Chabad of South Hills to explore Jewish identity in modern world

Posted Thursday, Jan 23rd, 2014
Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Those interested in learning more about Jewish identity might want to consider a six-week course being offered by the Chabad of the South Hills, a chapter of the international organization known as the Jewish Learning Institute.

The course, which starts in February, is titled "To Be a Jew in the Free World: Jewish Identity Through the Lens of the Modern World." It will answer questions such as what it was like for Jewish immigrants to leave their homeland and start new lives in a free world. It will also explain what descendants can learn from their struggles to connect more deeply to their own Jewish identities.

Rabbi Mendel Rosenblum, who will teach the course, said contemporary Jews live in a magical time.

"Throughout our history, we’ve moved from place to place to escape persecution," he said. "We usually lived in shtetls, small villages away from the big cities. When the Jews began moving away from the shtetls for America, they ended up in large cities where they tried to retain their identities."

Part of the course he’ll teach will look at how the Jews who arrived in the New World adapted to the modern age.

"The course will help overcome the perceived incompatibilities between Judaism and modern society," he said. "It will also provide the clarity and conviction to pass on a legacy of Jewish pride to the next generation."

In one of the classes, Rabbi Rosenblum will discuss what freedom offers.

"In 1790, after leading a revolution in the name of liberty, George Washington affirmed the divine and inviolable freedoms of America's tiny Jewish community," he said. "But what is freedom? Is it indeed liberating to do as we please? Perhaps freedom is about something much deeper, more meaningful, and fulfilling."

In another class, he’ll discuss how and why alternative allegiances are a cause for concern for Jews and how deep the Jewish identity runs.

A third class will take on the topic of the Jewish vote.

"In 1862, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant signed an order expelling all Jews from the area under his command," Rabbi Rosenblum said. "This became a defining issue in his 1868 presidential campaign. Are Jews obliged to vote as Jews? Can our concerns as Jews conflict with our duties to our diaspora home? Where should our first allegiance lie?"

As a prelude to the course, which will be given in 600 cities around the world, Rabbi Aaron Herman, a Pittsburgh resident, principal at Tzohar Seminary and author of a textbook on Jewish identity, will give a talk at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Chabad of the South Hills, 1701 McFarland Road in Mt. Lebanon.

"I asked him to talk about Jewish identity without giving away the course," Rabbi Rosenblum said.

The cost of the talk is $10, payable at the door, but advance reservations are requested.

Each year, the Chabad of the South Hills, along with other chapters of the Jewish Learning Center, offers three new courses. The Chabad recently finished a course on medical ethics that offered CLE (continuing legal education) credits for lawyers and CME (continuing medical education) credits for doctors.

In April, the Chabad will offer a class titled "Realizing Your Potential" using the philosophy and teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

The Jewish Learning Institute offers courses on a wide range of topics in 350 chapters on six continents. In 2009, in the United States, the institute enrolled more than 42,000 individuals in its courses on subjects such as the Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism, ethics and Jewish law, Jewish history, the Holocaust and Talmudic studies.

"There is no word in ancient Hebrew for history," Rabbi Rosenblum said. "Instead, the word we have is memory. In the upcoming class, the point is to understand the pivotal moment when we left the shtetl and entered the modern world and how we can use that understanding to plan for the present and future."

"To Be a Jew in the Free World" will be offered on six Wednesdays from 7:30 to 9 p.m. starting Feb. 5 and from 10:15 to 11:30 a.m. on six Sundays, starting Feb. 9 at the Chabad of the South Hill. Cost of the course is $95, which includes a textbook or $170 for multiple registrations of two or more. A free trial visit is permitted on the first day of the course.

Details: 412-344-2424.

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