Lehrhaus Director of Communications Debbie Rosenfeld-Caparaz caught up with Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan to discuss his new role of rabbi and senior educator with the organization. He will assume his duties in October 2010.
Debbie Rosenfeld-Caparaz: What are you looking forward to about working at Lehrhaus?
Peretz Wolf-Prusan: “Lehrhaus’ core mission is my heart’s desire: Jewish empowerment through Jewish education. That is what I have been doing for 20 years at Congregation Emanu-El — empowering youth and adults to feel confident about their Jewish minds and hearts. Lehrhaus will allow me to focus on the adult population on a wider platform. It is a fantastic opportunity!”
D R-C: What type of transition do you anticipate for yourself personally going from working at a synagogue to working at Lehrhaus?
P W-P: “I was privileged to serve Congregation Emanu-El as a rabbi and senior educator. Every day, I encountered preschoolers, children, families, and adult learners, and I will miss all of that (my office window opened to the courtyard where the preschool plays). However, some of the projects we are dreaming about may bring Lehrhaus into increased collaborations with those very populations. I regret leaving the educational programs staff and faculty. They are wonderful people. I did love bringing along B’nei Mitzvah students to Torah. However, engagement in life cycle events appear to be continuing as many of my Emanu-El students and families continue to call upon me to be with them in good times and sad, and that is good.”
D R-C: What do you most enjoy about being a teacher?
P W-P: “Learning. In Jerusalem, a wise teacher said that when you become a rabbi, identify a subject you want to continue studying and build an adult education program around it so you can learn with a community. So, I invented Downtown Lunchtime Talmud.”
D R-C: Do you have a specific philosophy as an educator that motivates you when you’re with your students?
P W-P: “I have the most fun introducing a challenging text, getting folks to unpack, dissect, rebuild, and own it through dialogue. It is the facilitation of this kind of exploration our sages call hevruta.”
D R-C: Are you looking forward to having an impact on all parts of the Bay Area in your new role at Lehrhaus?
P W-P: “Absolutely. The Bay Area is home for my family and the religious, cultural, and political diversity of the community is stimulating (a little scary) and fascinating. The need to create more opportunities for dialogue is necessary immediately.”
D R-C: How did you connect with Lehrhaus Judaica 35 years ago to teach Jewish folklore and Hebrew calligraphy?
P W-P: “I went to Israel in 1973 as a volunteer (saved the country by picking oranges). Leaving engineering and UCLA behind, I studied Jewish folklore with Dov Noy and Hebrew calligraphy with a sofer. I came to the San Francisco Art Institute in 1975 and found work with a new project called Lehrhaus Judaica, sharing Jewish folklore and storytelling (one of my students was Joel Ben-Izzy). One early calligraphy student was Rachel Biale, director of Lehrhaus’ Bible by the Bay!”
D R-C: How do you think Fred Rosenbaum, Jehon Grist and your skills complement each other?
P W-P: “I have enjoyed working with Fred since coming from Israel in 1975 and Jehon since returning again as a rabbi in 1990. Now, I am turning into their collogue-in-training. Fred is an author of six books on modern Jewish history. Jehon is a fantastic Biblical scholar. My area of interest (not that I know anything) is Talmud and philosophy. Three distinct areas of learning. We all overlap in a love of learning, teaching, and the integration of art, museum education and digital learning. It is going to be a party.”