By Ben Tinsley
LearningFest, sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Center for Jewish Education, is switching seasons this year.
Hundreds of people are expected to attend the 2015 iteration of this acclaimed educational event, which takes place Oct. 30, Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.
LearningFest 2015 presents five scholars-in-residence. They will speak individually at five area synagogues Friday, Oct. 30, and Saturday, Oct. 31 — and then under the same roof from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 1.
The speakers include Mickey Gitzin at Temple Shalom; Rabbi Josh Feigelson, Ph.D., at Temple Emanu-El; Rabbi Joe Wolfson at Shaare Tefilla; Rabbi Charles Sherman at Anshai Torah; and Rabbi Bentzion Klatzko at Dallas Area Torah Association of Plano.
And no, there is not a misprint on your calendar. Yes, there are two LearningFests this year.
“I know we just had our LearningFest in March, but we decided to expand that to two,” explained Meyer Denn, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Center for Jewish Education. “We’re doing another so we can kick off our new cycle of LearningFest.”
Denn said a recent inventory of the event indicated that spring, close to summer, is when the educational year is winding down. Fall, on the other hand, is when the rabbis and teachers are kicking off their educational programming, which makes LearningFest much more timely — to encourage people to learn and engage with Jewish educators in the community.
“We’re taking a different look at LearningFest,” Denn said. “It made a lot more sense to move to the fall.”
Because there will have been, in effect, two LearningFests this transitional year, the current format is a bit different, he explained.
Basically, it wasn’t practical to have a second traditional LearningFest with the multiple educational opportunities so soon after the spring event, Denn said.
So, this year’s program was designed to allow five synagogues to have individual programs, and then come together in one streamlined program on Nov. 1.
“We decided to offer our synagogues, our temple partners, the opportunity to apply for funding to bring the scholar-in-residence of their choosing here and spend Shabbat with them,” he said.
However, LearningFest will revert to its much larger original format next fall, with 50-plus speakers and related classes, he said.
“We’ll go back to the more robust, traditional format,” Denn said.
‘A more comfortable time’
Shelley Glazer, co-chair of the Center for Jewish Education, said fall is a more comfortable time for this kind of event.
“I think the fall is a good time for people to renew their interest in going to classes,” she said. “Hopefully, they can come to this event and find a speaker with a topic that resonates with them and gets them excited about continuing their learning.”
The event itself is a great opportunity to have the community come out and experience an increased Jewish awareness, she said.
“Hopefully, they will continue to include that aspect in their lives so they can grow and be more involved Jewishly,” Glazer said.
The event, a year or two shy of a decade in existence, has always been popular.
“People look forward to it each year,” Denn said.
Speaker topics and times include:
• Mickey Gitzin, executive Director of Israel Hofshit-Be Free Israel, will speak at Temple Shalom, 8500 Hillcrest Road, at 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 30 as well as 9:10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 31.
The first event will be a wine and cheese reception, after which Gitzin will offer an Introduction and Overview of Israel Hofshit-Be Free Israel. His topics will include “The Struggle for Jewish Pluralism in Israel.”
Gitzen appears under the same roof as his fellow scholars at Congregation Anshai Torah, 5501 W. Parker Road in Plano, from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 1.
His topic: “Jewish and Democratic — How to Balance the Two While Being Progressive on Both Fronts.”
He posits: “This unique and often frail definition of Israel’s public nature is a continued point of discussion: Can these two natures exist together? Throughout the years, the so-called ‘status quo’ has come to embody the modus vivendi of this definition, but this often comes at the expense of both the democratic as well as Jewish nature.”
• Rabbi Josh Feigelson, Ph.D., appears at Temple Emanu-El for a Shabbat service in the Olan Sanctuary at 6:15 p.m. Friday, Oct. 30.
He also appears Saturday, Oct. 31 at 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m., and from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Topics include “The Torah of Leonard Bernstein: Learning From a Musical Rebbe,” “Do We Deserve the Land of Israel? Do We Need To?,” “My Radical Father: Seeing Ourselves in Abraham and Isaac” and “Does the Holocaust Matter Anymore?”
Rabbi Feigelson will appear at Congregation Anshai Torah from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 1. His topic: “A Theology of Questions: How Our Questions Shape Our Experiences of God and Community.”
He posits: “Asking questions is a quintessentially Jewish activity. Yet what kinds of questions do we ask? And how do our questions shape our sense of ourselves, each other, and the Divine?” Drawing on his work as founder and director of Ask Big Questions, Rabbi Feigelson helps us consider “the questions that animate our lives, and how asking bigger, more beautiful questions can lead us to a richer life.”
• Rabbi Joe Wolfson appears at Shaare Tefilla, 6131 Churchill Way, Dallas, starting at 6:20 p.m. Friday. Oct. 30, and at 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 31. Topics include “Abraham’s Diverse Ways of Worshiping God,” “Living A Commanded Life vs. Living A Moral Life,” and “The Binding of Isaac Viewed Through a Contemporary Israeli Lens.”
He will speak at Congregation Anshai Torah on Sunday, Nov. 1 from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. The topic: “Responding To Crisis: Two 1st Century Talmudic Models for Thinking about Zionism in the 21st Century.”
He posits: “From a Jewish perspective, the first and 20th centuries share more in common with one another than the intervening 1,800 years. Both have at their heart the rupture of a long-enjoyed status quo and the need to adapt to utterly different circumstances.
“We will trace the lives and thought of two of the outstanding rabbinic figures of the 1st century and use them as models for thinking about the challenges and opportunities that confront our own generation.”
• Rabbi Charles Sherman first appears at Congregation Anshai Torah in Plano at 6:30 p.m. and following Friday night services after dinner Friday, Oct. 30.
On Saturday, Oct. 31, he speaks at 9:30 a.m. His topics: “Lessons From A Life of Faith,” “The Blessings of a Special Needs Child” and “Shabbat in God’s Image.”
He will appear at Congregation Anshai Torah from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 1.
His topic: “Discovering Joy after Heartbreak.”
His background: “Thirty years after his son Eyal suffered a brain-stem stroke that left him quadriplegic and dependent on a ventilator for each breath, Rabbi Charles Sherman shares his search for joy and understanding. He uses his family’s personal experience to ponder questions that all of us at one time engage. How can I maintain my balance, hope, and optimism in the face of some of the ‘bad stuff’ in life? What does it mean to laugh after periods of long sadness? Can I ever be happy again?”
• Rabbi Bentzion Klatzko appears at DATA (Dallas Area Torah Association) of Plano, 3251 Independence Pkwy., Plano, at 6:20 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 30. He appears Saturday, Oct. 31, at 10:45 a.m., 12:15 p.m., 3 p.m., 4:15 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
His topics: “How to Get Out of the Box,” “Don’t Hold Back! Q&A for Adults!” “Jews: Purple Jacket People,” “Judaism as a Relationship,” “Q&A With Teens” and “10 Commandments for Raising Extraordinary Children!”
Rabbi Klatzko will will appear at Congregation Anshai Torah from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. Nov. 1.
His topic: “Does Judaism Need Saving? Engage Ourselves by Understanding What Judaism Really Is!”
He posits: “We all value Judaism, its ancient traditions, beautiful ceremonies, and festive holidays. Which begs the question, why have the bulk of American Jewry, and particularly our university students discarded so much of what Judaism has to offer? Is the issue with the product or is it with the packaging? Can we come up with a solution before it’s too late? In this presentation, we will see how we can answer these questions by developing an entirely new perspective on Judaism.”
To inquire about LearningFest 2015, contact Karen Schlosberg, administrative assistant, by phone at 214-239-7131 or by email at email@example.com.