By Rachel Gross Weinstein
Jews are often known as the “People of the Book,” but Jewish learning doesn’t only have to do with looking at biblical texts — it can include anything from kosher wine tasting to learning conversational Yiddish. The 2011 Dallas Jewish LearningFest starts next week, and community members will have the opportunity to learn in a multitude of ways.
The fourth annual LearningFest, presented by the Center for Jewish Education (CJE) of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas (JFGD), will take place from Jan. 23 to 30. It will feature more than 50 courses led by local rabbis, teachers and community leaders. The registration fee is $25 per person to attend unlimited sessions; it is $36 after Jan. 17.
Courses will begin the morning of Jan. 23 and most will be held at the Aaron Family JCC. The official kickoff event will occur from 7 to 8 that evening when Yuri Foreman, former super welterweight boxing champion of the world, will speak about his journey, being a committed Jew and a boxing champion.
Meyer Denn, CJE executive director, said the goal is to provide an array of opportunities so people can find classes that interest them.
“The idea is to shine a light on our incredible educators and give the Dallas Jewish community a taste of the different flavors of what is offered on a regular basis,” he said. “We want people to learn about topics that excite them and an event like this is apropos for the community. We want this to be a jumping-off point to continue Jewish education throughout the year.”
According to Denn, LearningFest continues to be successful each year because of the quality of the courses and the educators. Generally, 850 people come per week and engage in about 4,500 hours of weekly Jewish learning.
The keynote event, “Open ‘Mike’ Night, Two Formidable Mikes on the Mic: Rabbi Michael Lerner and Michael Medved,” will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 26 at the Eisemann Center, 2351 Performance Drive, Richardson. It will feature a moderated panel discussion with Lerner and Medved, who hold differing political, social and religious views of the Jewish world. A question-and-answer session will follow.
Other sessions throughout the week include “Understanding the Source of Anti-Semitism,” led by Roberta Clark, ADL associate regional director; “You are What You Eat — Mind, Body and Soul,” led by Rabbi Sholey Klein, kashrut administrator of Dallas Kosher; “Grandparenting in an Interfaith Family,” led by Jewish Outreach Educator Renee Karp; and much more.
Denn added that he believes people will be inspired by the courses.
“I want people to realize the richness of Jewish learning in Dallas and seize the opportunity to hear as many speakers as possible,” he said. “Learning doesn’t necessarily mean being more religious; it’s about people finding themselves as Jews. It all starts with learning, and LearningFest is a way to jump off the diving board into the pool of Jewish knowledge.”
Jaynie Schultz, chair of the CJE advisory committee, said she is most excited about the continued growth of LearningFest and the new format for the keynote event. She believes having a variety of opportunities is beneficial.
“Dallas is a community where people want to learn and grow,” she said. “This is a great way to taste everything around town. We have seen that people who have been coming since the beginning have a deeper commitment to Jewish learning and that people who come for the first time feel comfortable learning in the future.”
LearningFest committee member Judie Arkow has participated in this educational event for the past few years and believes it is worthwhile for everyone to attend. She is teaching a session this year, as well, called “Interfaith Marriage — Multicultural Relationships: A How-To Workshop” at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 25.
She said she has learned much over the years and knows others will be impacted.
“I love that LearningFest is open to people at all stages of Judaism,” she said. “It’s a great place for people to come and begin exploring ideas they never have before.”
Fellow committee member Marcia Zidle said LearningFest is important because it unites people from different Jewish backgrounds. She said she looks forward the most to “Open Mike Night” and she enjoys seeing the community learn together to gain Jewish knowledge.
“It brings people of different backgrounds, walks of life and beliefs together to focus on what [Judaism] means, and how to be Jewish in this modern world,” she said. “I hope people learn that Judaism, as a religion and way of life, offers guidance, hope, love, solace to us in may different ways as we live our daily lives.”
For more information or to register, contact Melissa Bernstein at 214-239-7134 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To register online, visit www.dallasjewishlearningfest.org.