For many people, details about their own cultural and religious heritage are elusive. We don’t often think about where we came from or the background and meaning of our religious traditions.
The Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning offers you the opportunity to learn about Judaism, its heritage, practices and beliefs from an adult perspective. The school is an international education program with a chapter here in Louisville. The curriculum is created and updated by Hebrew University in Jerusalem in its Melton Centre of Jewish Education.
It’s a two-year program which is based on three pillars of teaching: text-based study, interactive methodology and pluralistic environment. Each week, classes discuss text-based readings dealing with specific themes. Instructors facilitate the discussion, ensuring that each student has the opportunity to participate fully. The pluralistic classes include diverse texts and multiple perspectives, and instructors represent the full spectrum of Jewish traditions.
There are no prerequisites or homework assignments. Students are welcome regardless of their level of understanding of Judaism or background.
Deborah Slosberg, coordinator of adult education at Congregation Adath Jeshurun, runs the local program, which is the fastest-growing program in the country. There were 70 people enrolled last year and there are about 118 this year, she said. “It has exploded, and it’s wonderful,” she said.
You don’t have to read or understand Hebrew because all classes and readings are in English, Slosberg said. The classes meet weekly for 30 weeks a year.
“It helps people become more connected to the Jewish community,” she added.
Alan Zemon, 71, a retired jeweler in his second year of the program, said he took the course because he had heard so many great things about it and was interested in Jewish studies. When asked what he had learned, he said, “You have a spare week or two? We have learned much about the history of the Jewish people, customs, beliefs, our holidays, life cycle events and rituals, and so much more. Interestingly, we learned of the broad spectrum of beliefs held by Jews, and how insightful and wise is Jewish teaching.”
Helen Sweitzer, a retired psychologist, had wanted to take the classes with her friend, Jane Goldstein, but couldn’t commit due to time constraints. Once the ladies retired, they jumped right into the classes. “I was interested in refreshing and expanding my knowledge of Judaism,” Sweitzer said. “I am someone who loves school and loves to learn, but no so much when I attended Hebrew School and Sunday School many years ago.”
Sweitzer was surprised at how much she didn’t know before the classes. “When (I was) young, my father and uncle would sit at the dining room table – they were both lawyers – and debate the meaning of different passages, especially those related to the law,” she said. “I am truly sorry I did not listen to their discussions.”
Zemon said he would recommend the class to anyone with an interest in Jewish studies, no matter what their faith tradition. “Our class represented the range of Jewish denominations, Christians, believers and those with questions,” he said. “As we got to know one another there became a very enjoyable feeling of friendship.”
Once participants have graduated, they can take part in the Scholars programs, which are 10-week classes on specific topics. Registration is now open for Melton classes beginning in January, including “Beyond Borders: A History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict,” taught by Dr. Ed Segal, anthropology professor emeritus at the University of Louisville; “Mysticism and Kabbalah: Secret Knowledge in Judaism,” taught by Rabbi Michael Wolk of Keneseth Israel Congregation; and “Exodus II: Revelation and Revolution,” taught by Rabbi Laura Metzger of Adath Jeshurun.
The school is named for Florence Melton, who invented the foam-soled, washable slipper. Her business eventually became Dearfoams. She had 19 patents in all, according to a bio on the Jewish Women’s Archives website. She created the school to help adults learn more about Judaism.
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 generous grants from the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence and the Dorothy Levy Memorial Fund.
Visit www.jewishlouisville.org/melton to register on line. Call Mary Jean Timmel, 238-2722 to register by phone. For additional information, contact Louisville Melton Director Deborah Slosberg, email@example.com or 458-5359.