To Rabbi Donald Weber, Temple Rodeph Torah is not just the name of his congregation. It’s an identity to live up to.
“‘Rodeph Torah’ means ‘seeker of knowledge,’ ‘pursuer of knowledge,’” said Weber, religious leader of the 330-family Reform congregation in Marlboro, “and it’s just a name until we actually do it. So when people come year after year and study and dig into texts, it actually allows our congregation to live up to its name.”
Weber and his congregation celebrated the fulfillment of that mission on the Shabbat evening of June 8, when the temple honored five congregants for their achievements in Keva, the Union for Reform Judaism’s nationwide adult education program. Keva recognizes individuals who show a dedication to Jewish study and learning through participation in adult education courses.
During the evening, two Rodeph Torah congregants — Sharon Aptaker and Sheila Aptaker, both of Freehold — were honored with the URJ’s Chaver Keva Certificate of Recognition for achieving the milestone of completing 365 hours of adult Jewish study.
Three others — Dr. Bernard and Susan Aaron of Freehold and Phyllis Solomon of Marlboro — received the URJ’s Keva Certificate of Recognition for completing 100 hours of study. In addition, the congregation conferred its own Rodeph Torah Award on seven congregants who had completed 50 hours of adult education study.
With those recent awards, Rodeph Torah now has 130 members who have received the Keva certificate and 20 who have distinguished themselves with the Chaver Keva certificate, according to Weber. After the URJ inaugurated the Chaver Keva program in 1996, Rodeph Torah became the first congregation in the nation to be recognized for having students who had achieved the level of 365 hours of study. And the congregation has had at least one Chaver Keva honoree each year since then.
Given the fact that students earn about 27 hours of study for each one-year adult education course, Weber said, it takes close to 14 years of study to earn a Chaver Keva certificate
“I think it’s rather unusual,” the rabbi said of the 20 Chaver Keva honorees. “We’ve been told that no congregation has come close to that.”
Lisa Lieberman Barzilai, codirector of the URJ’s Expanding Our Reach Community of Practice initiative, agreed.
“Learning at any age is critical to the Jewish people, so for somebody to immerse themselves in Jewish learning for 365 hours is a milestone we find incredibly wonderful to celebrate — both for the congregation and for the members themselves and for the way they want to be deeply involved in Jewish learning and Jewish living,” said Lieberman Barzilai.
Since arriving at Rodeph Torah in 1984, Weber and his adult education students have tackled musar (Jewish ethics), the history of Israel, the Talmud, prayer, an introduction to mysticism, and American-Jewish history.
“We’re approaching 30 years of studying together,” he said. “These people are good. They’re amazing students. It’s one of the great joys of my career to study with these people.”
For 83-year-old Sheila Aptaker, the feeling is mutual.
“I was not brought up in a religious home, so I was very happy to be learning more than I ever knew as a child,” she said. “I was just very pleased to be able to go to class, to learn, to listen to what Rabbi Weber has to say, and finally to be around other Jewish people and to learn more about Judaism.”
Her daughter-in-law, Sharon Aptaker, said that she feels honored to have earned the Chaver Keva award.
“Jewish study is important to me,” the younger Aptaker said. “I would have done Jewish study if I received an award or not, but it’s nice to be recognized for doing the Jewish study that I enjoy doing.”