Then and Now: Rabbis street cred paved the way for next leaders

You can’t walk 10 feet these days without bumping into the Talmud. This summer, San Francisco–based G-dcast held a weeklong animation workshop for college students responding to Talmud stories. At the same time, East Bay residents Dan Fendel and Sheldon Schaffer completed a rigorous, 71⁄2-year Talmud-page-a-day study marathon — the first in East Bay history. And this fall, Lehrhaus Judaica and Kevah have partnered to offer 12 cohorts of Talmud study throughout the Bay Area, double the number they offered last year.

Rabbi David Stolper (center) and staff of the Central Hebrew School of the Jewish Educational Society circa 1926

This level of Talmud study would have surprised and delighted Rabbi David Stolper, who in 1926 became principal of the Central Hebrew School of the Jewish Educational Society. The legendary Lithuanian-born educator helped change the region’s culture of traditional Jewish learning from a chaotic and underfunded venture into a more organized and inspiring voyage.

Born in yeshiva-soaked Vilna, but with a secular Vienna education, Rabbi Stolper arrived in San Francisco with both traditional credentials and a modern sensibility. His pioneering “street cred” was likely burnished by his creation of a Jewish school in Siberia after the Russian Revolution, before crossing the Pacific with his wife. For 20 years, at his headquarters at Buchanan and Grove streets in the Fillmore District, Rabbi Stolper inspired hundreds of students (including Rabbi Emeritus H. David Teitelbaum from Congregation Beth Jacob in Redwood City) to study, lead services and pave the way for the next generation of Jewish leaders.

This column is provided to j. by Daniel Schifrin, writer-in-residence at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, where stories of local Jewish life are explored in “California Dreaming: Jewish Life in the Bay Area from the Gold Rush to the Present.”

Dan Schifrin
Dan Schifrin

Daniel Schifrin, a local teacher and writer, is writing a play about medieval Jewish Spain as a LABA Fellow at the JCC East Bay.