By Debbie Rosenfeld-Caparaz, Lehrhaus Director of Communications

Jonathan (14) with his father, Frank

Jonathan Fudem engages in active memory of his father, Frank Fudem, z”l, by participating in Lehrhaus’ Talmud Circles.

When Jonathan was in elementary school, his dad joined Congregation Emanu-El’s Downtown Lunchtime Talmud class under the direction of Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan. When Peretz was hired at Lehrhaus Judaica in 2010, Frank enthusiastically continued his weekly Talmud studies under the Lehrhaus umbrella until he suddenly passed away at age 61 in 2013.

“My father always talked about how smart the people who attended were,” said 25-year-old Jonathan. “It was a way for him to connect personally with Judaism. He felt it was a chance to learn about the religion, why we do what we do, and generally how Jewish thought works.”

When Jonathan returned to San Francisco in 2016 after earning his Bachelor of Arts in Media Arts+Practice from the University of Southern California, his mom, Nancy, suggested that he enroll in Downtown Lunchtime Talmud (part of the Bay Area-wide community Talmud Circles) to feel connected to his father. Jonathan also knew Peretz from participating in Sunday school classes as a teenager at Congregation Emanu-El.

Jonathan at Talmud Circles

In Jonathan’s first year of Downtown Talmud Circles, other participants shared stories with him about his dad. The class met at the law offices of participant Renee Wasserman Novich. Jonathan’s father was a commercial real estate broker, and he oversaw the deal with the law firm for that space. The unique associations the location held for Jonathan made the learning experience more special.

Three years later, Talmud Circles continues to provide spiritual fulfillment.

“I’m always thinking about ways to honor my father’s presence,” Jonathan explained. “Talmud has been amazing. There are a number of people who knew my dad, which is meaningful. I also form my own relationships with the class. I feel a connection as we cover material similar to what he studied.”

Jonathan’s parents instilled a love of Judaism in him. His mom shared her love of the rituals, family and food – “all of that really good tasty, warm emotional stuff.” Meanwhile, Jonathan connected with his dad through the intellectual side of Judaism. His dad discussed Talmud Circles with Jonathan, but he never envisioned that Jonathan would one day attend the program.

“From really early on, we’d have conversations about God, religious philosophy and religious thinking, and what it means to be a Jew,” Jonathan said. “I remember one of the first times he said I would become a Bar Mitzvah. It was really meaningful to me.”

Despite being the youngest member of Downtown Talmud Circles, Jonathan feels a sense of community with his cohort. Jonathan, who works in technology, enjoys helping participants put their Talmud on their digital devices and spending an hour a week with a demographic that is different than his regular social group.

In addition to Talmud, Jonathan is passionate about space exploration and consumer and citizen privacy. He would like to delve into more Lehrhaus classes in the future and feels there is a big opportunity for Lehrhaus to reach out to younger participants.

“There is a hunger for intellectual events if they are branded the right way, especially if the social aspect is a teaser,” Jonathan indicated. “Everyone going to the events I attend is trying to figure out how to be a modern Jewish person.”

For Jonathan, Talmud Circles plays a major role in shaping his identity and connecting with his beloved father.

“My life feels more spiritually complete and meaningful when I’m learning,” Jonathan said. “Talmud fills that hunger in a way that I love. I walk out of class energized from reading the text. It gets me through the week.”