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BJE/Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning

Custom & Craft
Los Angeles, California United States
Leadership team

Eileen Levinson, Founder & Creative Director
Wendy Jackler, Program Manager

Organization website
Prize category
5+ years
Target audience

See for yourself what high-quality, meaningful adult Jewish learning is all about. Discover world-class curricula, created by scholars at Hebrew University, giving you the opportunity to explore Jewish thought and text with outstanding faculty. Experience a community of learners in an intellectually stimulating, interactive, non-denominational environment. No homework – No tests!

What Jewish wisdom do you use in your work?

The Melton Curriculum, developed by scholars at Hebrew University, Jerusalem is imbued with Jewish Wisdom. In fact, one lesson in the Melton Ethics of Jewish Living Curriculum, is devoted to Dr. Vanessa L. Ochs and the Ten Jewish Sensibilities. Although all the sensibilities that are sacred to the Lippman Kanfer Foundation are part of our sacred work in our Melton School, the following four are dominant in our school.

Simcha, or joy, is at the center of Melton learning. Torah Lishmah makes Melton learning personal and enjoyable for each student. Rabbi Meir said: Anyone who engages in Torah study for its own sake (Torah lishmah) merits many things. Not only that, but the entire world is worthwhile for him alone…. (Proverbs 8:14). With no homework, no tests and a welcoming atmosphere where every question and comment are accepted, learning becomes a joyful experience without pressure. In fact, Melton becomes the highlight of the week for many students. Melton study is an invitation for every Jew to return to Judaism and claim their Morasha (inheritance). 83% of our Melton graduates continue with Melton Scholar classes after graduation (100 hours of study over two years) which shows a hunger for more learning.

Brit, or partnership, is about developing and nurturing community. In our Melton School, communities of learners who establish strong relationships with each other form books groups, Shabbat celebrations and friendships outside of class. Community building continues with ongoing graduate scholar curriculum for alumni who are hooked on meaningful in-depth learning. Melton Travel Seminars to Israel, Spain, Italy and Poland offer Melton learning “in situ” and the opportunity to connect with other Melton Schools around the world. Over the years, we have observed that adults come to Melton when they have transitions in their lives and are searching for answers and a supportive community. It is human nature to desire a sense of belonging and Judaism has always been a religion that values living and learning in a community. Melton is student- focused, affirming the worth of each student, embracing diversity and difference. By transforming individuals and communities, Melton is doing its part to ensure the future of the Jewish People.

Lech Lecha – take yourself and go, Melton invites each student to embark on a personal journey of learning, no matter their background or past education. Some participants had a B’nai Mitzvah, some were confirmed, some know Hebrew and some don’t, some are Reform, some are Conservative and some are unaffiliated. Melton faculty encourages all students to be part of a spirited dialogue and gain a new pluralistic, appreciation of Judaism – past, present and future. An emphasis is put on students learning from each other, because every adult come with a wealth of experience and knowledge. Melton provides a forum for students to engage in ongoing Jewish dialogue, by connecting Jews of all ages to our ancient texts and modern commentaries. When Judaism informs the choices Jewish adults make ethical, cultural, and religious reverberations are felt by families, communities and the world for generations to come.

Israel, or wrestling with God/ Elu V’Elu sees questioning everything and looking at ideas from multiple perspectives at the heart of being Jewish. Our Melton faculty use Bloom’s Taxonomy as a guiding force to develop questions that challenge our students to think deeply about text. With a “guide on the side,” the Melton instructor plays a more Socratic role, posing questions and directing the learning process. The spotlight is not on the “what's” of learning but more on the” why's.” Melton is text-based study that is interactive and pluralistic. The focus is on the way we learn, which leads to successful learning and understanding. Opposing positions trains students to understand diverse viewpoints. Presenting fact and capitalizing on student participation sparks more thought-provoking, analytical and open-ended questions, allowing students to find their voice.

How does your program work to make that wisdom accessible and directly applicable to your audience's lives?

Brit or/partnership
When ten people sit together studying Torah, the divine presence resides in their midst, as it is written, God stands in the edah (assembly of town people) of the Lord. (Pirke Avot 3:6) The idea that Torah study is best done in community dates back to the Mishna. In Melton classes, special attention is paid to the way the classroom is set up, so students can face each other to facilitate conversation. Name cards, snacks, and time to share personal stories help to develop community all year long. A workshop on all aspects of community building is part of professional development for our faculty. Focus is on developing community at three different levels in our Melton School – a classroom community, a faculty community and an all Melton School community that includes our 13 sites. Melton newsletters further promote a strong community, showcasing faculty, offering articles to extend the classroom conversation and community good & welfare. The message is that every student’s point of view is important and since each student is a member of the classroom community, each one must have a voice.

Simcha/Talmud Torah
With strong community support, our site is the largest Melton site, internationally. Classes are offered in Chicago, as well as the Northern, Northwest, and Western suburbs. Melton provides learners with the readings and contextual tools necessary to understand and apply Jewish text and tradition to their own lives This in turn, engenders greater commitment and passion for lifelong Jewish learning, adding depth and meaning to ritual practices, as well as increasing connections between Jewish ethics and everyday life. Seeing the world through a Jewish lens, gives everyday events meaning and gives life purpose. Many students say that their Melton class is the highlight of their week. With a welcoming, classroom atmosphere, no pressure, no homework, no tests, Melton learning becomes a joy for each participant, no matter what their background. Literacy that connects directly to a student’s personal lives is very rewarding.
Israel/Wrestling with God
In every Melton class, the teacher’s role is to show opposing positions on a topic and allow students to understand diverse viewpoints. Different interactive techniques are used to encourage student participation, with thought-provoking, analytical and open-ended questions. Discussion and debate are encouraged. Since teachers have to create a “road map” or lesson plan for each session, and include questions that help to unpack a text, based on Bloom’s Taxonomy, there is plenty of opportunity to “wrestle” with the material, every week.

What impact has your program had on your participants?

The growth of BJE Chicago’s Melton School has far exceeded expectations. From just 21 students in 2012 -2013 our Melton School has grown to 287 students in the 2015-2016 school year, making it the largest Melton site out of 50 sites internationally. The number of participating Jewish organizations (primarily synagogues) has increased, as well, reaching both affiliated and non-affiliated Reform and Conservative Jews. To meet the growing demand, the program’s geographic reach has expanded, with the development of successful sites in the western and southern suburbs.

Recently the Executive Board of the Board of Jewish Education of Metropolitan Chicago (BJE) requested that the Melton School/Center for Jewish Teacher Education conduct a Survey Monkey with all 13 Consortium Members of the Melton School.
The purpose was twofold;
1) to measure the current impact that the Melton School has on the member and its constituent
2) to better inform the BJE on how best to achieve the goal of maintaining the highest degree of educational quality towards both the enrollment of students and consortium membership in a manner that promotes a sustained and long-term Melton School.

The Survey Monkey was composed of a series of 8 Q & A and a request for comments. After receiving all replies each individual Consortium Member was personally interviewed by our Melton Director and Assistant Director. We had 100% responses to both the survey and personal interviews. The results completely surprised us. It was an undertaking that was well worth the effort.

As an interested member of the educational community the BJE Board of Directors wishes to share with you the results of the Melton School Survey Monkey in the form of an Executive Summary. The accompanying attachment incorporates, in summary form, the questions and responses in a graph format along with selected comments from our Consortium Members. On a scale of 5 the Melton School received a 4.7 or a favorability rating of 97%. We are told by the Survey Monkey consultant that a rating of 3 (or a favorability rating of 60%) is very good.
(See results from the independent Survey Monkey given to each Melton Consortium Member at the end of this application.) These growing numbers allude to the mounting interest of prospective students and the lasting desire to learn of current participants.
To learn about our students and to assess the impact of Melton, we invest in a number of evaluation tools. Classes and faculty are evaluated by students three times per year. Student Satisfaction Surveys are given to students during the second to third week of class to assess student’s attitudes toward teachers and classes and mid-year and end of year evaluations give us data to gauge the year’s successes and challenges. Our staff informally visits each class every 2-3 weeks and formally observes faculty/class interactions twice a year.
Last year, after tabulating evaluations from 287 participants, the most frequently reported change in Melton students was their growing comfort in studying Jewish texts. 92% said they now were either somewhat or greatly more comfortable studying Jewish text in English.

Before and after enrollment in Melton, students reported:
92% - I feel more comfortable studying Jewish Texts.
100% - I feel part of a learning community.
75% - I have become a Jewish resource for my family
35% - The Ethics class has informed my daily life.
4% - Couples who take Melton together
5% - I know more Hebrew than I did before
83% - Graduates of the Core I & II ( two years of intense learning) continue with Melton classes.
95% - I see myself as a life-long learner

What have you learned about applied Jewish wisdom that contributes to your success?

Applied Jewish Wisdom helps our Melton School achieve its goals, connecting participants to each other, as well as the faculty and the program itself. Relationships become more valuable and learning becomes sacred, taught in blessed space, where each individual is respected and each answer and question is validated. Jewish wisdom challenges us to raise the level of interaction with each other and with God. In striving to follow these precepts we prioritize what really matters in life. A Melton community Brit or partnership connects a student going through a transitional life experience to other Jews with a common purpose, Simcha, or joy is seen on the excited faces of adults who have come back to Judaism to reclaim their heritage and pass it on to their children and grandchildren, Israel/Wrestling with God is the apex of Melton learning where no question is stupid and every voice is heard. Lech Lecha, take yourself and go each students spiritual journey can be transformative, as ancient texts become more relevant and simple, everyday acts and relationships are seen through a Jewish lens.