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Adult Jewish Learning as we enter 5782

Field-in-sunset-Matthew-T-Rader-Unsplash Image: Matthew T. Rader / Unsplash

Melton is starting 5782 off with a contribution to a group article for eJewishPhilanthropy on the state of Jewish education entering this new year.

Introduction by David Bryfman, CEO, The Jewish Education Project

As we begin another year in Jewish education filled with uncertainty, the latest contributions below from leaders in the field reflect a level of preparedness—and perhaps even confidence—toward the great unknown that is 5782. These leaders and the many educators and learners with whom they interact have been engaged in "pandemic-era education" for over a year and a half—through ebbs and flows, in-person and hybrid, fear and optimism. As a result, these insights are particularly rich and substantive. Leaders readily acknowledge the challenges that remain—need for social and emotional support of learners, having to plan for multiple scenarios, and more. But we also see across all sectors of Jewish education pride for the successes that have been achieved, and an understanding that this era presents opportunities to have genuine, deep, and enduring impact. After all, if an educator can demonstrate the value of Jewish learning experiences now, there is a "stickiness" to that moment for all involved.

We also see within these contributions a call for all of us to better value educators, to compensate them appropriately, and to ensure that their mental health and well-being is supported. Certainly these calls have gone out before—but there is an urgency and a consistent drumbeat that is new. Let's heed, and act on this, in the new year.

Shana Tova. 

Adult Education update from Rabbi Rachel Bovitz, Executive Director of the Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning:

Adult Jewish Learning as we enter 5782

We are all looking forward to returning safely to the classroom and the face-to-face interaction we miss and need. But even once the pandemic is completely behind us (may it happen soon!), online adult Jewish learning is here to stay. Our experiences have created a fundamental shift in learners' and educators' conceptions of learning and community, fostering new approaches that will benefit adult learners for years to come.

Lockdown forced many who had shunned online classes to embrace them—to the advantage of their learning schedules. According to a recent study conducted by my Melton colleague, Rabbi Dr. Morey Schwartz, between March 2020 and March 2021, many adult learners not only replaced their hours of in-person learning with online offerings, but actually increased the number of weekly hours they dedicated to adult Jewish learning. Learners cited a need to continue their education and connect to a larger Jewish community. And when asked about their future plans, there was a clear indication that as a result of the shift to online learning during the pandemic, the majority of these learners are interested in making online learning a prominent part of their weekly adult Jewish learning.

Now, our job is to harness what we have learned to make these gains permanent. During their time at home, people re-evaluated what is important. They prioritized friends and family, growth, and self-enrichment. As the world opens up, we need to remind people that although dinner with friends over a night of Netflix is a good call, the time they have carved out for learning and exploration is something too valuable to give up.

Now that online learning has become ubiquitous, it will complement in-person offerings, even once face-to-face classes safely resume. A colleague in Pittsburgh told me that although classes may convene in fall and spring, never again will there be a reason to make people leave their homes for class on an icy winter evening. Going forward, effective adult Jewish education programs will offer multiple tracks, including a variety of hybrid and blended courses. To make online learning successful, though, we need to focus on the community-building that often occurs naturally in face-to-face classes. This is the element most people crave but that we have only now realized we can achieve online, albeit with effort.

Adult learning is moving from the past into the future, from the synagogue onto the computer, and adult Jewish educators can continue to take advantage of the richness and expanded global community that online learning offers. If we apply the pandemic's lessons when shaping our programs, in the next year, we can expect to see participation continue to climb.

Originally published Sept. 9, 2021, by eJewishPhilanthropy.com with contributions from Paul Bernstein, Rabbi Rachel Bovitz, David Bryfman, Jeremy Fingerman, Anna Hartman, Mimi Kravetz, Susan Wachsstock, and Rabbi Laura Novak Winer. Read the full article here.
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