A dozen local congregations and Jewish institutions will join together May 4 to 6 for a weekend of learning and ritual at the Pittsburgh Community Shabbaton at Congregation Beth Shalom.
“We are trying to create an environment where the community can come together,” said Beth Shalom member Danny Rosen, who helped organize the event. “Our hope is that it kicks off serious Jewish learning with all these institutions. The idea is to show the community the value of learning.”
In addition to Beth Shalom, participating organizations include the Agency for Jewish Learning, Adat Shalom, Beth Shalom USY, Congregation Dor Hadash, J-Burgh, Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, New Light Congregation, Rodef Shalom Congregation, Temple Sinai, and Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Congregation. Some individuals who are affiliated with nonsponsoring congregations will also attend, Rosen said. “I think it is the type of event that can inspire, not just for the weekend, but for years to come.”
Rabbi Ethan Tucker and Dena Weiss, faculty members of Mechon Hadar, an egalitarian yeshiva in New York City, will lead the weekend’s study sessions.
Organizers of the event believe that Mechon Hadar’s havruta style study sessions can revitalize Torah study for the Pittsburgh Jewish community.
“We wanted to bring in an infusion of energy of leaning through havruta study, with educators to facilitate it,” said Rabbi Michael Werbow of Beth Shalom.
Between 100 and 200 Jews are expected to study together Saturday, according to Werbow.
Tucker, co-founder and rosh yeshiva at Mechon Hadar, along with his colleagues Shai Held and Elie Kaunfer, was named one of the top 50 American rabbis by Newsweek magazine for 2012. Of Tucker, who happens to be the stepson of Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Newsweek said, “[he] has a reputation for being one of the city’s more vigorous, exciting teachers and making complex text accessible.”
Mechon Hadar was founded about five years ago as the first full-time egalitarian yeshiva in North America. In addition to its study program, which attracts 100 to 150 people each week, the yeshiva also focuses on its Minyan Project in which the leaders of Mechon Hadar work with thousands of unaffiliated young Jews who participate in independent minyanim.
The yeshiva is not affiliated with any formal Jewish movement.
“The Torah belongs to all Jews, whether they’re in a denomination or not,” Tucker said. “We want to cultivate a practice of learning that can speak to all corners of the Jewish world.
“This has been an amazing model,” Tucker added of the shabbaton. “It can be a transformative learning event.”
Tucker contrasted the “havruta study” model of shabbaton with the traditional scholar-in-residence weekend.
“When a community brings in a scholar-in-residence, he [or she] usually has expertise on one main topic, and gives three lectures to the community,” he said. “Sometimes this is successful.”
But Mechon Hadar, he said, uses a different model, bringing two scholars into a community, and focusing on self-driven learning that is inquiry based.
“People confront the text in a direct way,” he said, noting the emphasis on working in small groups of two or three people, who together examine a text, then present what they have learned to the larger group. “What you see is a library on fire with conversation.”
Pittsburgh is unique, Tucker said, in its effort to come together as a community — and not just a single congregation — for such an event.
“Pittsburgh is breaking ground with the level of cooperation of other synagogues they are bringing into it,” he said.
It is, in fact, a central objective of the Shabbaton to bring the community together, according to Werbow.
“It’s important for us to cross congregations to come together to do bigger things,” Werbow said. “We are able to have more vitality when we come together as a community.”
Want to go?
There is no cost for the weekend of learning, although there is a small charge for dinner Friday night. Call Beth Shalom at 412-421-2288 for reservations.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)