For some people, it is about learning what they did not learn in Sunday school.
For others, it is about providing context and an adult perspective on their Jewish life.
And for some, it is an opportunity to be able to answer the questions their children ask about Jewish life.
For more than two decades, the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School has been providing Jewish education for area adults.
Meeting weekly over the course of two years, the Melton program has changed the way hundreds of alumni relate to Judaism. And it has inspired many of its alumni to keep coming back for more post-Melton courses offered by the Melton program.
Now it is coming in a smaller dose for busy parents.
Starting Jan. 11, Melton is offering a new Foundations of Jewish Family Living course. The 10-week class will focus on issues of interest to parents.
“For many parents, making a two-year commitment” – which the basic Melton program requires – “is daunting,” said Frieda Huberman, who directs the school, as well as directing school services for the Jewish Educational Services program of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey (JFNNJ).
The new family living course will focus on values. “What do parents want to do? They want to teach their children to be menschen,” she said.
Each week of the course will take a specific value – honor, hospitality, visiting the sick, etc. – and apply the layered text-based approach that is the Melton method.
“It introduces the value through a story from our tradition, usually a biblical story, then further illustrates this value from other Jewish texts that span the generations and span the spectrum of Jewish belief,” said Huberman.
These texts include Talmud, kabbalah, and contemporary teachers from all the Jewish streams, she said
“In addition, there’s usually something from a parenting perspective, like Wendy Mogel’s book ‘The Blessing of the Skinned Knee,'” she said.
As in other Melton offerings, participants will read the texts, figure out the values they contain, and discuss what they feel about the texts.
This course, however, said Huberman, “goes to another level of discussing how do they transmit those values to their children.”
The course textbook even includes a child-friendly version of the week’s central story for parents to read to their children.
Lynn Ulman is one parent who is looking forward to the new program. The Allendale resident has a two-year-old in the Barnert Temple pre-school program, coinciding with the Wednesday Foundations of Jewish Family Living course.
‘Connecting it all’
“I was raised in a non-religious household,” says Ulman, “with the food and culture and none of the rituals and religion. I’m uninformed on a lot of the religion stuff and I want to learn more.”
Her son Matthew “feels a lot of pride in all the Jewish things they do at school, and I love that because it is something I never had. They do Shabbat at school when he’s there on Fridays. Now he sees the Chanukah candles in a window and he says ‘Shabbat candles!’ He’s connecting it all.”
Melton has been part of the community for more than 20 years. It was first offered by the JCC on the Palisades in 1989, just three years after the program was launched by Hebrew University. Currently, 60 communities around the world host the Melton program. Locally, it first expanded to the YJCC and then throughout the community as it received funding from the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Jewish Identity and Contiunuity Commision, and then continued directly under the federation’s auspices. Until two years ago, the program’s director was Renah Rabinowitz, who has since retired.
Two years ago, the federation sought to find new sources of funding for Melton. A group of graduates of the program came together and took the case for Melton to their local synagogues. As a result, Melton is now jointly sponsored by a consortium of 19 synagogues, all three area Jewish community centers, and the federation.
Moving out to the community has helped bring people in.
‘You learn things differently’
Mark Tanchel of Upper Saddle River became interested in Melton when the case was being made to the board of his synagogue, Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley. “It’s opening up to new ideas and concepts that I hadn’t considered before,” he said of Melton. He is currently taking the second-year course
Tanchel brought a day school education to the program. While some of the material in the first year was familiar, “You learn things differently as an adult than as a child. Your own life experiences add things you couldn’t appreciate the first time around.”
Because every topic is explored through original texts, he said, “there are always new ideas and angles.”
“You can get a cross-section of the community involved. Despite the fact there may be different people coming to it with different levels of education, there’s something in it for everybody. The depth of what you learn is affected by what you come into it with,” he said.
The course “has been a highlight of my week.”
While there are readings assigned each week, “the degree to which you prepare is really up to the individual student. I admit the amount of preparation I do varies greatly. If you had a busy week in work and have to come to class cold, you’re still able to think about the material you’re reading and participate.” Reading the material beforehand “certainly adds to my experience,” he said.
Susan Liebeskind credits Melton with helping her be a better leader in the Jewish community.
“Being educated Jewishly as an adult is a huge step in helping you find your place in the Jewish community,” she said.
Liebeskind is the co-chair of the Melton Alumni Association, a member of the Melton Advisory Committee, and was one of the volunteers who reached out to congregations and JCCs to form the new Melton Consortium.
She also serves on the board of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Northern New Jersey, whose Bergen Reads program she co-chairs. For JFNNJ, she is vice president of the Women’s Volunteer Action Network. And at Temple Emanuel of Pascack Valley, she is membership chair and chair of Community of Caring committee.
She took her first Melton courses when her youngest child was four years old. “It was the first time I actually had some time to myself,” she said.
“I had been hearing about it for a long time, but felt I was educated Jewishly. I didn’t want to be in a class where people didn’t know anything, but people kept saying it doesn’t matter. I found that was absolutely true. There was a huge range of backgrounds and knowledge in the room, and it made for interesting discussion,” she said.
“Taking a Jewish educational class as an adult made me understand that Jewish learning doesn’t end. It’s not just about going to Hebrew school; Judaism is for adults,” she said.
After her Melton studies, she assumed the presidency of her temple’s sisterhood and began her involvement with the federation.
When she had to speak from the bima, she used her binders of Melton texts. “I was standing up as a leader in the community, feeling I had a foundation that five years before I wouldn’t have had,” she said.
It also gave her Jewish confidence with her children. “I could talk more intelligently about Judaism. “Not, `we’re doing this but I don’t know exactly why.’ I could say, ‘we learned in class such and such’ or I knew where to look it up, or I knew someone I could call,” she said.
A current Melton student, Lewis Paer, believes “I would have been a better bar mitzvah parent if I had some of this knowledge.” His children are now in college.
Paer is taking the first-year Melton course, after many years of hearing about the program, first from his in-laws and then from his wife, Roberta Abrams Paer.
“Melton really opened up my horizons and dispelled some entry-level viewpoints of things. The discussions are so great,” he said.
For example, he said, there was a “real in-depth discussion” of Chanukah, including “a broader range of historical perspectives.” It “was really a great eye-opener,” Paer said.
Lisa Vilchez-Kornblum, 25, is one of the younger Melton students. The Waldwick resident heard about the program from a fellow congregant at Temple Israel in Ridgewood during the High Holy Days.
After completing the two-year Melton program, she is now taking a post-Melton course on Passover.
Vilchez-Kornblum, who is married without children, was raised with both Jewish and Christian upbringing. She said her Melton courses have affected her home life.
“I want to re-evaluate what I do on a personal level. How do I want to spend different holidays doing different things, or if I want to make more out of them,” she said.
“I’m glad I took Melton at a younger age. I can adapt a new household and a new family on how I want to live the rest of my life.”
|What Where When|
|What: Melton Foundations of Jewish Family Living
Where: Barnert Temple, Franklin Lakes
When: Wednesday mornings, 9:30 – 11 a.m., beginning Jan. 11
Info and registration: http://www.jfnnj.org/meltonschool