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Longboat Key Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019 1 year ago

Temple Beth Israel provides in-depth lessons on Jewish history and culture

The Miniversity program allows people to share their knowledge on topics from Jewish art to Kristallnacht
by: Brendan Lavell Staff Writer

Everyone knows the saying, “You learn something new every day.” But this isn’t always true. To keep learning, people must keep their minds open and engaged, ready to absorb new information.

Miniversity at Temple Beth Israel is designed for this type of person. The purpose of the program is to educate people on in-depth topics regarding Jewish history and culture. Classes are free for TBI members, but guests can attend for $10 if they register in advance or $15 if they pay at the door.

“Obviously we have retired people,” Rabbi Stephen Sniderman said, “some of whom want to fill up the gaps that they’ve had in their Jewish education through their lives.

“They like to be challenged. They like to expand their experiences.”

Each class, which usually begins at 2 p.m. and lasts about an hour and a half to two hours, is focused on a different subject and is taught by a different person. Many of the teachers are retired rabbis, some of whom live on Longboat Key. But others can be congregants who possess a unique area of expertise. The program is always open to suggestions.

“We try to reach out to Biblical issues, religious challenges, art history,” Sniderman said. “Somebody did a tour of their ancestral towns in what is now Russia. And share the experiences with the community.”

Sniderman himself recently led a two-part course about Kristallnacht, a night of organized arson and vandalism committed against Jewish people living in Nazi Germany in 1938, a year before the outbreak of World War II. The classes are held at a large table in the temple’s library, but so many people attended Sniderman’s session that extra chairs were needed.

Rabbi Stephen Sniderman speaks to congregants during a lesson about Kristallnacht. Nineteen people attended the session.

Sniderman guided the class, but attendees asked questions and often chimed in with stories and their own experiences. And it was more than a history lesson — in many ways, it was a discussion on antisemitism, which continues to rear its ugly head in present-day society.

As the class concluded, Sniderman remarked that he wanted to teach a more upbeat topic if he was ever tabbed to teach another lesson. He was met with several hearty dissents.

“This was good,” one student added.

It was a fitting response for those who always seek to learn.

Brendan Lavell is a general assignment reporter for the Observer. He earned degrees in journalism and history at the University of Missouri. He has visited 48 of the 50 United States, has a black cat named Arya and roots for the Eagles, Flyers, Phillies, 76ers and Chelsea FC.

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