A CRASH COURSE IN JEWISH ESSENTIALS
By Jo Strausz Rosen
Members of our diverse JSL staff have been thoroughly enjoying learning during a monthly in-person session – A Crash Course in Jewish Essentials, with Rabbi and teacher, Daniel Horwitz of Adat Shalom Synagogue, who is “committed to fostering a joyful Judaism that is inclusive, inspiring, and relevant.” (From Adat Shalom’s website). The Rabbi holds a BA in Politics, an MA in Jewish Studies, an MA in Jewish Education, an MA in Sports Management, and a JD. Additionally, I have inside information that a much younger Rabbi Horwitz has significant history in the Franklin Baseball League as a much-feared left-handed pitcher.
Rabbi Horwitz’s sessions for our staff, many of whom are unfamiliar with Torah, began on Zoom a few months ago and are now videotaped live with him at the new David and Miriam Mondry Building in Southfield. The tapes will be kept and shared with new staff at future orientations. In caring for our mostly Jewish residents at Jewish Senior Life, we wish to educate all staff about the many aspects of Judaism. Getting to know each resident and how they approach their Jewish life makes for building wonderful relationships and a stronger community.
This week’s class covered Torah’s origins as “The Jewish Constitution, our founding and most essential text.” We watched a fascinating short film about a soferet, a female Torah scribe. The entire experience was spiritually elevating. Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5Brbqgngrc
We learned that, in commenting about Genesis 1:1, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhai, known as Rashi (1040-1105) said, “This verse says nothing but interpret me.” A millennium later, we are still “interpreting,” still learning and striving to understand the Torah.
Rabbi Horwitz’s lesson reminded us of the journeys of the Jewish people after Abram said, “Go forth” from slavery to redemption, and finally to Sinai where the Jewish people entered a covenant with Gd. We learned there are commandments (mitzvot) to follow, some of which are theological and ritual and some that are ethical and interpersonal.
After forty years in the wilderness, we learn how Moses, who will not be among those who enter the Promised Land, comforts his people. And in his final benediction, he blesses them and warns of the future prior to his own death.
The lesson also touched on Shimon the Righteous who taught: “The world rests on three pillars: On Torah, on service, and on deeds of lovingkindness.”
We learned some philosophy from Moses ben Maimon, commonly known as Maimonides and referred to by the acronym Rambam. He was a Jewish philosopher who became one of the most prolific and influential Torah scholars of the Middle Ages. We were told, Rambam’s laws governing prayer fall into two categories, Keva, how to pray, when to pray and what to pray and Kavanna, prayer is worship of the heart, the outpouring of the soul, a matter of inner devotion.
Rabbi Horwitz discussed the brilliant scholar and leader Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who wrote “The Spirit of Jewish Prayer,” and walked with Martin Luther King to fight for equality.
We are fortunate at JSL to have the opportunity to learn together. “Who is wise? One who learns from everyone. Who is rich? One who is satisfied with their lot. Who is mighty? One who conquers themselves,” said Simeon Ben Zoma, another of history’s great interpreters of Jewish scripture.
Each day, our Jewish Senior Life chaplain, Rabbi David Polter, provides the traditional view as an Orthodox Rabbi. He comforts our residents and leads us in prayer weekly, during Shabbat and the holidays. And he leads learning sessions in our residences. In our incredibly closeknit Detroit Jewish community, we have many rabbinical leaders of all backgrounds who provide us with wisdom, teachings, service and Gemilut Chasadim, acts of loving kindness. Our JSL community and our Detroit community are truly blessed to be so rich in teachers and opportunities to deepen our understanding of Judaism.
Wishing everyone a Good Shabbos and a Happy Pesach!