Steinsaltz and Sacks were honored in two separate “Global Days” of Jewish learning
Esther D Kustanowitz
Yesterday, two independent “global days” of Jewish learning each mobilized more than 100 partner organizations to honor the work and memory of two modern Jewish scholars: the late, prolific Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz, who translated the Babylonian Talmud into modern Hebrew Commentary, and the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who was Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom from 1991 to 2013 and whose writings made the case for the importance of Jewish tradition in modern times. Both men died in 2020.
Limmud North America, an offshoot of the global Jewish learning organization founded in the UK, held its virtual global Jewish learning day on Sunday; The event was founded by Steinsaltz in 2010 and integrated into the global Limmud organization a decade later.
Rabbi Sacks Global Day of Learning in Schools also began Sunday evening. This event, also called “Communities in Conversation,” runs through Monday and marks the second anniversary of Rabbi Sacks’ death by spreading his teachings in schools and communities worldwide.
Rabbi David Singer, executive director of Limmud North America, said eJewishPhilanthropy that Limmud’s learning event brought together 117 institutions worldwide to host partner programs. Overall, an estimated 10,000 participants on the day studied “various iterations of our joint texts and study guides around the central theme” of rebuilding as a Jewish community, as a society and as a family after trauma, Singer said, adding that independent participants could also ” learn on their own or convene small study circles at their own pace”.
The Covenant Foundation was the primary supporter of the Limmud event, and the scholars who created the lesson plans in the study guide are all Covenant Foundation grantees or awardees. Hanan Harchol, the creator, writer, and animator of Jewish Food For Thought, a free online animated series teaching Jewish ethics, authored a unit on rebuilding after the loss of a loved one; Writer, musician and educator Alicia Jo Rabins has created a unit on using creativity as a tool for personal development. The organizing partners of the event include the PJ Library, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Federations of North America.
“We have synagogues that are Reformed, synagogues that are Orthodox, synagogues that are Conservative and synagogues that don’t have a label and JCCs and Hillels and Moishe Houses all participating in this program,” Singer said. “And that tells me that there is a place in Jewish life to stay with your tribe, within the larger people, but it’s also important that we find ways in which we can be one people and do things as a whole, this is ‘not just for me or just for you, but for everyone.’
Joanna Benarroch, executive director of the Rabbi Sacks Legacy Trust, which aims to preserve Sacks’ memory and promote his work, told eJP that she expects 15,000 students to attend a learning program in Sack’s honor yesterday or today. All in all, tens of thousands of participants from more than 200 congregations and schools in 23 countries – from Nigeria to Great Britain and Singapore to the USA – will be present combined with Rabbi Sacks’ teachings on the topic “From Optimism to Hope”.
“Communities from across the religious spectrum — as well as non-Jewish institutions… are participating, underscoring the global reach Rabbi Sacks had to people of all faiths and none,” said Benarroch, citing Rutgers University as an example of a non-sectarian participant. “The main goal is for people around the world to learn in memory of Rabbi Sacks.”
Limmud North America — with two full-time employees and a budget of approximately $350,000 — with the help of Covenant grantees, created a curriculum for its learning day around the central theme of rebuilding. His guide contains traditional Jewish texts, including excerpts from the Torah, the Talmud, and Bible commentators. It also includes sources of modern writers and poets such as Avivah Zornberg, Yehuda Amichai, Marge Piercy, Meir Shalev and of course Sacks.
“For us at Limmud, we use Jewish learning because it’s a tool to bring people together, because our ultimate goal is actually for people and ideas and minds to come together because we believe this is a powerful opportunity that breaks down the silos and barriers tearing down our community,” Singer said, adding that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to “conduct conversations about differences. And we firmly believe that the act of learning is an opportunity to fight that instinct, a counter-cultural effort to bring people together and learn from people who aren’t yours, even if you disagree with them.”