The Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center (PJTC) is home to a thriving Melton site driven by an engaged community of learners. Director Judy Callahan brought Melton to PJTC after 36 years of directing B'nai Simcha Preschool, a role that solidified her belief in the power of Jewish learning.
Since piloting the first Melton program three years ago, Judy has seen significant growth within and beyond the Pasadena Jewish community. The synagogue itself is home to 450 local congregants, and its online community extends far beyond state lines.
"Our congregation has always been blessed with quality adult Jewish learning from our amazing rabbis and educators, but adding Melton into the mix brought a whole different dimension," Judy said. "The courses have become progressively more successful over Zoom, broadening our base and enabling us to connect with learners across three different time zones."
From California to Oklahoma to Alaska, learners at the Pasadena Melton site are eager to delve into adult Jewish learning, often filling up classes shortly after they are announced. Living Wisdom courses are particularly popular among this geographically diverse community, giving learners an opportunity to bond over unique aspects of Judaism, from divine belief to mourning.
Building a community over Zoom has been challenging but ultimately rewarding for the Pasadena Melton site. With learners from all generations and walks of life tuning in from around the country, Melton courses play an important role in bridging the gaps.
"We're a conservative synagogue, but our learners come from a wide range of denominations," Judy explained. "Group discussions are a fundamental part of these classes, and that ultimately brings our community much closer together in their learning."
Providing high-quality adult Jewish education is not the only goal of the Pasadena Melton site. Although online classes are essential for non-local learners, the casual chitchat and comradery among cohorts can get lost across the webcams. Fortunately for Pasadena's online learners, efforts are being made to keep things social.
"We all miss sitting over drinks, networking, and chatting as we go in and out of the building," Judy said. "Trying to recreate that is very difficult over Zoom, so we've started opening classes early for people to chat and keep the spirit of community alive."
The PJTC staff are mindful of their community's needs, offering scholarships and educational spaces for learners of all ages and backgrounds. Judy remains amazed at their recent growth and is eager to offer more classes through Melton to match her community's motivation to learn.
"We started this Melton site for our local congregation, but it's so much more than that now," Judy said. "This is a thriving, intellectual community of learners eager for more classes, and it's up to us to continue delivering for them."