Serendipity: A Community Class in Progress on Judaism
Respect and acceptance do not require official documents, summit meetings, or highly evolved symposiums to discuss matters at hand. Sometimes a room in a building’s lower level with participants gathered around a large table, some sporting beverages or maybe a snack, marks the beginnings of understanding.
Last September I had the opportunity to interview Rabbi Karen Bogard and Rabbi Daniel Bogard, a husband and wife team installed a year ago as spiritual leaders for Peoria’s oldest Jewish congregation, Anshai Emeth. The Jewish synagogue in the Reform movement, the largest Jewish denomination in the United States, is located at 5614 N. University in Peoria. With a rich tradition and presence in the community since 1859, the congregation offers an education curriculum for Jewish adults and children. Anshai Emeth means “people of truth,” a people seeking truth through Jewish learning and tradition.
During the interview, mention was made about a class on Judaism for the community. No prerequisites required, no obligation, no cost, simply the opportunity to learn more about Judaism. I eagerly awaited the start date.
Tuesday, October 25th, I was in the group gathered at the table in the synagogue. After brief introductions all around, the learning began. For some people, it was a refresher course of sorts, providing details to what they may have previously studied. For others, it was a class that could conceivably lead to conversion as they studied beliefs that might become their spiritual pathway of choice. And some were there, myself included, to learn and gain perspective of traditions that influenced an already chosen spirituality.
Motives for being there varied, and so did the participants. We’re all ages, men and women, with some firm believers in a faith diligently nurtured through years of study and prayer. Some are agnostics, uncertain but searching and some are uncommitted. Rabbi Daniel is our teacher and his teaching style lends itself very comfortably to adult students. We’re more interested in understanding concepts than memorizing facts. There are no exams, and we’re old enough to not let any awkwardness interfere with asking questions. We stay on topic most of the time, but classes are flexible and questions and discussions encouraged. We’re often told by the Rabbi, “we’ll get to that,” and we always do and his preceding explanations are helpful.
Our class on Judaism doesn’t have a particularly homogeneous group of people such as might be in a college or skills teaching class. But that never matters and neither do any previously formed thoughts or convictions. For some the conversation might be a review of information, for others there are many “aha” moments as truths and stories unfold.
Attendance isn’t taken. “Come when you can” is the theme. We originally met for an hour but often ran out of time so we added 30 minutes. The class is open to anyone and meets on Tuesdays from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. (Check first with the office to make sure class is in session on a particular Tuesday. Call 309.691.3323)
Respect for others’ beliefs is a hallmark of the group. No one tries to convince, argue, or unnecessarily defend a differing viewpoint. We laugh, explain, question, and appreciate the sharing of wisdom. Sometimes differences allow for the best insights.
There is still room around the table for others.