By Stacey Dresner
WORCESTER – Rabbi Yakov Blotner has taught at Torathon from the very beginning.
At the first Torathon, held 30 years ago, he taught a class on the history of the Jewish community in Worcester.
This year his session will focus on “Mental Health: What Do the Torah and Talmud Say?” The rabbi of Shaari Torah West Synagogue has years of experience in the mental illness field, having served as a chaplain and counselor at various Massachusetts state mental health facilities.
“Torathon is a common address, common event and common time that draws wide segments of the Jewish population, both in age and background,” Rabbi Blotner said. “I think some of the courses can lend themselves to increase people’s awareness as a Jew and to help them appreciate and increase their observance as a Jew.”
Rabbi Blotner will join with other Jewish educators on Saturday, Nov. 17 to celebrate “30 Years of Jewish Learning” at Torathon 2018.
Presented by the Jewish Federation of Central Mass., Torathon will be held at Congregation Beth Israel. Registration will begin at 5:30 p.m., followed by havdallah and Melaveh Malka – ushering out Shabbat and beginning a new week with song and celebration. This celebration will consist of a concert featuring Cantor Rachel Reef-Simpson of Temple Emanuel Sinai in Worcester, Ian Simpson, Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz of Congregation B’nai Shalom in Westborough, and Cantor Suri Krieger.
From 7 – 10 p.m., participants will partake in three one-hour classes, led by the community’s rabbis, cantors, Jewish educators and Jewish community and organization leaders.
“For the past 30 years Torathon has both enlightened and invigorated the minds and souls of the Central Massachusetts Jewish community and beyond. For three decades area Jews have had the opportunity to explore their spirituality, Jewish knowledge, heritage and perspective, and share an incredible evening of learning and socializing with the greater community,” said Deborah Fruchtman, Torathon Coordinator. “The success of this program continues to shine very strongly, because of the talent and passion of the incredible rabbis, cantors, educators, musicians and lay leaders who so generously give of their time and expertise, along with the interest and enthusiasm of all participants. This year will continue the same tradition of excellence, with the addition of celebrating 30 fabulous years!”
Besides Rabbi Blotner’s class on mental health, topics range from “Genesis 22: The Akeida Through Sarah’s Eyes”, a class led by Rabbi Aviva Fellman of CBI; “Jewish Sacred Drumming” with Mitchell Gordon; a briefing on the midterm elections and their effect on the Jews from AIPAC’s regional director, Eric Giesser; and Rabbi Michael Swarttz of Beth Tikvah Synagogue, who along with the NAACP’s Pat and George Yancy, will speak about the community’s Black-Jewish Alliance.
At past Torathons, Rabbi Swarttz has taught classes on topics like Reconstructionism; Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai; and Relational Judaism, a concept concerning Jewish engagement in the 21st century presented by Dr. Ron Wolfson.
For the past two years Rabbi Swarttz has worked on the Black-Jewish Alliance, a collaboration of the Jewish Federation of Central Mass., The Worcester NAACP, and the Worcester Black Clergy Association.
“We are going to talk about the history of how this alliance came to be, what we have done and what we hope to do,” he said, referring to the Teen Civil Rights Journey the group is planning for next fall to cities in the South including Selma and Montgomery, Alabama.
“Torathon is a big event. We get a few hundred people usually,” Rabbi Swarttz said. “It’s the single major community-wide adult education event. And it offers content for people of all different backgrounds, people with strong backgrounds and not-so-strong backgrounds; people with the most traditional orientation to the most liberal. It really brings the community together and it sends the message, I think, that Jewish education is not just within the realm of just the synagogues and schools, but that the Federation world is also committed to Jewish education and that Jewish education is not just for kids, but for adults as well.”