With the reorganization of our professional and administrative teams I have taken over the responsibility for coordinating most of our educational offerings geared towards adults. I have spent much of the summer thinking about Jewish Education for Adults and here is what I know:
- Most people end their Jewish education as children or at best in high school.
- Because we teach our children about Judaism at an age appropriate level and most people end their formal Jewish education as children their view of Judaism is frozen in time.
- Among other reasons, because their view of Judaism is frozen in time, many Jews have separated themselves from the organized Jewish community and synagogues in particular.
- Judaism is a sophisticated religion that needs to be studied at an adult level to truly understand its complexities and subtleties.
- We need to develop Jewish educational experiences (both formal and informal) that help Jews understand Judaism so that they are willing to engage Judaism as a part of their lives.
- If we do not educate our Jewish adults in a systematic, sophisticated and effective manner, their commitment to Judaism and their potential for a fulfilling Jewish life is greatly diminished.
With these as my guiding principles I have examined the adult Jewish education programs of dozens of congregations from every branch of Judaism and here is what I have found.
- Few congregations have a systematic approach to adult Jewish education.
- Most courses are taught be cause the rabbi wants to teach that particular topic or someone volunteered to teach that topic.
- Outside of a few Orthodox or community wide Jewish education programs geared toward adults most programs expect the people to "come to the mountain" rather than bringing the classes to the people.
- Adult Jewish education is the lowest priority for funding in synagogues. That is, other than endowed scholar in residence programs, congregations (including ours) expect their adult education programs to cost the congregation very little or actually make a profit.
The questions which we have to answer are:
- What does it mean to have Judaism as an integral part of one's adult life?
- What do we want/expect adult Jews to know about Judaism?
- How can we proactively bring adult Jewish education to our Jewish community rather wait for people to come to us?
- What positive role can technology play in our quest to bring adult Jewish education out into the community?
- Who can we partner with in our community to maximize the effectiveness and reach of our adult education efforts?
What I know and what I have found are the guides by which we will be developing our adult Jewish education program to answer these questions over the coming years.