Many years ago in Dallas, all the Jewish educators sat around a big table to discuss the needs for Jewish education in our community.
Bottom line, it was about where should the money go, but the big question is how do we impact the most people. Everyone except one group believed in more and different opportunities for children. Who was the group that disagreed and what did they want? It was the early childhood educators, who wanted the emphasis to be placed on adult Jewish education. Their rationale? If you educate the parents, the grandparents and the adults, the children will benefit.
Just this week in eJewishphilanthropy.com, Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz wrote an article titled: Adult Learning is the No. 1 Priority for the Jewish Future. Hooray! Here briefly are his three reasons and a few of his comments:
1. Adult learning is the pathway to children’s Jewish education: “One of the most frequently asked questions…is: Rabbi, how do I get my child (or grandchild) to love Judaism? My initial answer is always the same: You must love it!” Our children are watching us and even when we don’t think it is happening (like in those teenage years), they are modeling our behavior. But it must be real — don’t just learn Jewish “for the kids.” Do it for yourself because they (and you) will know the difference.
2. Judaism is about adults, not children. “A parent and child must both study Torah. When possibilities exist for only one, the adult’s personal needs take precedence to the child’s.” (Kiddushin 29b, Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 245:2) There it is — even in Talmudic times, the rabbis knew where the priorities were. Judaism requires adult thinking. Yanklowitz says: “Bringing God down to earth requires sophisticated thought and sophisticated minds. Bringing ethics into the workplace and Godliness into the home requires deep spiritual and emotional investment…Judaism will only thrive (and survive) if Jewish adults are learning Jewish wisdom and ensuring that wisdom continues to be applied in nuanced ways to each era.”
3. 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, but rather about relevancy,” says Yanklowitz. All learning for adults must be relevant and relate to their lives — adults vote with their feet. If the learning is meaningful, they will come!
We owe it to the future of Judaism, we owe it to our kids, and we owe it to ourselves — get involved in Jewish learning today. The Melton and Gesher programs at the J continue to show us that adults want to learn — and we know that the hardest part is getting them in the door! Once engaged in meaningful, high-quality Jewish education, adults keep coming back for more. It is as important as exercise — in fact, consider it exercise for your mind and your soul!