As communities flocked to learning centers around the world, Rabbi Danny Schiff shepherded a small group in Squirrel Hill. With a pack of more than 30 attendees gathered in the Katz Auditorium of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, Schiff, the Foundation Scholar at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, studied biblical and rabbinic literature concerning the ethical treatment of animals.
The group met on November 20 in Squirrel Hill for the dual purpose of celebrating the Melton Alumni Annual Reunion and participating in the Global Day of Jewish Learning (GDJL).
Melton, or more formally the Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning, is the largest pluralistic adult Jewish education network in the world. With nearly 50 locations around the world, Melton enables adult learners from all knowledge-levels and backgrounds to experience text-based Jewish study.
While several attendees of Sunday’s program are Melton graduates, many Jewish professionals are currently undertaking the two-year educational course, Schiff explained.
“We plan to expand Melton to the community at large in years to come,” added the Foundation Scholar, who has taught more than 1,000 Melton graduates in Pittsburgh.
Apart from welcoming graduates, Sunday’s study session served as a regional station for those joining the GDJL, an annual program that began in 2010 that invites individuals and communities worldwide to share a day of joint Jewish study. This year’s theme, “Under the Same Sky: The Earth is Full of Your Creations,” enabled participants to explore the world and nature through Jewish texts.
While that topic afforded a broad entry to Jewish study, in Pittsburgh, Schiff refined the subject’s focus to exploring elements of human responsibilities toward animals. Schiff’s talk, which was titled, “Mistreating, Killing, Eating and Experimenting: Are there Ethical Limits to our Relationship with God’s Other Creations?” allowed listeners to navigate an area of concern through the prism of biblical and rabbinic literature, said Mary Grinberg.
“I am an animal lover … and I wanted to find out what [Schiff] had to say,” she explained.
“Rabbi Schiff takes a subject and always puts an interesting and fascinating twist on it,” echoed Grinberg’s husband, Skip.
Other attendees joined in extolling the teacher’s merits.
In Pittsburgh, “we don’t just have a day, we have a whole year with Rabbi Schiff,” said Dan Brandeis, Jewish Community Foundation director at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
Sharing Schiff with the larger community was just one way that the Federation supported the GDJL, explained Adam Hertzman, director of marketing at the Federation. “From the Jewish Federation’s perspective this is a great opportunity to use our Foundation Scholar funded by the Jewish Community Foundation to raise the level of adult Jewish engagement especially for some of the community members who have in the past been dedicated to this kind of learning.”
Like their counterparts in Squirrel Hill, Jews in the South Hills similarly participated in the GDJL, with Beth El Congregation of the South Hills, Temple Emanuel of South Hills, the JCC and South Hills Jewish Pittsburgh, the Carnegie Shul and Beth Israel Center joining forces for teh event.
At the religious schools for both Beth El and Temple Emanuel, children and adults gathered to hear Rabbi Gershom Sizomu speak, play guitar and tell stories related to the day’s topic.
After receiving ordination from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies program at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles in 2008, Sizomu, leader of the Abayudaya Jews of Uganda, became the first black rabbi from sub-Saharan Africa to be ordained at an American rabbinic school.
During his Pittsburgh visit, Beth El donated a Torah for Sizomu to take to Uganda.
In Squirrel Hill, Schiff struck a unifying note: “The pursuit of the study of Torah [is something] that unites us around the globe and across the community,” he said.
Seizing that sense of commonality, in the middle of his presentation Schiff discovered that none of his attendees were either vegans or vegetarians. With that information obtained, Schiff alluded to the day’s topic and announced to his students, “We’ll get you out of here in time for you to eat your meat lunch.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.