Mini-schools Push ‘Jewish Literacy’ for Adults

By Sarah Givner

Published August 26, 2005, issue of August 26, 2005.
  • Print
  • Share Share

In the fall, four new Florence Melton Adult Mini-Schools will open throughout North America, joining ranks with the more than 60 such schools already in operation worldwide.

The world’s largest Jewish adult education network, the Florence Melton Adult Mini-Schools have expanded at a steady rate of four to five schools per year, with graduates now numbering more than 20,000. Founder Florence Melton initially established her schools in three sites in 1986; the schools later experienced rapid growth in the late 1980s and early ’90s. The newest additions are slated for Los Gatos, Ca.; Newport News, Va.; Palo Alto, Ca., and Vancouver, Canada.

The schools’ program spans two years and includes four courses: Rhythms of Jewish Living, an overview of Jewish rituals; Purposes of Jewish Living, essential theological concepts; Ethics of Jewish Living, and Dramas of Living, a survey of Jewish history. Each year consists of two courses, meeting once a week for 30 sessions. Classes are limited to anywhere from 15 to 25 students, who are typically between 45 and 55, and the staff of teachers includes rabbis, professors and other individuals with strong Jewish backgrounds.

The purpose is to advance “Jewish literacy” by “[providing] adults with tools and knowledge of Jewish texts, making them their own,” said David Chack, the network’s director of community development. “[We hope] to bring other Jews into a conversation that has lasted thousands of years,” said Betsy Katz, Melton’s North American director.

FMAMS is one of several existing adult education programs, but unlike others — which include the Wexner Heritage Foundation, the Me’ah program and CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership — it sees itself as more egalitarian. David Chack noted that Wexner and CLAL, for example, are more focused on fostering Jewish leaders, with Wexner requiring an application process prior to acceptance.

The curriculum is jointly designed by educators at the Melton Institute at Hebrew University and academics from Hebrew University, its partner organization. The Melton school system is a project of Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Melton Centre for Jewish Education, supported in part by grants from such organizations as the Avi Chai Foundation.

Though it has a central organization based in Chicago — which serves as a liaison between Hebrew University and local establishments, decides where franchises will be established, and oversees the hiring of teachers and directors — final decisions are made at the local level.

“[We] feel strongly that the community has to own [the Mini-School] and have that investment in it,” Chack said. Communities go through an application process to prove the reliability of their infrastructure before being approved to house a school, most of which are located in community JCCs to ensure a lasting local presence.

Ronna Steinback, a Hebrew school teacher and recent Melton graduate, found the school’s classes to be “interactive, deep and strong,” transforming her into a “more articulate and sure storyteller.” While initially hesitant to make the time commitment, Steinback was “grateful for being pushed… [FMAMS] has done so much for me as a person, as a Jewish adult… [I] will never be done studying.”






Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.