That the Jewish people are stronger when their separate groups unite for a common cause was proved Sunday night as adults from throughout the South Hills joined together as students during the Global Day of Jewish Learning.
Sponsored through a grant from South Hills Jewish Pittsburgh, six area congregations — Beth El, Temple Emanuel, Chabad of the South Hills, Beth Israel Center and the Carnegie Shul — joined with the South Hills Jewish Community Center and the Pittsburgh Area Jewish Committee to present Israeli author and lecturer Doron Kornbluth to an audience of about 40 learners.
The Global Day of Jewish Learning is a worldwide project of the Aleph Society that brings the Jewish people together once a year to celebrate Jewish texts through community-based learning on a common theme. The first Global Day of Jewish Learning was held in 2010.
The South Hills joined more than 500 communities in 40 countries to reflect on this year’s theme: “Love: Devotion, Desire and Deception.”
Kornbluth, the author of “Why Be Jewish?” approached the theme through the examination of a signature song of the late John Lennon, “Imagine.”
Lennon’s view of a perfect world as described in the song, Kornbluth said, is one in which there are no differences between peoples. Yet, it is those differences that create a diverse and multicultural society and make the world more interesting, he argued.
Counter to what he interpreted as Lennon’s vision of a utopian society, Kornbluth urged his audience to instead encourage various cultural and religious groups to resist assimilation and to preserve their differences.
Jewish people should be one of those groups, he stressed, as they have a rich history and much to celebrate.
“There are three things that stand out and make me say ‘Wow. I’m proud to be a Jew,’” he said.
First, he said, the Jews are the oldest people on the planet who have preserved their culture and customs continually. Next, the Jews are a disproportionately accomplished people, representing less than a quarter of 1 percent of the world’s population, yet awarded almost 22 percent of the world’s Nobel Prizes. Finally, Kornbluth said, he is astonished by what the Jews have accomplished in cultivating and developing the land of Israel in a relatively short period of time.
The culture of the Jews, he said, is worth sustaining.
“When you open up the Torah,” explained Kornbluth, “it says pretty clearly, written 2,600 years ago, ‘you’ll be in your land, you’ll sin, and you will be kicked out. But you’ll be a light unto the nations, and I will bring you back.’”
“This is bigger than any of us,” he said. “This message is that we belong to something incredible.”
Being a committed Jew is no longer something that is “automatic” for people as it was even just a few decades ago, he said, but it is worth the effort.
“This means we have to say to ourselves, ‘This is worth my time; this is important to me. I want my family to be strongly Jewish.’ Jewish pride is important, and we have a lot to be proud of.”
Bringing Jewish South Hills institutions together for the joint learning event is in line with the mission of South Hills Jewish Pittsburgh and an example of a celebration of community unity, according to Rob Goodman, director of South Hills Jewish Pittsburgh.
Last year’s Global Day of Jewish Learning saw five separate programs held at the five distinct congregations.
While partnering with so many different institutions was a “learning process,” according to Dave Rullo, who co-chairs the adult education committee at Temple Emanuel, the disparate groups are “excited about the possibility of expanding here what we started. Hopefully, we will be forging relationships between the synagogues and the other organizations.”
Earlier in the day, 140 graduates of the Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning studied with Rabbi Danny Schiff, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Community Scholar, in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Melton School in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh boasts more than 1,000 Melton graduates, more than any comparable-size city in the world.
In keeping with theme of the Global Day of Jewish Learning, Schiff spoke on “Love & Waiting: A Talmudic Perspective on Relationships.”
The discussion focused on two examples of extreme marital circumstances in the Talmud and examined the lessons of balancing competing loves.
Mt. Lebanon resident Janet Mostow participated in both learning sessions on Sunday.
“Both lectures linked together fundamentals from our culture and teachings that tie into perspectives of the Jewish community today and help us relate to the events going on around us,” Mostow said. “They were both very poignant.”
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.