After 10 years heading the 92nd Street Y’s Derekh Torah program – reaching thousands of students through its Introduction to Judaism class – Tenafly resident Rabbi Leana Moritt has brought her passion for sharing Jewish knowledge to Bergen County.
Through Thresholds, founded by the rabbi as a “pluralistic Jewish engagement organization,” Moritt is targeting what she calls the Jewishly curious – Jews seeking a deeper connection with their heritage and non-Jews who want to know more about Judaism.
Thresholds is not unique, said Moritt.
“It’s the kind of group that’s starting to bubble up around the country. It’s working and it’s needed,” she added, noting that the people engaged in interfaith engagement work have come to realize that they’re not alone.
Moritt, a fellow in the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership’s Rabbis Without Borders program, explained that the Jewishly curious can include a wide range of people, from Jews who ceased their Jewish studies at age 13 to those with a Jewish family member who are curious about that part of their heritage.
“A generation or two later, they may really want to know what that means and how to engage in it,” she said.
Those considering or actively pursuing conversion, are also among those who may want to know more about Judaism, she said, noting that often someone’s curiosity is spurred by an upcoming lifecycle event, when that person may seek to “draw meaning from a new stage of life.”
In addition, she said, some non-Jews in an intermarriage who do not pursue conversion while their parents are alive may “take the plunge after the parent passes on.”
“It’s for those on the threshold of Jewish life,” she said. “It’s a safe place for many people to be for a period of time. Thresholds fortifies people with knowledge and comfort until they’re ready to take the next step, whatever that may be,” said Moritt. “There’s no agenda, no preconceived idea of where they’re supposed to go practically, culturally, or spiritually.”
The rabbi cited research showing that there is a need for something “beyond welcoming. People feel welcome but not necessarily competent.”
“There are so many different places to hang your Jewish hat,” she said, noting that her classes are offered either in her own home or in the homes of students, where participants may feel more comfortable.
“There’s a difference between walking into an institution with folding chairs and chalkboards and sitting in someone’s living room, looking at their tchochkes,” she said. “While it’s important that people feel comfortable in synagogues, Judaism is most authentically practiced at home.”
“The style in which I teach is, ‘Yes, you can try this at home,'” she joked, adding that she also offers a ‘how-to’ component, accompanying students to synagogue and inviting them home for Shabbat dinner.
Moritt’s 30-week Introduction to Judaism class in Bergen County is offered at her home and is split into three 10-week units. Participants can enroll in all 30 classes or in any of the 10-week segments. The next cycle begins on Monday, Aug. 2.
“The classes don’t assume any particular amount of knowledge,” said Moritt, whose topics include Shabbat, holidays, the foundations of Torah, ethics, kashrut, prayer, conversion, and aspects of synagogue life.
In addition to her ongoing class, Moritt offers two interfaith grandparenting workshops – one at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades and one at Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake – “empowering [participants’] identity as Jewish grandparents.”
A resource like Thresholds is important, said Moritt, since “many synagogues don’t have the critical mass to really support one-on-one learning or to integrate into the community those people taking their first steps.”
For more information, call Moritt at (201) 404-0698 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.