Today is December 14, 2019 -
Join our ongoing Torah Study group in the Library each Sunday during the year for a lively discussion. No need to know Hebrew to attend and you don’t have to be a Torah Scholar either. Come for 9:30 am minyan prior to Torah Study and stay for an enriching, engrossing hour of learning together.
You’ll find them in Beth El Synagogue’s library every Sunday morning at 10am, engaged in the time-honored practice of Jewish study — in this case, Torah study. The group is fluid, welcoming regulars and newcomers alike since its inception in 1999. Many veterans of the intellectually-stimulating group have shown up faithfully week after week for the past fourteen years.
Steve Riekes, a longtime champion of Jewish education, serves as the informal coordinator of the Torah study group, and shares facilitating duties with other regulars including Dick Fellman, Marty Shukert and Howard Epstein. Creighton University Professor Leonard Greenspoon also serves periodically as a discussion leader plus consultant to the group, providing historical perspective to the subject matter.
“Jewish study is about participation — involving yourself in our history, in our story, the story of the Jewish people,” Riekes said. “We learn from each other, and the intellectual discourse is very high and very fulfilling.”
Time is spent exploring Torah characters, their relationships and their lives, then asking the question, “How do we relate to all of this?” Riekes said. How do we — in contemporary times — relate to life, to God, to our religion?”
He added that “What is so interesting is that even though we’re studying Torah, people’s own life experiences and happenings around the world come into play. Participants weave relevancy into the study.”
Fellman calls the hour-discussion group every Sunday morning “one of the most joyous hours I spend during the entire week “I like the fact that I am studying Torah. It gives me a good feeling,” he said. “On Shabbat, as I follow the Torah and Haftarah readings, I now find I not only understand most of them but I can place them in historical context and I know a bit about them. It is wonderful to know that the book before us has been studied for thousands of years by people no different than us — some smarter, others not, in every place where Jews have lived.”
He and Riekes both noted that although a by-product of such dynamic discourse is a variety of differing perspectives, respectful disagreement is the rule of the day.
“The class gets somewhat spirited — quite often,” Fellman noted. “There are some really smart people who participate. They come from many different backgrounds: some know Hebrew as a native language, some know it passably well; some know history, Jewish and general; some know religion and philosophy; and some, once again, are just smart.
“In this busy world, where can you go and find minds like those every week, who have taken the time to read the same few pages of Torah that you’ve read, and that your ancestors read for 2500 years or so, who will sit and ask themselves what the passage means, and then listen to what the others have to say?”
Each session proceeds at its own pace, Riekes said. Depending on the amount of conversation, the group sometimes studies one chapter for several weeks, which works well within the laid-back class format. “There’s no schedule to finish, no exam,” he said.
Longtime regular Caryl Greenberg said that the most satisfying aspect of the class is learning what other people have to say about the Torah. In certain cases, hearing different opinions has changed some of her personally-held views. “There are some really bright people in there who have some great insights into what we’re talking about,” she said. “There have been times when I’ve started out thinking one thing, and after hearing other perspectives, I end up thinking another.”
Greenberg noted that newcomers are always welcome to join the group, and an extensive knowledge of the Torah is not a pre-requisite to attend or participate in the discussions. “You don’t have to be well-versed,” she said. You read the chapter we’re studying and then give your opinion or just listen. Whatever your level of participation, it’s so interesting to learn what the Torah has to say.”
Riekes agreed, saying that all participants need is the desire to know more, to read and discuss. “This is the text of our people, our history, and our sacred text that underlies Judaism. We bring it through the millennia and we use it as the beginning of what Judaism is about.”
“I love this class,” Fellman said. “This class is what a synagogue is all about — together, of course, with prayer and a meeting place. Jews have always studied, and they have studied this same Book. How much better can it get?”