Torah Study in the Grocery Store

Recently we blogged about the increase of funding and interest from established Jewish organizations such as the Jewish Federations of North America in what we call Public Space Judaism. These organizations have finally recognized that the best way to meet and engage all those who are not affiliated with the Jewish community is by going to where they are and holding Jewish themed events in secular, public spaces. We often promote doing this around holidays like Passover or Hanukkah, when a majority of Jews, affiliated and unaffiliated, will be preparing to celebrate.

But a rabbi in Los Angeles decided that these events don’t need to be tethered to a holiday. For the past few months, Rabbi Dan Moskovitz has been holding Torah study sessions at a Whole Foods grocery store in Tarzana, “in the back near the bulk bins of nuts and trail mix.”

Writing in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, Rabbi Moskovitz said that he believes his study group is a great way “to engage students of Torah where they are, by moving outside the walls of the synagogue and into the routine of their daily lives.” He notes that in 537 BCE, Ezra the Scribe had a similar idea about bringing Judaism to the public square as a method of engaging all those who were “not making time for Judaism in their lives.”

For a modern day perspective, Rabbi Moskovitz spoke to JOI director of training Eva Stern, who has been training professionals and lay leaders in Public Space Judaism programs for a number of years. Stern explained that location can be a barrier to Jewish life, and Public Space Judaism is meant to remove that barrier:

Those on the inside don’t often see the barrier that a synagogue building, or walls covered in Hebrew words or lined with Jewish books, can be to someone making that initial step into Jewish learning. Public-space Judaism is meant to be just that a first step along a journey to deeper Jewish knowledge and engagement.

After years of promoting the idea of bringing Judaism to people where they are, we are thrilled to see it enjoy such a prominent revival. But as Stern said, Public Space Judaism is just the first step. The challenge is how to turn a one-time meeting into something more. Following-up or, as with Rabbi Moskovitz, holding regular free events is the best way to encourage all those who approach to keep coming back. But as this trend continues to grow, we’ll have more opportunities to embrace these challenges as more folks find us in the public square.

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