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A Taste of Judaism: Anyone Want Seconds?

September 28, 2006 By:
Lauren Pound Somers, JF Feature
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Are you curious about Judaism -- or know someone who might be?

The Kehillah of Center City is whetting appetites and satisfying cravings for Jewish learning and connections with an appetizer known as "A Taste of Judaism." The series of classes it adapted from a program created by the Union for Reform Judaism is once again being offered this fall to engage Jewish and non-Jewish "beginners" in learning more about Judaism.

"This part of Philadelphia is home to thousands of Jews, and most of them are unaffiliated," according to Catherine Fischer, coordinator of the Kehillah of Center City -- a collaborative of synagogues and organizations created in 1998 as a project of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia in cooperation with the Jewish Outreach Partnership. "These days, many people are moving into or relocating to Center City, so that gives us a real opportunity to let them know the Jewish community here is alive and well. Once they attend a session, they will realize what a warm and welcoming community this is, and that we offer a whole buffet of resources."

The initial three-class session, which explores Jewish spirituality, values and community, is for anyone looking to explore or reconnect with the foundations of Jewish tradition, or for those who are searching for a doorway into Jewish life. Typical responses from some of the nearly 300 unaffiliated Jews, interfaith couples and interested non-Jews who participated in previous sessions over the past two years include comments such as, "I felt very welcomed ... more connected and knowledgeable, uplifted and motivated ... energized ... I want to learn more."

To address that desire to go deeper, the Kehillah has created "A Taste of Judaism II," which will cover Jewish holidays, life-cycle events and Torah in three classes and is scheduled to begin in February 2007.

(Taste I begins in mid-October, immediately following the High Holidays.) Each program is designed to break down barriers and make Judaism accessible.

"One of the things that we acknowledge is that people are coming to this for a variety of reasons," explains Fischer. "The rabbis are open, encouraging and respectful of differences among participants."

Comfort for All

The sessions are held in comfortable surroundings, where an informal atmosphere encourages a lively discussion of the various approaches that Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist and Reform Judaism take to living Jewishly in a rapidly changing society. Using traditional and modern Jewish texts, experienced rabbis discuss the ways that Judaism addresses personal and professional issues.

"We're seeing a real need for spiritual and communal connections, but our individual synagogues don't necessarily have the resources to get the word out as effectively," adds Fischer. "Our Center City community is so cohesive; that's what kehillah is all about. I'm in awe of what we've been able to do together, and how wonderful the rabbis are to work with."

With the increased interest and the addition of the Taste II course, organizers expect participation to double. And despite the fact a waiting list already exists, Fischer says that every effort is being made to ensure that no one will be turned away.

"If all classes are filled," she says, "we'll try to see if any of the individual synagogues can connect with people or at least let them know about the next classes being offered."

To learn more, call Catherine Fischer at 215-832-0597; cfischer@philafederation.org.

 

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