By Arlene Appelrouth

Rabbi Morey Schwartz led a discussion on the ways Jewish sages explain tragedy. [Credit: Melton School photo]An unlikely dream was born two years ago when two Atlanta Jewish professionals had coffee together.

Rabbi Adam Starr was talking with Shelley Buxbaum, who heads the Florence Melton Adult School of Jewish Learning, sponsored by the Marcus Jewish Community Center. Rabbi Starr, the spiritual leader of Young Israel of Toco Hills, also teaches classes for Melton, which emphasizes pluralistic learning.

When he wondered aloud about holding a Shabbaton at his synagogue that showed the Melton way of learning, the Melton director said, “Why not?”

Saturday, Feb. 1, the Young Israel sanctuary was filled not only with its own members, but also with Jews from all over Atlanta, including some who had never been to an Orthodox synagogue for services.

“It was welcoming and comfortable,” said Ellen Herold, a Dunwoody resident who has been a Melton student for 12 years and is a member of Reform Temple Beth Tikvah in Roswell.

Herold said she loves taking Melton classes because she enjoys learning with a diverse group of students about the different perspectives Judaism offers.

“There are so many layers of Jewish learning,” she said.

During Saturday’s “Eat, Pray, Learn” Shabbaton, Rabbi Morey Schwartz, the director of education for Melton at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, presented the different ways Jewish sages explain tragedy.

The Babylonian Talmud teaches that everything that happens is decreed by divine providence, but Maimonides disagreed.

Rabbi Schwartz passed out handouts with Jewish texts that showed the philosophical differences among Jewish sages. Shabbaton participants were encouraged to comment on the texts and voice their opinions on the differences.

Rabbi Schwartz gave the sermon and conducted two additional classes. About 90 people who came to services stayed for lunch.

The Melton method stands for pluralism and an interactive classroom, and what occurred at Young Israel was typical of the Melton philosophy.

“The Melton way is to show there are multiple voices to be heard. We want to hear those voices,” Buxbaum said. “We want people to know Judaism — Jewish adults who want to search for meaning and dig deep to uncover the meaning.”

When Jews learn to unpack the texts of Judaism, they understand how the texts are relevant to their lives, Buxbaum added.

The Shabbaton was sponsored by Young Israel and the Marcus JCC’s Lisa Brill Institute for Jewish learning.