Schmoozing, Study and Shabbat

Bevery Gray, Education Editor

When Rabbi Gordon Bernat-Kunin founded an informal group dedicated to bringing together young Jewish adults to celebrate Shabbat, he named it Makor, meaning “source.” Makor, which meets one Friday night a month in a participant’s homes, is described by Bernat-Kunin as a “pluralistic grass-roots participatory community,” whose goal is “to translate the spirit of Brandeis Collegiate Institute, Ramah, and summer camp into the city.”

Not simply a singles group, Makor aims to transmit Jewish values by way of serious intellectual discussion. Its structure encourages “self-examination in the context of a tradition we believe has sources of wisdom.”

Makor is hardly solemn: There’s plenty of opportunity for eating, schmoozing and fun.

Makor began about six years ago, and its format has not changed. Each month, a volunteer will host about 15 assorted young Jews (both singles and couples) in his or her home for a potluck Shabbat dinner. (Vegetarian kosher lasagna is the entree of choice.) After the meal and completion of the Shabbat rituals, attendees are led by their host into a topical discussion. Pertinent texts are distributed; the guests often divide into study teams to get at the heart of the matter. The educational aspect of the evening, which lasts between 40 minutes and an hour, can be spirited or lackadaisical, depending on the group’s mood. Then, participants often regroup at a centralized home for singing and socializing.

Part of Makor’s uniqueness lies in the two-tiered system through which it promotes Jewish learning. The hosts and facilitators who run the discussions in various homes are primed by way of an intimate Thursday-night study session with Bernat-Kunin. Members of this inner circle (which includes a rabbinical student, a historian, an MBA candidate and an attorney for Disney) are knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Bernat-Kunin describes them as typically day-school graduates who attended Brandeis Bardin and spent a year in Israel: “They have the background, but it’s about to disappear.”

In leading others, the facilitators reinforce their own Jewish connection. Bernat-Kunin sums up Makor’s educational philosophy in terms of a respect for Jewish texts and a dedication to the precept of “listen, learn, teach.”

Whereas, in the early days, Makor was confined to the Pico-Robertson area, it continues to expand. There are now 450 names on the master phone list, and Makor Shabbat dinners can be found in Santa Monica, West Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley. The South Bay is the next target for expansion, and a generous new three-year grant from the Covenant Foundation, coupled with the longtime support of the Righteous Persons’ Foundation, mandates the evolution of Makor into a nationwide phenomenon.

How a group without a formal infrastructure can clone itself in far-flung locales is a question with which Bernat-Kunin is still grappling. One thoroughly modern possibility: The Web may be used as a way to disseminate study materials before each session.

Makor meets the last Friday evening of every month. For information, call Michelle Rosen, Makor coordinator, at (310) 659-8104.