Culture Shuk adult ed classes inspire learners

Bob and Jere Moskovitz, newcomers to Tucson, toast the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona’s Jewish Culture Shuk at Tucson Hebrew Academy on Nov. 15. (Korene Charnofsky Cohen)

The Jewish Culture Shuk, a one night smorgasbord of adult education classes, brings the community together through learning. Teaching from a Jewish perspective, instructors strive to help us understand and respect ourselves and others, and to deal with difficult situations at home and in the world. On Sunday, Nov. 15, more than 200 people from Tucson came together to learn and share.

Sharon Glassberg, director of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona’s Coalition for Jewish Education, says the Jewish Culture Shuk has been taking place in Tucson for about 20 years. The format has changed through the years, but the goal is the same.

“In the past, the Shuk was held every other year, but it is so popular that people asked to have the Shuk every year,” she says. This is the first consecutive year for the Shuk, which boasted 14 different topics and teachers, and Glassberg adds that it happened to coincide with the Global Day of Jewish Learning.

“The Shuk is a wonderful opportunity for people to study Torah,” says Rabbi Ruven Barkan. “It is an honor to be a presenter along with my other colleagues in Tucson.” Barkan, a first-time presenter at the Shuk, recently returned to Tucson to serve as Congregation Anshei Israel’s education and youth director. Barkan was born in Tucson, but lived in California, Illinois, Georgia, New York and Israel before returning to Tucson. Barkan spoke on “Confronting a Culture of Violence, A Jewish Response,” and was “gratified to see that people seemed to have a real openness to receive positive messages in the midst of these contentious and dark times.” Listing jealousy, hate, anger and power as some of the roots of violent behavior, he says that Jewish traditions and ideas can help remedy violence in the world. Using a spiritual approach, he says, we all can be peacemakers. He recommends that people start on the path to peace by harboring hope instead of anger, and by reaching out to others with kindness.

Jere and Bob Moskovitz were also new to the Shuk, but as students. They moved from Connecticut to Tucson in September. “My husband and I have started to attend different synagogues, and thought that the Culture Shuk would give us the opportunity to meet some of the rabbis and hear what they have to say,” says Jere, who handcrafts women’s jewelry. “We also wanted to meet other people in the Jewish community.”

She and Bob took the same classes — “The Holiest Places on Earth,” taught by Rabbi Samuel Cohon of Temple Emanu-El, and “When Pork and Shellfish Will Be Pure and Can Be Eaten Freely By Jews: The Hidden Message of Lecha Dodi,” taught by Rabbi Sanford Seltzer of the Institute for Judaic Services and Study in SaddleBrooke. They found both rabbis entertaining and inspiring.

Karen C., while not new to Tucson, is new to discovering her Jewish heritage. She appreciated Cohon’s enthusiasm for his topic and the respect he showed for the holy sites of other religions. She also enjoyed gaining an insight into the bigger picture for achieving happiness in the world as presented by Rabbi Billy Lewkowicz, director of Hebrew and Judaic studies for Tucson Hebrew Academy, during his talk, “The Kabbalah to Happiness.”

Jean Glassberg, a retired TUSD elementary school teacher and mother of Sharon Glassberg, has been attending the Shuk for about 17 years.

“As a teacher, I am always interested in learning, but it is hard to choose just two classes at the Shuk,” says Jean. “It is a good place to meet other people and learn new ideas, and it is good that there is time for questions.”

Jean attended “The Secret to an Everlasting Love,” taught by Rabbi Yehuda Ceitlin of Chabad Tucson, who emphasized that people need to share ideas, be more engaging and show respect to others. The lesson she took from Lew­kowicz’ “Kabbalah to Happiness” was to put energy into living instead of merely existing.

Lewkowicz likens existing to books occupying space in a bookcase, while to live is to be conscious of being alive. His advice for happiness includes never believing life is meaningless, letting go of some space to let in G-d and going out of your way to help others. “Dance in tune with spiritual concepts and take on the challenge to be holy in an unholy world,” he says.