Florence Melton, a pioneer in Jewish education, died February 8 in Florida at age 95. She will be forever immortalized in the schools of adult Jewish education around the world that bear her name.
Born in Philadelphia to Russian immigrant parents, Melton never graduated from high school; however, she described herself as having been born with “an extra amount of curiosity.” It was that curiosity that led her to a new concept in adult Jewish education, one that would become a global enterprise.
Melton was active as a philanthropist, entrepreneur, lecturer, yoga teacher and poet, even into her later years. After the death of her first husband, she married Sam Melton, a philanthropist who had been involved in financing Jewish education worldwide. From his research she adopted the idea of the “interactive classroom,” where students could be active learners rather than passive ones.
When she was in her 70s, Melton proposed a two-year program that would provide Jewish adults with answers to religious and spiritual questions. The Florence Melton Adult Mini-School, developed at the Melton Centre for Jewish Education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was launched in 1986 with three pilot sites in North America. Today it’s the largest pluralistic adult education network in the world, with 63 mini-schools across America, Canada, Britain, Australia and South Africa. The schools currently include more than 5,000 students and 20,000 alumni.
Melton retained her interest in the mini-schools’ development, serving first as board chairwoman and later as chairwoman emeritus. She said she believed she had “opened up the windows for learning opportunities for adults, regardless of upbringing, beliefs or background.”