Got the intellectual munchies Try the Feast of Jewish Learning

Marianna Roytman Schiffner of the S.F.-based Bureau of Jewish Education really knows how to throw a party.

The BJE marketing director has been burning the midnight oil organizing this year’s “Feast of Jewish Learning & Unity.”

The three events — one in San Francisco, one in Marin and a third in Sonoma County — do have a party feel to them, geared as they are toward young adults, ages 21 and up. It takes one to know one, with Schiffner, 27, counting herself among her own target audience.

The Sonoma event is set for Sunday, March 5, while the Marin event takes place Sunday, March 19.

First up is the Sunday, Feb. 26 feast at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco. It will bring together rabbis, professors and educators touching on subjects ranging from John Lennon to Maimonides, from Jewish meditation to Jewish sex.

Plus there’s free kosher food, free He’Brew beer, free entertainment by local composer/guitarist John Schott and best of all: free admission.

Says Schiffner, “I got every organization that involves young adults to co-sponsor so they can promote it to their constituencies.”

It’s a long list, but includes local congregations, the Anti-Defamation League, the Young Adult and Young Leadership Divisions of the S.F.- and East Bay-based Jewish Community Federations and even the Jewish Fashion Conspiracy (hip clothing manufacturer of the ubiquitous “Yo Semite” T-shirts). The Taube Center for Jewish Life at the JCCSF is co-presenter.

The event features two 90-minute interactive workshops, with plenty of options to choose from, along with plenty of shmooze and nosh time in between.

“The theme is provocative Jewish voices,” says Schiffner. “It was important to represent all viewpoints and to get people that don’t normally teach in the community.”

That includes professors like Charlotte Fonrobert of the Department of Religious Studies and the Jewish Studies Program at Stanford University. Her topic, “Sexual Identity in Jewish Law: On the Hermaphrodite and Other Ambiguities,” ought to raise a few eyebrows. Apparently, the figure of the hermaphrodite has popped up here and there in various rabbinic legal discussions.

Also slated is professor Mark Dollinger of San Francisco State University, who will discuss American Jews and black nationalism during the Civil Rights era.

“When I went out and started getting professors,” recalls Schiffner, “I knew it would be difficult, but everyone wants to teach young adults because they’re normally not hot to learn. The goal is to inspire them to learn more.”

Professors aren’t the only ones slated to run workshops. Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan of S.F.’s Congregation Emanu-El will teach one on “Inflammatory Ideas and Burning Books,” touching on Jewish historical figures like Spinoza and Maimonides.

Rabbi Scott Slarsky of the JCCSF leads a workshop in which he ponders what traditional Torah commentators and contemporary hip-hop artists might have in common. It may be the first time Rashi and 50 Cent are mentioned in the same sentence.

Keeping on the hip-hop theme will be Tim Barsky, local storyteller and hip-hop artist best known for his stage production “Bright River.” He will team with composer/artist Jewlia Eisenberg for a musical conversation about “New Diaspora Culture.”

Other workshop leaders include Rabbis Yosef Langer, Alan Lew, Yair Silverman and Henry Schreibman, filmmaker Tiffany Schlain, professor Daniel Boyarin and many more.

“The idea is to provoke, challenge, stimulate and discuss,” says Schiffner. “The goal is to have people say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know Jewish learning was like this. I haven’t had it that great in a while.’ We’re going to help them do that.”

Though Schiffner did all the leg work on organizing the event, BJE Director Bob Sherman had the idea to take the Night of Jewish Unity at Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills and bring it to all regions of the Bay Area.

Schiffner took the idea and ran with it. “I thought, how amazing would it be to create an event for young adults, make it free to the public and offer free entertainment and free food — because young people need to eat!”

Just because she’s running the show doesn’t mean Schiffner won’t be learning along with the other attendees. That’s because this is not just a job for her.

“This might sound cheesy coming from a 27-year-old,” says Schiffner, “but a lot of time politics and religion divides us. However, Jewish learning unites us.”

“Feast of Jewish Learning & Unity” takes place 4:20-9:20 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 26 at the JCC of San Francisco, 3200 California St. Admission is free. Information: (415) 751-6983 ext. 132.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.