Like some kind of fantasy, whichever door you opened at the Wilf Jewish Community Campus on Saturday night, Jan. 9, you came upon an entirely different scene.
In one room, people were dancing; in another, the audience crowded around the speaker comparing their concerns about loved ones or clients with eating disorders; behind another door, they were learning about Rashi’s “green” teachings, with his prohibition against the waste of natural resources.
In yet another room, people listened spellbound as a speaker described the ballooning Jewish population in Germany and the schisms opening up in Israeli society.
To the regulars, it was par for the course at the Leil Iyun, or Night of Jewish Learning. This was the 10th such event hosted by the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey, and it drew about 200 people for talks by local experts covering a kaleidoscopic range.
With the aid of floor maps and speaker lists, participants hurried through the hallways of the JCC of Central New Jersey for sessions starting at 8 and 9 p.m.
Cantor Stephen Stern of Temple Beth O’r/Beth Torah of Clark had conducted a musical Havdala service at the start of the event. Again accompanied by the Clark Shul Band, he then drew in a crowd to his talk on the music and legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. He soon had them up on their feet and dancing.
So many people crowded in to hear Aliza Blumenthal — director of student programming at Bruriah High School for Girls in Elizabeth — talk about emotional issues related to food, they had to search for extra chairs. A few were there to learn more so as to understand or help family members; most were professionals dealing with such problems among their patients.
Dov Ben-Shimon, executive director of strategic partnerships for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, drew on his extensive experience with Jewish communities around the world to present his talk on “Hot Spots, Crises, and Trends” in the Jewish world. He astonished his audience with the fact that the largest-growing Jewish community is in Germany, due to the influx of immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
But, he warned, unless the international Jewish community pours significant resources into building up the Jewish identity of those very disparate groups, within a generation they will simply be Germans — 250,000 Jews lost in an entirely peaceful process.
A lawyer and mother of four, Ora Sheinson, the president of Canfei Nesharim, or Sustainable Living Inspired by Torah, devotes much of her professional and volunteer energy to trying to save the environment. She gave a rapid-fire sampling of teachings that make clear the Jewish responsibility to protect the environment and conserve resources.
Other speakers included Rabbi Levi Block, Rabbi Mitchel J. Bomrind, Rabbi Joshua Hess, Rabbi George Nudell, Rabbi Douglas Sagal, food writer and teacher Jackie Lieberman, special-education teacher Deborah Linder, educator Susie Meyersdorf, genealogist Dr. Stephen Cohen, Central shaliah Yisca Shalev, and NJJN editor-in-chief Andrew Silow-Carroll.
Scott Lazar, who cochaired the event with Stacie Friedman, was heartened by those who suggested that the event wasn’t long enough. “As they say, it’s good to leave them wanting more,” he quipped.
He and Friedman basked in the buzz of conversation that filled the JCC gymnasium at the dessert reception that followed the talks. They credited Linda Poleyeff, the federation’s director of Jewish education, with doing the lion’s share of the work to pull the event together.
“The most satisfying thing is seeing all these people from different parts of the community all coming together like this,” Friedman said.