By Stacey Dresner
HARTFORD – When Dr. Avinoam Patt announced last spring that he would be leaving the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies of the University of Hartford to become director of the University of Connecticut Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Life, he noted his desire to build partnerships between UConn and other Jewish community organizations and state agencies.
Now, Patt’s desire is coming to fruition with the introduction of “ALEPH: The Institute of Jewish Ideas,” an adult Jewish learning initiative co-sponsored by UConn’s Judaic studies program and the Mandell JCC in West Hartford.
ALEPH will kick off on Sunday, Sept. 8 with a talk by noted historian Deborah Dash Moore at the Mandell JCC. The topic of Moore’s is “At Home in America? From 20th-Century City to 21st-Century Suburb.”
“Many of us at the Mandell JCC have worked closely with Avi Patt over the years on myriad programs and events, and we are thrilled to continue our association with him in his new position at UConn,” says David Jacobs, executive director of the Mandell JCC.
Sponsored by an anonymous fund of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford, ALEPH is intended to create new Jewish learning opportunities for community members or, as Patt describes it, “high-level, quasi-academic programs.”
“It’s going to be a partnership not only between the lead organizations – UConn Judaic Studies and the Mandell JCC – but we’re really hoping to get all the different partner agencies and organizations to participate and do lots of programming around it,” says Patt.
Toward that end, participating organizations will receive Jewish Community Foundation of around $500 to help cover the costs of their ALEPH programming.
Acknowledging the spate of interesting Jewish programming that already exists throughout the Greater Hartford area, Patt says that ALEPH will take a “deeper dive into Jewish sources and Jewish history and Jewish texts.”
Even more importantly, he says, it will bring the community together.
“We want to foster partnerships and collaborations between different organizations,” he says.
“There is an abundance of Jewish learning resources in our community – but many people are not aware of them. Too often we only know about the programs in the institutions we are affiliated with.The ALEPH project will provide all of us with an opportunity to collaborate on the development of programs and classes, and work collectively to promote them to our mutual constituencies. This ends up being good for individual institutions and for the community as a whole,” says Jacobs.
The idea is for participating local Jewish organizations and agencies to present programs throughout the year that illustrate the annual ALEPH theme.
“Each year we will have a different theme that is relevant but very much rooted in Jewish history and Jewish tradition,” Patt says.
The first ALEPH theme is “Home and Exile.”
“It is kind of a broad name but it has many different connections throughout both Jewish history and then contemporary connections that we can draw upon,” Patt says.
Deborah Dash Moore, who will speak at the first ALEPH event, is the Frederick G.L. Huetwell Professor of History at the University of Michigan and a renowned historian whose work focuses on American Jews in the modern era.
“We wanted to invite somebody who could engage with both some of the contemporary components to think about, really, what it means to be Jewish in America today, and think about the theme of ‘Home and Exile,’ which is very relevant at the moment,” Patt says.
“In one of her early books At Home in America she made a strong argument about how the second generation – the children of the mass migration from Eastern Europe – adapted to America and became very much at home in America, so I wanted to ask her basically what she thinks of the argument today. What does she make of our current situation? So the title of the talk is ‘At Home in America’ – with a question mark.” he adds.
UConn and the JCC will be responsible for organizing the program, while an executive committee of local Jewish educators and rabbis will meet several times a year to vet ideas, give feedback and promote collaboration between organizations. The committee includes Rabbi Jim Rosen of Beth El Temple, Rabbi Tuvia Brander of Young Israel of West Hartford, Dr. Deena Grant of the Hartford Seminary, Josh Lambert of the Yiddish Book Center, Solomon Schechter’s Andrea Kaspar, educator Merle Harris and Rabbi Rebekah Goldman of Farmington Valley Jewish Congregation.
And why call this new endeavor “ALEPH?”
“We were trying to come up with a title, with a theme, which would both be recognizable and had a Jewish resonance, and we decided we would start at the beginning,” Patt explained. “And the Aleph-Bet begins with “aleph” so this is really the beginning of a conversation, of a dialogue, of a dive into the sources.”
For more information about ALEPH: The Institute of Jewish Ideas and Deborah Dash Moore’s talk on Sept. 8 at the Mandell JCC, contact Danielle Moghadam at email@example.com or call (860) 231-6366.
Main Photo: Renowned historian Deborah Dash Moore will discuss “At Home in America? From 20th-Century City to 21st-Century Suburb,” in West Hartford, Sept. 8.