Adult Learning is the Number One Priority for the Jewish Future

October 11, 2017

Source: eJewish Philanthropy


At this precarious moment for ensuring a vibrant Jewish future, there are many priorities for sustaining Jewish life. But among the many fine efforts to ensure a sense of continuity of the Jewish experience – Hebrew schools, summer camps, and engagement of young professionals – there is a route of engagement that has perhaps received the least amount of attention, the least amount funding, and the least prioritization in the greater consciousness of Jewish pedagogy. I am referring to Jewish adult education.

Before people get up in arms, I acknowledge that nearly every synagogue has adult programming as part of their institutional model. And indeed, virtually every community has some kind of small educational initiative. Furthermore, most large cities have a day (or weekend) committed to Limmud. Yet, these excursions into adult learning do not go far enough, nor do they provide the continual substance needed to satiate the growing interest of Jewish subjects needed to keep people sustainably rooted in the expanded landscape of intellectual Judaism. Thus, I want to suggest in this space three reasons why Jewish communities should flip priorities to ensure adult education, rather than children’s education, is the number one priority for the Jewish future.

• Adult learning is the pathway to children’s Jewish education

• Judaism is about adults, not children

• Adult Education has the best potential for engagement

When we talk about “adult Jewish education,” we must be clear that we’re not primarily talking about competency, fluency, and literacy (the alef-bets of Jewish knowledge), but rather about relevancy. We are not asking others to sacrifice their values or time by learning with us. Rather, we are making the case that they will be able to thrive in life more deeply if Jewish wisdom and learning is a part of their life. They will benefit greatly from this newly-strengthened attention.

Adult Jewish learning need not be relegated as an afterthought, nor does it have to follow a cookie cutter approach into mediocrity and, ultimately, irrelevance. When performed with clarity and vigor, Jewish adult learning is as dynamic and energetic as education for kids or young professionals. In my work as the President and Dean of Valley Beit Midrash, we work hard and bring endless passion to our work to demonstrate that pluralistic adult Jewish learning is a transformative vehicle that is accessible but not watered down, joyful but also challenging, deeply-rooted but also non-dogmatic, traditional and progressive, and respectful of the past but also pursuing a forward-looking agenda. In this manner, we not only challenge old routines of Jewish learning, but we create new communities looking forward to each new opportunity to explore. We expand our identity beyond the confines of our location, spreading out learning efforts out into the ether for those who seek it. We make the richness of Jewish thought accessible to people who believed it was inaccessible. And that’s how learning, especially for adults, should be.

Read the entire post at eJewish Philanthropy.

Updated: Nov. 01, 2017