A partnership rooted in Torah study and respect has the prospects of flourishing at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh. As testament to their shared commitment toward creating meaningful engagements, the Kollel Jewish Learning Center, Kulam: Pittsburgh Community Beit Midrash and the JCC are collaborating on a Jewish learning initiative. The program, called Partners in Torah, will pair people for one-on-one or small group study on a Torah topic of their choosing.
“Partners in Torah is a totally judgment free, friendly, warm and unintimidating environment,” said Judi Kanal, a host committee member.
“This program has the ability to bring people from all walks of life, from all over Pittsburgh — even over the river and through the woods — to learn, laugh, grow and create lifelong friendships,” noted Kanal at the program’s kickoff event on Nov. 18.
Months prior to last week’s commencement, in which Charlie Harary, a motivational speaker and author, addressed more than 100 attendees at the JCC, representatives of the three organizations began meeting.
These get-togethers modeled such a partnership in Torah, explained Rabbi Ron Symons, of the JCC.
Throughout the summer, Symons, a Reform rabbi, and Rabbi Doniel Schon, of the Kollel, an Orthodox rabbi, gathered repeatedly for study. The rabbis alternated meetings at the JCC and Kollel.
By entering into each other’s spaces an “openness” and broadening of perspective was facilitated, said Symons.
“It became obvious that we can learn together,” said Schon. The weekly study sessions were a great way to “get to know each other.”
As the spiritual guides’ relationship grew, Brian Schreiber, president and CEO of the JCC, brought in representatives of Kulam for conversation.
In years past, Schreiber not only worked with Kulam on securing space for the organization’s efforts to promote Jewish study, but had been introduced to a national Partners in Torah program.
The thought became, “what kind of work we could be doing in Pittsburgh?” said Schreiber. “In a diverse, vibrant Jewish community there are a lot of opportunities and space for this kind of programming to occur.”
Representatives of the organizations hammered away at a local model predicated on respect, camaraderie and personal and communal growth.
“Our goal has always been to get more people learning, and get people learning from all walks of life, and from more parts of the community,” said Peter Braasch, co-organizer of Kulam.
“The Jewish community is rich and diverse and heterogeneous, and we want to be engaged in lots of different spaces,” said Schreiber. For the JCC to be involved, as it is with this program, it doesn’t mean the organization acts solely as “a curator or provider, it can be a partner as well.”
The JCC’s partnership is beneficial not only from a programmatic perspective but also from the fact that they’re able to provide an accessible communal venue, explained Schon.
“It allows people who have a curiosity in Judaism to come learn about it at the JCC, in their ‘Town Hall,’ and connect to their heritage,” he said.
When weekly study sessions begin on Dec. 3, they will occur in a space that over the past several days has hosted a Shabbaton, exercise classes for seniors and a kosher lunch program for seniors, explained Schreiber.
Utilizing the “refurbished main floor,” along with working with the Kollel and Kulam, is a further extension of the JCC’s mission, he continued.
Through the Center for Loving Kindness, the JCC has done “a lot of interfaith work and multi-faith work, and we’re just as committed to working within our own community to build bridges where we can,” said Schreiber. “Ideally, our hope is that we’ll create an environment where people on the more observant side and people on the less observant side can learn and work together in a setting that people are used to coming into that doesn’t feel like there’s a litmus test they have to pass upon entering.”
Partners in Torah is scheduled to meet Wednesday evenings at 7:30 from Dec. 3 through Dec. 24.
“The program features both chavrusa (same-gender study partners) learning as well as mixed-gender classes,” according to program materials. “To arrange a study partner please email Rabbi Schon at email@example.com.”
This program is “a good opportunity for people to see we’re not all that different and that a lot of us are looking for the same spiritual growth,” said Gayle Kraut, a host committee member who helped organize the Nov. 18 event.
The Talmud teaches “eilu v’eilu,” these and those are the words of the living God, echoed Symons. “We are aware that there are assorted perspectives, but we know that we are all in this together as the Jewish people.” pjc
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.