By Stacey Dresner
WORCESTER – The Jewish Federation of Central Massachusetts will present Torathon; A Journey into Jewish Life and Learning, on Saturday, Nov. 16 from 5:30 – 11 p.m. at Congregation Beth Israel.
The Torathon was started in Worcester around 20 years ago, says Bernie Rotman, one of the founders. “It was kind of the signature event of the Jewish community, because it was really the only time that all denominations were there – all of the rabbis, all of the educators – all under one roof. It was truly a community event. It was also a time that people could not only interact with others in Worcester that they may not have met, but they also were able to study with another rabbi or educator so it really opened up a window of opportunity for many people.”
Despite the Torathon’s initial success, the format was modified several years ago to add introductory speakers and to cut the number of classes offered. Attendance dropped and the event did not occur for a few years. But in 2008, Joyce Siegel, who was working for the Jewish Federation on adult programming, talked to Federation Director Howard Borer about developing some interesting adult education programs. He put her in touch with Bernie Rotman.
The two brought the program back to life and Siegel has served as coordinator ever since.
“It has quite a history, and basically it is in the exact same format that we started with many years ago, with 30 to 35 classes an evening. Our numbers have been building up again, so we are approaching the 300 mark,” Rotman said. “There is something magical to the format. It is just a winning formula.”
“It is an amazing program,” Siegel agreed. “It is pluralistic. We get people from all parts of the Jewish community. We have some amazing teachers and people who get to meet and learn with other community members. I also think it is a phenomenal opportunity for the community to come together and socialize. But what really strikes me the most about this program and why I kept doing this as a labor of love is the energy in the hallways when people are going from one class to the other, and when they can’t decide because there is such a great selection of classes.”
The Torathon sessions this year cover a wide variety of topics including music, art, the Bible, Israel, and even healthcare. The evening includes discussions, lectures, and workshops which will be facilitated by area rabbis, cantors, educators, and other experts.
The classes include “Living Arab, Spanish Jew, An Unlikely Tale of Multiple Identities” by Joyce Michel which will cover Isaac Edrehi, one of the early Jews of Massachusetts, who inspired Longfellow’s mystical character “The Spanish Jew” in Tales of a Wayside Inn; “Visual Prayer in American Sign Language” with EJ Cohen, a Certified Americah Sign Language Interpreter/Educator, who will teach the Shema, Oseh Shalom, Halleluyah, and other prayers in ASL; “Lenny Bruce” and overview of the life and humor of the comedian by EJ Dotts. “Art Midrash: A Visual Exploration of Text” taught by Susan Eiseman Levitin; and a discussion by the area’s Young Israeli Emissaries on Israeli youth.
The evening will also feature workshops including challah baking and Israeli folk-dancing. “It runs the whole gamut,” Rotman said.
“This evening of learning brings the entire community together, learning together, under one roof,” said Howard Borer, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Central MA. “The eclectic choice of courses speaks to Torathon’s ability to provide the widest spectrum of Jewish learning and as a result is able to interest and attract the widest possible audience. Under the leadership of Torathon’s chair Bernie Rotman and coordinator Joyce Seigel, Torathon continues to grow from strength to strength.”
Sponsored by the Federation, it is also supported by the Siegel Family Cultural Fund in Memory of Bernice and Albert Chaiken and Arthur Siegel, and The Rotman Family Foundation in memory of Murray Rotman.
“We both happened to have family foundations and thought this would be a worthy recipient of those funds,” Rotman said.
Registration for the Torathon event will begin at 5:30 p.m. A performance by Shir Joy, the community choir supported by the Jewish Federation of Central MA, and a community Havdalah ceremony will begin at 6 p.m. The three sessions of classes will begin at 6:40 p.m., 7:40 p.m., and 8:40 p.m., followed by dessert, coffee, and schmoozing.
Tickets for Torathon are $18 in advance and $23 at the door. For high school and college students, tickets are $5 in advance and $10 at the door. Tickets can be purchased online at www.jewishcentralmass.org/torathon and will also be available at all area synagogues, at the Jewish Community Centers of Worcester and Westboro, and at the Jewish Federation of Central Massachusetts.
For more information, call Federation at (508) 756-1543 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Larry Lowenthal of the American Jewish
Committee spoke at last year’s Torathon
about “Today’s Challenges Facing Israel.”