Feast of Jewish Learning honors big and little dreamers

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Go ahead and dream. You have permission. And you’re in pretty good company, from the dreamers of the Bible to great Jewish composers, authors and artists to Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud.

Contravening cranky grammar school teachers, who may have scolded you about getting your head out the clouds, the S.F.-based Bureau of Jewish Education is telling you to “Dare to Dream.”

That’s the theme of this year’s “Feast of Jewish Learning,” which kicks off with the annual “Night of Jewish Unity” at 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 31, at Congregation Beth Am, 26790 Arastradero Road, Los Altos Hills. The evening, which is open to all, begins with Havdallah and includes series of classes and activities for kids and adults.

The ninth annual “Feast” continues through early March, with lectures, brown bag “Lunch & Learn” (and “Dinner & Learn”) sessions, an art exhibit and a host of activities for kids and adults on the Peninsula, in San Francisco and in the North Bay.

The inspiration for this year’s theme comes from Hadassah founder Henrietta Szold (1860-1945), who said, “Dare to dream. And when you dream, dream big.”

The oldest of eight daughters of a Baltimore rabbi, she became a teacher of immigrant adults and later an editor at the Jewish Publication Society. At 43, she was the first woman admitted to the Jewish Theological Seminary, and in 1909 she made her first visit to pre-state Israel.

Szold, who became a symbol for the practical idealism that helped build the state of Israel, serves as an example not only for women but for youth: Possibilities begin with a vision.

With that in mind, the BJE’s “Feast” is subheaded “An Exploration of Jewish Visions and Visionaries.” But it’s not just the visionaries from history; the visionaries of the future may also be getting a jumpstart.

“Dare To Dream: Im Tirtzu, Ein Zo Aggadah — If You Will It, It Is Not a Dream” was created by the BJE’s Family Education Project for families with children in fifth or sixth grade at religious schools and Jewish day schools. There are also programs designed for nursery-school kids as well as their parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents. An event for seniors, in conjunction with the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center, is scheduled at Rhoda Goldman Plaza in San Francisco.

Jewish community professionals are also being given license to dream. BJE staffers were encouraged to put their dreams to work, creating art pieces on the theme of dreams, which will be exhibited during February in the BJE building in San Francisco and the Jewish Community Relations Council is hosting an event for employees in the Jewish community.

The “Feast” also includes an exhibit by local Jewish artists at the BJE Jewish Community Library, 1835 Ellis St., S.F. The opening celebration of the exhibit, titled “Divine Images: Community Artists Encounter the Second Commandment,” is from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 8. The exhibit, which runs through May 22, includes a panel discussion with artists, educators and a rabbi at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 19. Information: (415) 567-3327.

“Lunch & Learns,” which will be held in homes as well as offices, will feature a number of local scholars and rabbis. Among them: SFSU Professors Fred Astren, director of Jewish studies program, and Marc Dollinger, Richard and Rhoda Goldman chair in Jewish studies and social responsibility; Rabbi Sydney Mintz of San Francisco’s Congregation Emanu-El; Rabbi Aliza Berk of the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center; Rabbi Lavey Derby of Congregation Kol Shofar, Tiburon; and educator Rachel Brodie, who helped organize the “Feast.”

For information about hosting, teaching or attending a “Lunch & Learn” or other “Feast” events, contact Mariana Roytman Schiffner, (415) 751-6983, ext. 132, or [email protected].

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS:

“Dreams and Dreamers” Film Series showing of “Pi” at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 3, at the BJE Jewish Community Library, 1835 Ellis St., S.F. Information: (415) 567-3327.

Dreamers and Revolutionaries — A Look at Diary Passages of the Early Zionists,” is a program for Holocaust survivors, from 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 12, at Jewish Family and Children’s Services, 2150 Post St., S.F., as part of “Cafe by the Bay” program. Information: (415) 449-3843.

Whose Dream is it?” A “Munch & Learn” with educator Ellen Brosbe for parents of young kids, 9:15 to 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 26, at Congregation Beth Ami lounge, 4676 Mayette Ave., Santa Rosa. Information: (415) 751-6983, ext. 153

“Dreams and Dreamers” Film Series: showing of “Yana’s Friends” (in Hebrew and Russian with English subtitles) at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 2, at the BJE Jewish Community Library.

Janet Silver Ghent
Janet Silver Ghent

Janet Silver Ghent, a retired senior editor at J., is the author of the forthcoming book “Love Atop a Keyboard: A Memoir of Late-life Love” (Mascot Press). She lives in Palo Alto and can be reached at [email protected].