MILWAUKEE — Have you ever wanted to learn more about Torah, but weren’t sure how to start?
Perhaps you have a cursory knowledge of the main figures, like Adam and Eve or Avraham and Sarah, but outside of few basic details, lessons gleaned from Hebrew school or a half-remembered sermon, you’re not really sure what the Hebrew Bible is telling us?
Do you have a Christian or agnostic friend who has mentioned wanting to learn a bit about the Jewish approach to text?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then the monthly Lunch and Learn program conducted by the Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s Coalition for Jewish Learning, could be just thing to quench your thirst for knowledge and understanding.
Part of the coalition’s LOMED program, which stands for “Learning Opportunities for Milwaukee Educators,” the one-hour programs are designed to give teachers, or anyone else who might be interested, knowledge on a variety of Jewish topics.
The Hebrew Bible
After kicking off the program a couple years ago with a handful of hourly segments on Jewish holidays, program leader Tzipi Altman-Shafer decided the next best topic would be Torah.
So far, the group has tackled the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Avraham and Sarah, and Isaac and Rebecca.
Their next program, set for noon on Wednesday, Oct. 13, is expected to cover the story of Jacob and his two wives, sisters Rachel and Leah.
While Altman-Shafer started the Lunch and Learns with an eye toward educating Federation staff, some of whom are not Jewish, the program has really broadened to include a wide audience of Jewish and non-Jewish people, who are simply interested in learning more about Judaism. All of lessons are text-based, Altman-Shafer notes, so it’s not just someone telling attendees what the story is about.
“When people started coming, I asked them what they were interested in learning, and they gave me a long list of topics, which were basic Jewish literacy stuff,” said Altman-Shafer, who serves as the Jewish education community planner for the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. “It’s basic Jewish literacy to understand these Biblical stories, but Christians may also be really fascinated by these stories and interested in seeing how Jews might read the text differently than non-Jews.”
What excites her about getting to dive into those stories are the different background attendees bring to the table, and the discussions that take place as a result.
“I try to have the (programs) going on multiple levels. If there is someone who knows absolutely nothing about Adam and Eve, and they’ve never read Genesis, we have the basic information there. But I also try to have commentary and explanations of things that maybe people who have studied these stories and topics a lot, have never heard,” she said. “I love both the questions and comments that I get from people who don’t know the story very well, or who thought they knew the story and are really surprised by what is there and what is not there. I also really love the kind of questions I get from people who have a really strong backgrounds and are coming and are saying ‘oh did you think of this?’ It leads to a really wonderful discussion, and people learning from each other.”
What’s also really interesting is when people can apply the messages of the stories to their own lives, Altman-Shafer said.
That is definitely true in the story of Jacob, and his two wives, the sisters, Leah and Rachel, she said. Although the relationship between a man and his two wives (who are also sisters) might seem utterly foreign in the modern era, Altman-Shafer notes that when you get down to the marrow of the story, it is really about relationships and priorities.
“I don’t think it’s just about multiple wives. It goes to larger themes in relationships like, what are jealousies? And what makes us jealous? You can be jealous of something that has nothing to with a romantic relationship. What about being torn between multiple priorities in your life – being torn between work and children and your spouse, and other interests you have in your life?” she said. “How do you balance things all the things that are pulling you in different directions, and honor all of those different relationships at the same time? I think that speaks to a lot of people today.”
Anyone wishing to attend the Oct. 13 program should email Altman-Shafter at Tziporaha@MilwaukeeJewish.org.
“These programs are open to anyone,” Altman-Shafer said. “Anyone who wants to learn welcome.”
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How to go:
What: LOMED Lunch and Learn
When: 12-1 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 13
Where: Via Zoom
How: Those wishing to attend Lunch and Learns live, and take part in discussions or ask questions, may email Tzipi Altman-Shafer at Tziporaha@MilwaukeeJewish.org for a meeting link.