname.lastname@example.org