Standing in front of over 100 other teenagers, Hallie Goldstein began an important story: “Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Emma. Unfortunately, she died.”
So much for subtlety.
Goldstein, 17, was narrating a skit about how Emma Kaufmann Camp, where so many of the attending teenagers spend their summers, was founded.
“Her parents decided to build a camp in her honor,” said Goldstein.
The skit was part of Pittsburgh’s chapter of the Global Day of Jewish Learning, Nov. 7. The religious schools of about eight different congregations and the J-Site supplemental high school converged on the Senator John Heinz History Center for a morning of interactive education centered on the development of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community. The Agency for Jewish Learning organized the event.
The Global Day of Jewish Learning was launched this year to celebrate the completion of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’ historic translation and commentary of the Talmud, a 45-volume work 45 years in the making. The Jerusalem-based rabbi’s new work will be translated into French, Russian, English and Spanish.
Additionally, the resulting Day of Jewish Learning, which saw a huge array of Jewish educational programs, set out to “mark [Steinsaltz’] momentous achievement and kick off a new era of Jewish learning and unity,” according to theglobalday.com.
“The idea was that the kids would see the relation of the Jewish values that shaped the community and the various leaders of the community representing those values,” said AJL Executive Director Ed Frim.
Students were split into several groups for scavenger hunts, text studies, discussion groups and other workshops, in which they learned about a variety of Jewish institutions and figures from Pittsburgh’s Jewish history, including the Irene Kaufmann Center, Bertha Rauh, Jonas Salk and different rabbis.
“It’s relevant to know about the immigrants who came to Pittsburgh as much, and possibly more, than the immigrants who went to the Lower East Side,” said Susan Melnick, archivist for the Rauh Archives, which supplied the event’s study materials. “These are people from [the students’] community.”
The History Center’s library buzzed with activity throughout the morning, as students poured over archived materials, including Jewish National Fund planted tree certificates and copies of The Jewish Chronicle’s predecessor, The Jewish Criterion.
Along with people and places, the changes of the Jewish community were a main focus of the day, especially the neighborhood shift from the Hill District to Squirrel Hill.
“What do we call a smaller group that becomes a part of a larger group?” asked J-Site teacher Barak Naveh to a group of teenagers sitting outside the library.
Almost all of them knew the answer: “Assimilation.”
More than a history lesson, the program allowed for many students to connect with a past all but unknown to them.
“I learned about somebody with the last name Rosenberg, and my last name is Rosenberg. He made paintings for 60 years until he died,” said 12-year-old Adam Rosenberg. “We could see how they made their journey.”
(Justin Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)