Taking Adult Jewish Education to the Next Level in Romania

Last week in Cluj, Romania, 400 Jews from 20+ local communities were part of JDC’s largest-ever Bereshit Jewish Community University in that country—the 7th of its kind. The thirst for Jewish knowledge among adults eager to delve more deeply into their heritage created a demand for attendance that far exceeded the space available for the conference.

Bereshit offers a pluralistic Jewish educational experience in parts of Europe where adults were cut off for decades from Jewish learning. Through this groundbreaking intiative, JDC has been providing a way to gain access to Jewish educational resources, values, personalities, and a wide range of Jewish perspectives.

Young and old were caught up in sessions taught by renowned Jewish Studies professors from Israel Dr. Rivka Kneller, Dr. Shmuel Faust, Dr. Gabriel Barzilai, and Raba Dr. Dalia Marx. Generously volunteering their time at Bereshit, they examined Passover – the theme of this year’s event – from theological, philosophical, social, and literary points of view, offering what one participant called a ”marathon of courses that were almost equivalent to a semester of University study.”

An unanticipated lecture by Israeli Ambassador Dan Ben-Eliezer was a much appreciated surprise and highlight.

Friday night’s Kabbalat and Oneg Shabbat celebrations provided some of Bereshit’s most touching moments, ”when people felt the strength of being together as a community.” Equally memorable were the Havdalah ceremony on Saturday night in a park alongside Romanian passers-by, and the Hasidic-themed party that followed, with dancing to the rhythm of the local klezmer orchestra.

Like previous editions of Bereshit, this latest gathering included a social action component, as participants visited and brought food packages to some of the Cluj community’s elderly assistees. The visits forged a necessary link between generations that was appreciated by both sides.
 
According to Israel Sabag, JDC’s program director in Romania, last week’s event was truly a group effort. ”Besides the large and very active group of professionals and volunteers who helped organize this event, the participants who embraced all activities with warmth and openness contributed greatly to its success.”

Sabag distilled one ”small but very strong image, out of the emotion of 400 participants” at the closing session, where everybody received their own Haggadah. "A very old but very energetic woman, a Holocaust survivor, came to sing 'Am Israel Chai' and 'Hatikva' with the team of organizers. It was a spontaneous act of love that will be very hard to forget for all those who had the joy to be in Cluj, celebrating the survival of our people.”

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