Community adult learning

Community adult learning

Interested in learning 300 ways to ask the four questions? Perhaps studying the Napoleonic Sanhedrin of 1807 is more your thing. How about taking a tour of the Rauh Jewish Archives at the Heinz History Center?

Adult Jewish educational opportunities are plentiful in Pittsburgh, if you know where to find them.

But finding them just got a whole lot easier.

Ten local congregations recently have joined with the Agency for Jewish Learning, and with each other, to create a single source listing of Jewish educational opportunities for adults.

Aiming to encourage community study that crosses the borders of denominations as well as neighborhoods, the AJL has generated a directory of classes, lectures, speakers and tours that are open to everyone throughout the Jewish community.

This semester, the listing was distributed through the AJL and congregational emails. It is also posted on the AJL website at

So far, participating congregations include Adat Shalom Congregation, Beth El Congregation of the South Hills, Beth Israel Center, Beth Samuel Jewish Center in Ambridge, Congregation Beth Shalom, Congregation B’nai Abraham in Butler, Rodef Shalom Congregation, Dor Hadash, Temple Emanuel of South Hills, Temple Ohav Shalom in the North Hills, Temple Sinai and Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Congregation.

“The reality is, we’ve been thinking in our community a lot about the need to cross boundaries, to cross rivers and bridges, and to pull our resources, recognizing how these economic times are affecting Jewish life,” said Rabbi Scott Aaron, community scholar at the AJL. “The concept has been percolating in the AJL about how do we best support Jewish education.”

Rather than increasing programming at particular venues, the idea is to capitalize on the offerings that are already out there, Aaron said.

“We’re envisioning what we can do as a community at large,” he said.

The 10 congregations that so far have responded to the AJL’s call for widening their educational nets are working toward forming a consortium of learning opportunities.

“AJL’s goal is working to be a facilitator of that common interest,” Aaron said. “We hope to create a one-stop shopping site.”

While the idea of creating a comprehensive list of the adult education classes offered by various congregations throughout Pittsburgh may seem obvious, before now, no one had taken the lead in creating that list. Some believe its time has come, particularly in light of the new spirit of cooperation seeming to take root in the Jewish community here.

“It’s a good example of the shift in the way we’re looking at things,” said Suzanne Donsky, adult education chair at Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha. “There is now a movement away from the competition model of years past, to one of cooperation. I think that everyone stands to gain. Our educational options have suddenly multiplied by this seemingly obvious step of publicity.”

By promoting a range of classes offered by a range of sources at a range of venues, learners will have the chance to meet Jews from all over the city, and to study with diverse teachers, according to Karen Hochberg, chair of the AJL’s adult education board.

“The concentration is a way for everybody to take advantage of all the great learning options out there.”

Leaders from participating synagogues will meet quarterly, she said, with the goal of eventually leveraging resources to provide even richer programming.

“But this is a great first step,” she said. “I think people feel good about it, and I hope we keep at it.”

(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at

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