Chavurah gives young professionals a taste for Torah

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Once a month in the evening, a group of thirty-to-fortysomething South Peninsula Jewish community leaders leave their offices, grab their pagers and call their baby-sitters so they can get together for a little Talmud Torah.

Talmud Torah, or Jewish learning, is what the South Peninsula Young Leadership Chavurah, a recently formed study group of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, is all about.

"This is a beginners' course in the study of the classic texts of Judaism," said Laura Heller Lauder, the group's founder and chair.

"Most of us have not ventured very deep into the waters of talmudic debate but have always been curious."

Made possible by a $4,000 grant in seed funding from the Jewish Community Federation's Endowment Fund, the chavurah is comprised of 25 members — couples and singles ranging in age from 30 to 45. All have a strong history of Jewish community involvement.

A JCF board member, Heller Lauder called the group a supplement to the JCF's South Peninsula programs for Jewish adults through its Young Adults Division and the Jewish Community Involvement Network. "The chavurah, however, is strictly focused around Jewish study," she said.

It was through the Young Adults Division (YAD) that Lauder received her own initial entry into the Jewish community.

At the time, her primary concern was forming a community with other young Jewish singles. Now, having settled into her career, married and had a child, her priorities have changed.

These days, the chavurah, which ha been meeting in private South Peninsula homes, is fulfilling one of Lauder's more recent needs — the desire to learn in order to teach the next generation.

Led by local scholars and rabbis, including the group's scholar-in-residence Rabbi Lavey Derby of Tiburon's Congregation Kol Shofar, study sessions revolve around a variety of issues, including women's roles, love and sex in Judaism, raising children to have a Jewish identity, and the relevance of holidays and lifecycle events.

For Marty Bronk, the invitation to join the chavurah couldn't have come at a better time. He was beginning to feel disenfranchised from San Francisco — a city he called the historic center of Bay Area Judaism.

"Living in the South Peninsula, especially if you're not part of a synagogue, it's easy to feel a bit removed," said Bronk, who had never undertaken formal Jewish study before joining the chavurah.

Unlike Bronk, chavurah participant Neil Jacobson described a childhood immersed in Talmud Torah. He grew up in Toronto's large Jewish community, attending Hebrew day schools before going on to university in Israel.

Then he came to California.

New to the Bay Area and unsure how to go about meeting other young Jewish adults, he "strayed from the tribe." He eventually found his way back, becoming involved with the federation's YAD. Now, through the chavurah, he said he is "rediscovering this love of Jewish learning."

Chavurah participant Alan Rosen said the group has been designed to serve as a model for future young adult JCF-affiliated chavurot. Rosen and his wife, Linda, have made attending the chavurah a priority.

"Although our lives are hectic and we have a baby at home, we have never missed a session. We always go out to dinner first, so we can go over class materials beforehand."

There is one talmudic point that Rosen and his wife no longer need to review: the mitzvah of Jewish study. It's a mitzvah they, and other members of the South Peninsula Young Leadership Chavurah, await each month.