Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco (Photo/Flickr user DoNotClick)
Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco (Photo/Flickr user DoNotClick)

Crafting future Jewish leaders through Torah, not happy hour

Congregation Emanu-El of San Francisco is embarking on a journey to impart Judaism’s eternal wisdom to the next generation of Jews — centered around the Torah and Talmud.

With the launch of “Disruptive Judaism for Future Leaders,” the synagogue is seeking to provide Jews in their 20s and 30s with a place for serious Jewish learning.

“There’s so much programming out there [for young Jews] that’s focused on social events and happy hours — and that’s great,” said Rabbi Jason Rodich, one of the leaders of the new program. “But I believe that at the center of everything is Torah, and if taught well and made accessible to young people, it can be remarkably impactful. It can be disruptive.”

The program was received enthusiastically by congregation members, and Rodich said it quickly attracted 20 “exceptional young Jews from the Bay Area” who will attend 11 monthly sessions. Rodich stressed that the program will be more serious than a drop-in Torah study group, and participants will be expected to actively engage.

Some of the sessions will be weekend-long retreats, such as the first event, a shabbaton at Walter Creek Ranch in Petaluma. This opening session, entitled “Together, With Love, We Can Change the World: Jewish Learning as a Counter-Cultural Rebellion,” will take place the weekend of Feb. 17-19.

Rodich also emphasized that while the program is not focused on leadership, its mission is to prepare the next generation of Jewish community leaders.

“What future Jewish leaders need, most of all, is Torah. We can’t afford to have another generation of Jews take up leadership positions in the Jewish community without a strong grasp of Torah and Talmud,” he said.

Group members will study the biblical canon and commentary, and will seek to apply such timeless knowledge to day-to-day experiences. From the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the “so-called Jewish demographic crisis in the United States,” Rodich said, the group will seek to uncover the myriad ways Judaism can inform the contemporary world.

“I believe that Judaism is as lively and relevant today as ever before,” Rodich said. “Our goal is to reveal how being Jewish and claiming our tradition can affect the way we look at the world.”

Perry Fein

Perry Fein is a freelance writer.