I feel that I have started a journey that will not be reversed," Teaneck resident Susan Karp Ashkenazi told her fellow Melton graduates at the group’s graduation ceremony on June 15. "This turned out to be the single most important thing I have done for myself since I had children."
Ridgewood resident Betty Birnbaum teaches a Thursday night Melton class at Temple Beth Sholom in Fair Lawn.
Ashkenazi a member of the largest graduating class in the history of the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School of Northern New Jersey participated in the group’s pilot program for mothers of young children, held at the Solomon Schechter Day School of New Milford. The Melton Parent Education Program was made possible by a grant from the AVI CHAI Foundation and was co-sponsored by SSDS.
Students attended two-hour classes once a week over a period of two years. "I was pregnant the first year," said Ashkenazi, the mother of three small children, "and the second year, I brought the baby with me."
The 58 new graduates are among 3,000 Melton Mini-School students in over 60 schools around the world. The Melton School is a project of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The graduates at the June 15 event, held at Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, represented four different Melton sections: Barnert Temple, Franklin Lakes; Cong. Shomrei Torah, Wayne; the JCC, Tenafly; and the Solomon Schechter Day School, New Milford.
"There were people of all different backgrounds and levels of Jewish knowledge in my class," said Ashkenazi, adding that the course which made her more comfortable accessing Jewish texts and exposed her to various points of views on a wide range of ethical issues has "renewed my strong sense of [Jewish] pride and given me a desire to continue my studies and pass my knowledge down to my children."
Dan Silna, president of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, told the graduates that UJA which sponsors the Melton program through its Jewish Educational Services is extremely proud of the program, which, he said, has a great effect on the Jewish community.
Also speaking at the event was new Melton graduate Alex Nachimson, who studied at Cong. Shomrei Torah in Wayne. Nachimson told graduates and guests, "We took part in a two-year journey that has transformed us as individuals, each in his or her own way. We have continued this journey not because we were obligated to do so, but rather for the sake of enriching our lives, challenging ourselves, and even making each of us a better person."
According to Renah Rabinowitz, director of the Melton School, who presented the graduates with certificates of Jewish learning from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, "several graduates have indicated that this was just the beginning of a journey of Jewish learning and empowerment, and many plan to register for Melton graduate courses next fall." She noted that many Melton graduates have gone on to study at institutes of higher Jewish learning, including one who recently got a master’s degree from the Jewish Theological Seminary.
"Students say that the program has transformed their lives," she said. "But that transformation has taken many different forms, since Melton does not represent any particular movement or perspective in Judaism. It merely introduces students to Jewish texts and empowers them to join the ongoing Jewish conversation that has taken place over centuries."
For further information about the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School, call the Melton office at (’01) 488-6800, ext ‘3’, or go to www.ujannj.org/meltonschool