Young children ran through the halls and old men with long, weathered beards looked for places to sit.
Some wore jeans and T-shirts and tennis shoes, others, suits and ties.
It was an eclectic group at Tikkun Leil Shavuot Tuesday night, May 14, but everybody had one thing in common: They were all part of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community.
The fourth annual Tikkun Leil Shavuot at the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill brought together the full spectrum of Jewish association. Seventeen congregations participated and rabbis and scholars from Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist affiliations took part in 23 study sessions.
Coffee, cheesecake and cookies were served to help people stay awake and continue their study throughout the evening. But the group, estimated at more than 400 strong, shared more than just snacks.
“We had such a variety of different people coming to learn together,” said Danielle Kranjec, adult education coordinator of the Agency for Jewish Learning, who organized the event. “Learning is really what brought everyone and united them.”
The gathering celebrated Shavuot, the holiday that celebrates God’s giving the Torah to the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai.
On this night, rabbis and scholars gave participants lessons about Jewish religion and philosophy.
Rabbi Daniel Wasserman, from Shaare Torah Congregation, lectured to a standing-room only group about the importance of not only helping people, but getting personally involved in helping people, in a lecture called “A Jewish Value Even More Important than Tikkun Olam.”
“Forget fixing the world, build the world, the Jewish scripture says, build it with acts of loving kindness,” said Wasserman. “To go through life saying it’s not about what’s comfortable for me, I’ve got to get involved, does somebody need help?”
Rabbi Michael Werbow of Congregation Beth Shalom took a look at the relationship and the struggle of the Jewish people to get close with God in his session, “Standing at Sinai: Do we come close or look from afar?”
Werbow had participants read several Torah passages showing the distancing between God and the people, including Moses.
“Part of that struggle comes from [thinking] about where Moses is in the story of the giving of the Torah,” he said.
Rabbi James Gibson of Temple Sinai had a group form a circle and examine several songs and poems in his program, titled “Images of God in Jewish Poetry and Song.” The poems included “For One Who Doesn’t Believe” by Lea Goldberg, “In Those Moments,” by Hamutal Bar-Yosef and “Elohim,” an Israeli pop song by Mooki.
“[These are] Israeli poets searching for God, searching for meaning,” said Gibson.
These were just three of the 23 study sessions given by rabbis and others at the Tikkun.
The ability for this event to take place was made possible by several factors.
“Pittsburgh has a unique configuration of things,” said Ed Frim, executive director of the Agency for Jewish Learning. “Geographically there is a concentrated community within walking distance of the JCC and that allows people who are observant to be there. There are also a number of non-Orthodox institutions in fairly close proximity.”
But it is not only the geography of the area that creates the dynamic for the communitywide Tikkun. The people of the community play a part as well.
“There’s kind of a coming together here a little bit better than in most other places I’ve been,” Frim said. “People seem to really value being together. There is a lot of mixing that goes on in Pittsburgh to a larger extent than in other communities, I think between different parts of the Jewish community.”
The AJL put on the event, which was sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh. This year’s Tikkun also received sponsorship from David and Meryl Ainsman and Richard and Elaine Levine.
In addition to Wasserman, Werbow and Gibson, the other presenters this year were Rabbis Ron Symons (Temple Sinai), Howie Stein (Temple Ohav Shalom), Scott Aaron (AJL community scholar), Donni Aaron (JCC), Jonathan Perlman (New Light Congregation), Chuck Diamond (Tree of Life-Or L’Simcha), Daniel Yolkut (Congregation Poale Zedeck), Yaier Lehrer (Adat Shalom), Aaron Bisno (Rodef Shalom Congregation), Paul Tuchman (Temple B’nai Israel, White Oak), Rabbi Aaron Herman (Tzohar Seminary for Chassidus and the Arts), Rabbi Sruly Altein (Chabad of Pittsburgh), Rabbi Aaron Kagan (Kollel Jewish Learning Center), Rabbi Amy Hertz (Rodef Shalom Congregation), Rabbi Ezra Ende (Chavura Kiryat HaYovel, Jerusalem) Rabbi Yaakov Rosenstein (Torah One on One), Cantor Michael Gray-Schaffer (B’nai Abraham, Butler) and Beth Kissileff (New Light Congregation).
(Andrew Goldstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)