Monday, January 27, 2020

It’s a rare person who finds a way to effectively blend two personal passions of substance and depth, share the new combination with groups of paying customers, and leave the audiences raving about the experience.

Nachliel HaCohen Selavan is such a person. He has skillfully woven together his love and skill for teaching Torah with his great interest in the history, symbolism and meaning of the art and artifacts in major museums by creating Torah Tours of the Metropolitan Museum of Art that he’s conducted for almost three years.

Residents in Highland Park, Edison and the surrounding areas will have the opportunity to experience Selavan’s educated and inspiring outlook at a lecture given on the last day of Pesach—Shabbat, April 7—at Congregation Etz Ahaim on Denison Street in Highland Park, starting at 6 p.m. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Selavan teaches Jewish history at the Magen David Yeshiva High School and the Allegra Franco School of Educational Leadership, both in Brooklyn. He taught previously at the Barkai Yeshivah in Brooklyn; Yeshivat Netivot Montessori in East Brunswick; Nefesh Yehudi Academy in East Brunswick; and the Vacation Village Day Camp.

The seeds that grew into the Torah Tours program were first planted at Yeshivat Netivot Montessori. The students in Selavan’s middle school class in 2016 were studying Sefer Melachim, which ends with the destruction of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah by the Assyrian and Babylonian empires. Following advice from his father, a tour guide in Israel, Selavan developed a Tanach tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the students, which he led in early December. The school administration and the parents supported the school trip, the students thoroughly enjoyed the unique blend of culture and Torah study, and Selavan was struck with a “big idea” for a new venture.

Since then, Selavan has provided Tanach and Jewish history tours of the Met Museum to more than 50 groups, often with 30 or more people per tour. He estimates that well over 500 people have participated in the tours to date. In addition to tours, he shares his unique perspective at lectures in communities and on college campuses. He has conducted Tanach and art/archeology lectures for Rutgers Hillel, the Rutgers Jewish Experience (RJX), the Mesorah NJ outreach group for young professionals, New York shuls and schools, and other organizations and communities in Atlanta, Boston and Miami Beach.

The goal of the Tanach and Jewish history tours, which Selavan runs through his company Torah Intermedia, is “to bring Tanach and Jewish history to life, in the classroom and the museum.” He seeks to inspire people to see the stories in the Torah as vividly as possible and as closely connected with what they learn about through art, archeology and history.

Public tours are offered at Passover and Chanukah time and over the summer. They include source sheets in Hebrew and English, as well as timelines and other props that draw on verses in Chumash and Navi with select commentaries.

Selavan also notes on the tours that the Met displays a group of 1-foot high statues depicting a procession of Egyptian servants carrying beer and bread—staples of the diets of nobility in Egypt. This set of statues illustrates the allure that breads may have had to the recently released Jewish slaves as well as the true challenge that Hashem asked of the Jewish people, when He commanded that they refrain from all such foods on Pesach.

Selavan looks forward to sharing a taste of his Passover Egypt Tour of the Met with residents of central New Jersey on April 7. Those unable to attend but interested in Torah Tours are invited to visit his website at https://torahintermedia.com.

By Harry Glazer