Middle school students saw the tables turned when they ushered their parents and other adults to their assigned classrooms as part of Chizuk Amuno Congregation’s Luv2Learn Festival on Sunday, May 18.
“I think it’s interesting for people who have been out of school so long to come here and get a sense of what it’s like,” said Hannah Wahlberg, a sixth-grader at Krieger Schechter Day School.
She, along with fellow KSDS students Charlie Hallock, Tal Boger and Ezra Suldan and Pikesville Middle School student Alex Hellman, took part in the event as ushers.
“It’s just good to get people in the community together and get them talking,” said Ezra Suldan, an eighth-grader.
It was not a coincidence that Chizuk Amuno held its inaugural learning festival on Sunday. As director of congregational life, Rabbi Paul Schneider explained that May 18 is Lag B’Omer, a traditionally somber time that coincided with the deaths of thousands of students of the Mishnaic sage Rabbi Akiva. According to tradtion, the plague that claimed their lives stopped on Lag B’Omer. So on the the 33rd day, Jews are given a reprieve from their solemnity and are free to enjoy themselves. Lag B’Omer is traditionally a time for picnics, barbeques and learning.
In coming up with the topics for more than 25 workshops, Schneider said he and co-chairs Marsha Manekin and Howard Cohen chose to provide a broad range of learning opportunities in Jewish and secular subjects.
“We decided to model the festival loosely after Ted Talks,” said Manekin, “by giving short presentations covering a lot of different subjects. People can get a taste of learning about technology, Wall Street, advance directives, Maimonides [and] archaeology.”
Participants chose up to three 30-minute sessions including one from co-chair Cohen, who taught contemporary art glass.
“What’s really amazing is that all presentations are given by school parents and synagogue members,” said Manekin. “None of the synagogue’s staff or administrators are teaching. It’s all lay people.”
Ava Barron-Shasho, a parent of one KSDS alum and one eighth- grader, taught “Identify the Voice of Your Inner Gremlin and Learn How to Tame it.” Barron-Shasho, a life coach, said the course was meant to “teach people what’s going on in their heads.”
“The gremlin is that inner critic. It’s that voice, either very loud or subtle, that tells us we can’t do what we want to do,” she said. “We give it a lot of credence, but really it’s not logical. It keeps you from moving forward.”
Audrey Polt, who taught a class called “Album-Making as a Legacy: Connections to Our Past, Present, and Future,” had trouble selecting courses to take because of the diverse options. “All of the topics are very interesting. I hope they have this again,” said Polt, who decided to attend the course on advance directives. In another classroom, 10 or so couples were practicing salsa dancing in “You Can Dance at Any Age.”
The learning sessions were followed by a wine-and-cheese reception.
“When we reached out to people in our congregation, we realized what a magnificent community with such a wide range of talent and knowledge we have,” said Schneider. “Luv2Learn is a great opportunity for people who are reluctant to commit to many weeks to have an educational experience by committing to only one afternoon. It’s a great way to spend Lag B’Omer.”