By Laura Porter
WORCESTER – Torathon, the Jewish community of Central Mass.’s annual evening devoted to Jewish learning, will take place on Saturday, Nov. 18 at Congregation Beth Israel, 15 Jamesway Drive in Worcester.
The theme for this year’s event, once again sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Central Mass., is “Legacy of Jewish Values.” All of the classes, offered by area clergy and Jewish professionals, will fit within that rubric.
“For me personally, among the biggest Jewish values are our ability to keep learning – our commitment to lifelong learning – and to keeping our minds always open,” says Deborah Fruchtman, the coordinator of Torathon as well as the educator at Congregation Agudat Achim in Leominster.
“[As Jews,] we really encourage people to speak out and have an opinion; it doesn’t have to be a popular opinion,” she says. “As a whole, our country today really needs that.”
Torathon registration begins at 5:15 p.m., and the evening officially kicks off at 6 p.m. with a one-hour concert featuring Jewish singer and songwriter Ellen Allard.
Following the concert, from 7 to 10 p.m., participants can choose from 25 60-minute classes, lectures, discussions or workshops led by the region’s distinguished rabbis, cantors and Jewish educators as well as Jewish community and organizational leaders. Stav Attias and Tamar Melech, the 2017-2018 young emissaries from Israel to Central Mass., will offer a course on young Israelis and politics. In addition, representatives from both the ADL and AIPAC will teach. A dessert reception and social hour will close the evening.
“We work very hard to have a wide variety of genres, different types of courses, to appeal to as many people as possible,” says Fruchtman. This year, the organizers are particularly pushing to target “our young adults in our community – high school students, college students, young professionals — as well as everybody of all ages.”
This is Torathon’s 28th year, and its essence remains the same: to bring together the Jewish community writ large. Members of different congregations and denominations gather to learn, talk and get to know one another, often for the only time during the year.
“Torathon continues to be one of our marquee events and brings together people of all ages, from all background and attracts a crowd from throughout the region,” says Steven Schimmel, Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Central Mass. “I think that the organizers do a fabulous job of finding programs that are educational, entertaining, and interesting and that’s why we have success year after year.
“We are able to focus on current affairs and at the same time offer workshops highlighting our ancient traditions and that makes for a unique evening that all can enjoy.”
Its longevity notwithstanding, Torathon is far from static.
“We’re always fine tuning the program,” says Bernie Rotman, who has been involved from the beginning. “We evaluate all of our classes and teachers every year.” The Torathon committee also draws on participant responses to help guide and adapt content for the following year.
“We notice from evaluations that there is a good balance between people who are looking for basic information about Jewish philosophy, values, etc. and interest in contemporary issues, such as Israel and anti-Semitism,” he says.
Over time, attendance has grown exponentially, reaching 275 last year. The biggest complaint, notes Rotman, is that there are too many tempting courses from which to choose: a real sign of success.
“That’s the point,” he says. “We want to make it difficult for people to make a selection between courses because they’re all so good.”
Deborah Fruchtman stresses how lucky Central Mass. is to have Torathon.
“Having an evening like this where our community comes together to learn is one way for us to be repairing the world,” she says. “We respect each other; we have an amazing community; it’s very special.”
Brochures with class listings are available at the Jewish Federation of Central Mass. and the Worcester JCC, 633 Salisbury St., and at all other synagogues in Worcester and Westborough.
The Torathon program will also be published in its entirety in the October issue of the Massachusetts Jewish Ledger.
Advance tickets (on or before Nov. 10) are $20 and $25 at the door. Student tickets are $5 in advance and $10 at the door. Tickets can be ordered at jewishcentralmass.org/torathon.