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September 2023 Rabbi Arnow's Article

I was recently talking with someone who has decades of experience in adult education in the Jewish community and synagogues. He’s seen a steep decline in attendance since Covid of all kinds of in-person adult Jewish education. As he put it, we’re out of the habit. Moreover, we’ve forgotten about the power and energy generated by people together in real time and space, thinking, absorbing, asking questions, in conversation, and the ways that a teacher reacts to a crowd.
His observations align with what I’ve seen over the last few years at Kol Rinah too. Special teachers or musicians will increase attendance, but only to a level of about 50-60% of what it might have been pre-Covid. And I’ll add that our membership is up slightly over the last several years!
We know though, that numbers and attendance are not everything. We should not be too focused on how many people show up at shul, but rather, we should attend to the experience of the people who do come.
I do believe this, but I also know that something different happens in the presence of a large group of people. Small groups can have a beautiful intimacy. Larger groups create an energy, a hum. The sanctuary feels different and sounds different when it’s packed. So too for a learning experience.
Friday-Saturday October 27-28, 2023, Kol Rinah will host Prof. David Fishman, who teaches Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. He’s one of the leading historians in the world of the Jewish history of Eastern Europe. He’ll be focusing on the history of the Jews of Ukraine. Friday night he’ll focus on the “golden age of Jewish Ukraine. Saturday morning he’ll speak about Ukrainian Jews during the wars, and then after Kiddush on Saturday he’ll talk about the modern Jewish community in Ukraine, and especially amidst the war there.
I’m grateful to the Hereld Institute for Jewish Studies of JTS and the Leo and Sara Wolf Adult Education Fund for helping to sponsor this weekend.
Folks from other communities are always welcome here—feel free to bring friends. And I hope you’ll get back in the habit and join us for what I know will be an extraordinary Shabbat of learning. Your presence will matter.
Mon, December 11 2023 28 Kislev 5784