School Supplement: Yiddish, Hebrew, dance, religion among favorites for adult courses

Yiddish, Hebrew, Introduction to Judaism and Israeli folk dancing are among the most popular adult classes available at Bay Area Jewish community centers.

Helen Fowler Daines of Jewish Community Center of San Francisco reports a resurgence of interest in Yiddish.

"In the last couple of years there's been a Yiddish revival and an interest in the whole culture of the shtetl," Daines says.

Last fall the center's Yiddish teacher, Ken Blady, was expecting five to 10 students. He got 25.

Led by Lottie Solomon at Palo Alto's Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center, the Yiddish Choristers perform five or six concerts yearly, according to center spokesman Frank Kushin.

Yiddish Club also meets at 7:30 p.m. on the first and third Wednesdays of the month and draws around 20 people.

Berkeley-Richmond Jewish Community Center's Yiddish Folk Players Club has been reading and performing plays for eight years. The center's Nancy Castle says the group, comprising roughly 12 members, performs several times a year at the BRJCC, 1414 Walnut St., Berkeley, and throughout the community.

Also at the BRJCC, Yiddish conversation classes meet Mondays at 10:30 a.m. each Monday and Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m. Class sizes range from seven to 12 students.

Popular BRJCC classes also include Beginning Hebrew, Wednesdays at 9 a.m., and Biblical and Modern Hebrew, Wednesdays at 10:15 a.m.

Palo Alto's ALSJCC, at 655 Arastradero Road, also offers a Hebrew class Wednesdays at 7 p.m. The class will resume after summer break in late September.

Hebrew, likewise, is a hit at JCC of S.F., with some 20 students enrolling in every class. Students range in age from "very young to very old," Helen Daines says. "Some are back from studying at university in Israel and want to maintain [Hebrew]."

Associate director Nancy Drapin adds that because the JCC of S.F. is in transition, anyone interested in fall classes should call her at (415) 346-6040 for a schedule.

The Marin Jewish Community Center, at 170 N. San Pedro Road in San Rafael, says its Conversational Hebrew class — Mondays at 7 p.m. for beginners and Mondays at 8 p.m. for intermediate students — draws 10 to 20 students each quarter. A new class will begin Oct. 23.

A course in biblical Hebrew, titled Prayer Book Hebrew — which meets Tuesdays at 7 p.m. for beginners and 8 p.m. Tuesdays for intermediate students — provides a chance for "learning more about reading and understanding prayers," says Krista Wilson. The next class will start Oct. 24.

The MJCC's Introduction to Judaism course, titled Discovering Judaism, also is well received, says Wilson. The two-quarter class covers Jewish culture, traditions, the calendar, holidays, life cycles and the structure and meaning of Jewish prayer.

The next one, beginning at 7 p.m. Oct. 18, will be taught by Rabbi Lavey Derby at Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon. Rabbis Michael Barenbaum and Stacy Laveson of Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael alternate as teachers. The class is cosponsored by the synagogues and Berkeley's Lehrhaus Judaica. "It's a consistently popular class," says Wilson, noting an enrollment of as many as 50 or 60.

Introduction to Judaism is another widely appreciated class at JCC of S.F. at 3200 California St. It's for "anyone who wants to learn Judaism from the beginning, for those thinking of converting or involved in interfaith marriages," Daines says of the class, which averages 20 people.

When adults need a study break, many grab the kids and go dancing at the JCC of S.F. For the past 20 years, 50 to 80 people have been showing up each Saturday night for Cafe Sholom Israeli folk dance classes, and 30 to 50 on Tuesday nights for Cafe Lahat classes. Teachers Darron Feldstein, Adina Kaplan and Rosanna Horton take turns showing students the steps. Both classes start at 8 p.m.

Lecture series draw big attendance at a couple of JCCs. Michele Schneiderman of Addison-Penzak Jewish Community Center of Greater San Jose, 14855 Oka Road, Los Gatos, cited the Distinguished Lecture Series, sponsored by Council of Agency Executives and Rabbis and staffed by the JCC. Some 800 people came to hear Rabbi Harold Kushner speak at Congregation Beth David in Saratoga last December.

She says the second season will present Dr. Ruth Westheimer Dec. 7; Tikkun's Michael Lerner Jan. 11, 1996; A Traveling Jewish Theatre Feb. 8; and Rabbi Joseph Telushkin March 7. Brochures for the series will be available in mid-September, she says. At that time, she'll begin accepting registration.

Shoshana Eliahu of Contra Costa Jewish Community Center, 2071 Tice Valley Blvd. in Walnut Creek, says folks love the center's Tuesday-morning lecture series, which utilizes speakers from universities and institutions around the Bay Area.

Eliahu says enrollment ranges from 50 to 120. A lecture is scheduled at 10 a.m. each Tuesday from September through June.

The next lecture will take place Sept. 19. David Biale of the Center for Jewish Studies in Berkeley will speak on "Jews and Multiculturalism."

Eliahu says the 10 a.m. Monday lecture series is also a big hit. It meets September through June. One of the new fall offerings will be Yossi Offenberg speaking on "Seeing Ourselves: the Jewish Image in Film," Nov. 20 through Dec. 18.

The most widely attended course of all appears to be one offered by Lehrhaus Judaica in spring 1994 on the Mystery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The series ran in conjunction with an exhibit at San Francisco's M. H. de Young Memorial Museum.

Lehrhaus director Fred Rosenbaum says associate director Jehon Grist designed the course. Along with president Ken Cohen and other scholars, Grist spoke at JCCs and other locations all over the Bay Area. Rosenbaum says it was the most popular course in Lehrhaus's 20-year history. It drew 1,000 people.

"We were just stunned," he says.