Jewbilee a golden opportunity for learning in Los Gatos

Rabbi Joshua Fenton is ready once again to move all the comfy chairs and throw pillows into the lobby of the Addison-Penzak JCC. It’s time for the second annual Jewbilee, and he wants attendees to shmooze in comfort.

Jewbilee takes place Jan. 23 at the JCC’s Levy Family Campus in Los Gatos. Like at similar Bay Area events, such as the Feast of Jewish Learning and Bible by the Bay, there will be plenty of Torah-study options. Also part of the daylong event: music, dance, children’s activities and lots of noshing.

David “PapaHugs” Sharpe

“There is food all day long,” said Fenton, referring to the transformed lobby, renamed the Jewbilee Café for the event. “It’s glatt kosher, so everybody can eat. The classes are fun, but what’s neat is to see everyone talking. We want to create a space for conversations that don’t normally happen between people who don’t normally meet.”

The event is funded by the Taube Koret Jewish Peoplehood Initiative and co-sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley and the APJCC’s Center for Jewish Life and Learning.

Last year’s Jewbilee brought out an overflow crowd of 600, and Fenton hopes this year’s schedule will entice even more.

The lineup of 40-plus speakers includes some of the Bay Area’s most prominent rabbis, including Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan of Lehrhaus Judaica, Rabbi Joshua Berkenwald of San Jose’s Congregation Sinai, Rabbi Melanie Aron of Congregation Shir Hadash in Los Gatos and Rabbi Joey Felsen of the Jewish Study Network.

In addition to rabbis exploring Torah and other sacred texts, noted Jewish educators will run workshops on everything from Maimonides to Kabbalah to Jewish Buddhists.

Nearby, children’s musician David “PapaHugs” Sharpe will perform, as will singer Mark Levy, who will talk about Jewish folk songs. Stella the Kosher Mime will also perform.

“The theme is there is no theme,” said Fenton. “I tell [speakers] to teach something you teach well, something you love to share or something you’re working on. Use this to flesh out ideas. This is big-tent Judaism.”

Stepping into that tent will be Elana Naftalin-Kelman, director of special education at the Jewish Federation of the East Bay and director of the Tikvah program at Camp Ramah in Ojai. The program serves Jewish kids with special needs.

That will be the topic of her Jewbilee workshop, as well. It will be geared toward parents and caregivers of special-needs kids, and like everything that day, she intends to bring Jewish texts into the discussion.

“Everything from Moshe and his speech impediment, to the Pirke Avot,” she said, “which teaches that we give to each child according to their needs.”

One of the study sessions will be led by Shani Wasser, director of the Meira Academy, which is hoping to open by this summer as an Orthodox high school for girls in Palo Alto. Her topic will be the Book of Daniel, studied less frequently than other parts of the Bible because it is written in Aramaic.

Fenton, meanwhile, will teach a class on one of his favorite topics, what he calls “subversive rabbinics.”

“I love to see how rabbis 2,000 years ago were uncomfortable with tradition,” he said. “Judaism has always been countercultural.”

With hundreds expected to attend, Jewbilee could have been a good opportunity for local Jewish agencies to fish for new supporters. But Fenton said that kind of marketing would defeat the purpose of the event.

 “For one day we’re just not going to bug you,” he said. “We’re just going to spend time together as Jews.”

“Jewbilee: A Day of Jewish Learning” is 1 to 8 p.m. Jan. 23 at the Addison-Penzak JCC, 14855 Oka Road, Los Gatos. Tickets: $5-$8. Information: (408) 357-7492 or

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at