If you could attend a school to learn more about Judaism but there were no exams, no homework and no grades – and the only requirement was to commit to a program of learning and participation – would that pique your interest?
If so, the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School of Adult Jewish Learning may be of interest. The Louisville franchise of the school invites participants to discover new dimensions of Judaism by participating in a world-class two-year curriculum created by scholars and educators at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The program provides an in-depth exploration of Judaism using a wide variety of Jewish sources and offering text-based discussion designed for adults with all levels of Jewish literacy.
First-year students enroll in a pair of courses, “The Purposes of Jewish Living” and “The Rhythms of Jewish Living.” The two courses explore ancient and modern responses to many of the major issues of Jewish thought and theology and examine a wide variety of Jewish sources to discover the deeper meanings underlying Jewish holidays, lifecycle observances and practice.
“In the first year, along with the core curriculum, we are following along with the calendar of the Jewish year as observances and lifestyle events are happening,” student Lois Dunner said. “We can learn more about the reasons and history behind these observances from a biblical perspective but also look at more modern interpretations at the same time. It shows how it connects to our current lives.”
“It’s a really nicely structured program with each component building on the one before it,” she added. “I feel very encouraged learning through the class that I do know a lot, but at the same time I am delighted realizing there is so much more to learn, too.”
This sentiment is a common theme with participants,” said Melton Director Deborah Slosberg. “Students find they are surprised with how much there is to know – and that the more you know, the more you realize what you don’t know,” she said.
In the program’s second year, students study “The Dramas of Jewish Living” and The Ethics of Jewish Living.” “Dramas” investigates how the Jewish past gives meaning to the Jewish present, and “Ethics” explores the wisdom of ancient and modern rabbis, scholars and thinkers, offering multiple Jewish approaches to conducting our lives in the communal and private spheres.
Slosberg said she believed one aspect of the program that has broad appeal is that it is so pluralistic – welcoming people with all different views and denominations of Judaism to come to the discussion table and glean unique perspectives from one another. “We also have access to the resources and scholarship of the Hebrew University scholars and administrators; you can pull a lot of inspiration from that,” said Slosberg.
“Through Melton I have discovered the wealth of knowledge that we Jews have at our fingertips,” agreed current student Barbara Franklin. “I liked that the class is conducted in a non-judgmental way. The students are fully engaged and ask great questions – there is such a camaraderie among us as we take the journey into the intricacies of Jewish texts to find the how and why of what we believe.”
“The Dramas and Ethics courses investigate how the Jewish past gives meaning to the Jewish present and surveys the wisdom of ancient and modern rabbis, scholars and thinkers,” student Barbara Isaacs said. “It offers multiple Jewish approaches to conducting our lives in the communal and private spheres,” an opportunity she relishes.
“Prior to the Melton School classes, I have not really taken advantage of any sort of intensive Judaic studies as an adult,” she added. “So far, the Melton School is exceeding my expectations. To be able to examine and discuss the texts and commentaries behind our Jewish beliefs and philosophies in an interactive atmosphere has given me the opportunity to develop a much deeper understanding and a different perspective of Judaism than I had before.”
“I didn’t expect much from the Melton first-year program,” Bob Steinman, another student said. “I was wrong. The Melton teachers teach at a sophisticated adult level and with unbridled passion for what they do. From the first day, I learned new and in-depth perspectives on my old ideas and concepts. My attitude is being positively transformed by healthy discussions with teachers and fellow students. I feel challenged and am invigorated by this adult and newer way of thinking Jewish.”
Louisville Melton, which attracted 70 students in the current session, is exceptional, said Slosberg, in that most Melton franchises are located in cities with much larger Jewish populations. At a recent international Melton conference, the director said she took pride that Louisville’s program is somewhat of a national model. “It’s a big program to carry off for our size,” she said.
In addition to first and second year classes in the basic Melton Curriculum, Louisville’s Adult Mini-School also offers Melton’s Foundations of Jewish Family Living, a program that was developed to provide parents with a thought-provoking encounter with many of the core values of Judaism that can help them bring the conversation home to share with their young children. This 20-class program can be completed in under a year.
Beyond the core curriculum courses, Dunner is also taking an additional Scholars Curriculum course called “Beyond Borders,” which examines the Israel-Arab conflict. “With a small class size of only 8-10 students, the class traces the history of this conflict from the breakdown of the Ottoman Empire up until today’s challenges,” she said.
“We examine all kinds of artifacts including letters from Churchill, biblical texts, treaties, promises, whatever gives us different angles and contexts to draw from,” she said, and some of the most powerful insights have come from students who were not raised Jewish.
“They are able to provide a fresh perspective of how someone else might view these issues. I feel privileged to be able to do these courses and I am looking forward to continuing these for years to come,” she said.
Melton Director Slosberg said other Scholars Curriculum courses and registration for the next year of classes will begin in the spring.
Students need not have any previous knowledge or education in Judaism in order to take part. The classes meet one day a week throughout the academic year.
For additional information or to register for fall classes, call Deborah Slosberg at 459-0660. Online registration will be available later this spring.
The Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning is sponsored by Congregation Adath Jeshurun in collaboration with the Jewish Community Center and with support from Congregation Anshei Sfard, Keneseth Israel Congregation, The Temple, and Temple Shalom. This program is made possible by a generous grant from the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence.