Pre-Shabbat Tehillim education
By Deb Silverthorn
Erev Shabbat gets a kick-start at 7:45 a.m. each Friday morning, at the home of Carole and Joram Wolanow. At that location, Tehillim — the Book of Psalms — is taught and defined by Rabbi Yaakov Tannenbaum of Shaare Tefilla. The class is open to all, and there is no charge.
The class began as an opportunity for parents, involved with carpooling to the Schultz Rosenberg Campus, to learn and grow for themselves. Years in, with an invitation from the Wolanows, the sessions moved to their home near the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center, and there they remain. Good coffee, muffins and more combine with the study of the 150 poems in the Book of Psalms, which provide a range of expression of appreciation and thankfulness to God, of praise to the Almighty and of prayers in need.
“We read the Hebrew and we read the English and we take our time. I assure you there’s no rush and we make sure it is well understood, not just the translation, but the meaning and the depth,” Tannenbaum said. “We are sensitive to the text and to the reading, but my focus is on having us all truly feel what we are studying, that everyone feel the participation.”
There is no order to the readings. While some chapters required less than a week for all to feel complete, others have taken much longer. An hour in the morning, after school drop-offs and before most need to be accounted for, is precious and holy time.
“Rabbi brings to the table lessons of more than Torah, more than religion, and more than our history — he shares it all and can bring values of all three in the study of one psalm,” said Joram Wolanow, who with wife Carole over the years has become more interested in the details of the Torah, of Mishnah (oral law), of Gemara (commentary) and more. “I want to learn more of the history and relevance, and Rabbi Tannenbaum is dedicated to bringing it to life.”
Studying through a number of rabbis and various organizations, the Wolanows have opened their door, put on the coffee and served up a nosh alongside the learning for the last seven years.
A native of Brooklyn, New York, Tannenbaum and Rachel, his wife of 46 years, moved to Dallas 11 years ago. His grandfather was a practicing rabbi, while his father, who was also ordained, worked as a diamond cutter. Once ordained, Tannenbaum became the director of technology services for a publishing company.
When his job was outsourced, the couple were encouraged to make the Lone Star State their home by their son Rabbi Meir Tannenbaum and his family. Rabbi Tannenbaum “junior,” as he is lovingly referred to by his students, and his wife Miriam, taught at Akiba, Yavneh and others since 2003. In 2018, they made aliyah to Israel, where Rabbi Meir Tannenbaum serves as a director of Jewish enrichment for BBYO.
“We all come to the class with our own level of understanding, and it is widely varied, but together we share a critical in-depth review. Pasuk by pasuk, verse by verse, through a unique and very analytical approach,” said David Weiss, who has been a part of this group since January, and has studied with with Tannenbaum senior for close to eight years. “I formed an instant bond with Rabbi when we first met and whatever he’s teaching, I’ll gravitate to it. This is a beautiful way to end the week, to prepare to start Shabbat.”
Members of the group, now studying amid the 11 chapters of Tehillim attributed to Moses, belong to synagogues around the community and are of varying degrees of observance. There is no education level required to participate, no need for anything but a desire to learn and to share.
“This class is often the anchor of my week and a very important piece of my life,” said class member Yaffa Podbilewicz-Schuller. “Rabbi Tannenbaum is extraordinary: wise, kind, humble and a very sensitive and gentle soul.”
Podbilewicz-Schuller echoes the sentiments of others in the class, noting that Tannenbaum brings to each week a relevance to their lives in whatever they are studying. The depth and meaning of Judaism are illuminated in the study of text, and in the process, the lives of those that engage in this study are transformed.
“I’ve been reading Tehillim for many years, often with the intention of prayer for healing for a friend or family member. Other times I connect to the meaning hidden in the words, seeking a spiritual connection to express gratitude to God or to connect with something deeply human,” said Podbilewicz-Schuller, who treasures two pocket-sized Tehillim books, both with Hebrew, one translated into English and the other to her native Spanish. “With Rabbi Tannenbaum, it’s as if he puts into words what is already deeply within us. Experiences come full circle as my heart and mind are awakened with understanding.”
For Tannenbaum, it is what a Jew feels about life and the meaning of life and how we deal with life’s challenges and the experience and seriousness of God’s presence and the purpose each of us serves.
“This class and the Tehillim are about realizing and reflecting where we all are in our lives and how we can relate to our Master,” said Tannenbaum, the father of four and grandfather of 14. “Not to be overcome by the crisis and trials of life, but to be able to live through those toughest times, to have the capacity to be full.
“It doesn’t matter if you’ve studied for a day or if you are incredibly learned,” he continued, noting that while he is the teacher, he too learns much from every session. “The only ‘must’ is to bring yourself and a willingness to hear the perspectives of those at the table.”
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