Temple Shalom, AJU partner on college-credit program
Photo: Courtesy Deborah Niederman
In partnership with American Jewish University, Temple Shalom’s Rabbi Andrew Paley and Director of Education Deborah Niederman will teach Jewish Learning Experience courses for which high school students can receive college credit.

By Deb Silverthorn

Summer has barely begun and Temple Shalom is introducing Jewish Learning Experience, a college-credit program for Jewish high school students through a partnership with American Jewish University. Classes will be taught on Sunday and Wednesday evenings by Temple Shalom’s Rabbi Andrew Paley and Director of Education Deborah Niederman. Registration is open.

“This is an exciting venture that will allow us the opportunity to dive deeper into meaningful subjects,” said Paley, “and investigate topics at a high level while creating a head start to our students’ future academic careers.

“This program fits Temple Shalom’s mission to build a holy community, connecting our congregation to one another, to God, Torah, Israel and the Jewish people through worship, study, gathering and community service,” said Paley, who looks forward to welcoming all area Jewish students in the experience.

AJU was founded in 1947 as the University of Judaism and is based in Los Angeles, California. An accredited university, its mission is “to advance and elevate the Jewish journey of individuals, organizations and our community through excellence in scholarship, teaching, engaged conversation and outreach,” according to AJU’s website.

JLE’s courses will allow Jewish students in grades nine to 12, from throughout the community, to earn three college credits (accepted as elective course credit at most universities).

“We try to provide our students with agency in their learning. They’ve asked for more and through our partnership with AJU, we’re giving just that,” said Niederman. She served for more than 20 years on the board of the Association of Reform Jewish Educators and is a past president of the organization.

Niederman earned a bachelor’s degree in Judaic studies and psychology from Washington University and a master’s degree from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. Nearly 30 years ago, Niederman received the title Reform Jewish Educator from the National Association of Temple Educators. In 2018, she received an honorary doctorate in religious education from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

“The Jewish Learning Experience allows us to access our 2,000-year-old traditions and history, employing resources and deeply intellectual learning and conversations,” said Niederman. She is pleased that the courses will be offered through Temple Shalom’s “warm and loving community.”

JLE, under the leadership of Rabbi Carrie Vogel, director of undergraduate initiatives at AJU, will open in the fall for its third year. Before joining AJU, Vogel oversaw student programming at Kehillat Israel for 14 years. She has published articles on Judaism and family life, including adoption, infertility, intentional curriculum design and nontraditional families on ejewishphilanthropy.com and kveller.com.

“AJU is an established and well-known educational institution that has long contributed to a thriving national Jewish community,” said Vogel. “JLE is enhancing already thriving teen programs and is a motivating force for communities looking to reinvent what they offer.”

When JLE begins in the fall, the “Jewish Ethics and Contemporary Decision Making” course will provide background for the ethics of kashrut, Shabbat, medical ethics, property laws, social responsibility and how Jews engage in business. Students will explore original texts and what ancient commentators thought about these laws and then assess what the laws look like today. The ultimate goal is for students to develop an understanding of these fundamental pieces of Jewish tradition and determine how they might apply the underlying values to meeting challenges of ethical decisions in their own lives.

For the spring 2025 semester, the “Introduction to the History, People and Culture of Israel” course will explore historical events and statistics pertaining to Israel. Students will learn to critically analyze a wide range of subject matter, perspectives and experiences. Topics include the founding of the State of Israel, a timeline of Jewish history in the region, the various versions of Zionism and the path to Israel’s becoming an independent country.

The course will also explore the multiple wars and attempts at peace which have changed the evolving, contested boundaries of the country. Also, it will survey the experiences of Israelis and Palestinians from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds as well as the food, culture, language, art and poetry which have contributed to a multifaceted society.

Vogel said that it was clear before Oct. 7 that high school and college students needed to be more knowledgeable about Judaism and important Jewish topics. Students were being called upon to explain, clarify and defend many aspects of Judaism and their Jewish identity.

“That need has increased exponentially since October,” said Vogel. She added that young people may move further away from feeling connected to Israel and Judaism if they are not educated to learn in-depth about Israel.

Beginning with the 2025-2026 academic year, courses on “A History of Jewish Immigration, “Introduction to Biblical Texts” and “Introduction to Community Dialogue” are expected to join the curriculum’s rotation.

Piloted in the 2022-2023 year with 24 students at Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades, last year the program grew to four communities with 47 students. When the fall semester opens, it will have students from private and public high schools in seven states. In Texas this includes programs in El Paso and Houston; and in North Texas, through Temple Shalom.

“We have an obligation to our young adults,” Vogel added, “to equip them for success. That is what all of our courses — not just the one focused on Israel — aim to do.”

For more information and registration, email dniederman@templeshalomdallas.org

Leave a Reply