Thursday night was our first community-wide tikkun leil shavuot, or late-night torah study for the holiday of Shavuot. There were three sessions with eight classes each to choose from, taught by a total of 19 local rabbis. My goal was to take classes from rabbis I'd never studied with before. This ended up producing one Reform and two Chabad rabbis (I knew the one was Reform and had never heard of the other two), which wasn't quite the mix I was expecting.
The first class was called "the ups and downs of the Sinai journey: a close reading of Moses's two sojourns atop Mount Sinai". (Actually there were at least three, but he meant the two that involved bringing tablets down.) This class had promise (that's why I went), but the rabbi was trying to cover way too much territory for the time allotted, so that "close reading" wasn't very close. This would have been a good class at twice its length or with tighter editing. Oh well.
The second class was called "from Sinai to cyberspace: how ancient wisdom guides a modern world". I expected this to be about applications of torah law, or perhaps about ethics, or something like that. It was, in fact, a class about the oral law and an attempt to prove it must be correct. It was a very good class; the rabbi started by demonstrating that even "just" reading the text relies on a fair bit of oral tradition (how do you know what vowels to use and where the punctuation goes? and yes that does matter), and then went to various rabbinic teachings trying to substantiate the oral law being given at Sinai. One of these was a passage where Hillel tells a student, basically, "look, if you trust me to correctly teach you the alef-beit, you should trust me to teach you the oral law correctly". That doesn't actually follow, and I wouldn't have expected that from Hillel. A search for broader context might be good.
After the class I asked the rabbi who he is and where he teaches, and he said Chabad (and assured me that yes, women can learn there). I'm not sure how I feel about Chabad, but it's worth knowing about this particular rabbi (R. Yisroel Altein). I later looked at their (local) web site and they're very much oriented toward college students; I am visibly not in that age group, but the rabbi didn't comment on that. (They don't publish individual email addresses.)
The third class had little to do with its published title and was a rambling monologue (not interactive as the previous class had been). I found it hard to follow and would have left in search of something more appealing if I hadn't been sitting in a place that was hard to slip out of.
(I later asked one of the organizers, who said it had been like pulling teeth to get some of the rabbis to commit to topics. It sounds like some did not feel particularly constrained even after making that commitment. Sigh.)
A class I didn't take but was curious about was called "Shavuot and the Grateful Dead". I'm told the room was packed with younger folks. It wasn't about music; it was about midrashim about the revelation in which the Israelites died from the shock and had to be resurrected by angels. I wish I'd gone to that; it sounded like it was lively.
I heard there were about 400 people there. This was the first year, so no one knew what to expect, but the organizers were happy. I wish it had gone one more hour; after the last class ended at 1AM, people from the JCC were trying to push us out of the building so they could lock up and go home, but some of us were talking torah in the hallways and didn't want to leave. I could have gone from there to Kollel or Shaare Torah to continue learning, but it would not have been the same kind of cross-denominational interactive experience that I'd just had, so I ended up just going home.
Friday morning I went to my congregation for services and, as is becoming habitual, was asked to be one of the readers for the book of Ruth. This time I got the first chapter, which contains the "wherever you go I will go" declaration. It had some special resonance for me, and I had to concentrate a bit to stay on track during the reading. I've never gotten to read the first chapter in shul before. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.