Impacting Jewish destiny through education with “Melton” in the vanguard
By Viv Anstey (Melton Cape Town Director) and Lauren Snitcher (Recruitment & Marketing)
Are YOUR grandchildren going to be Jewish?
We understand only too well, sadly, that there is no guarantee of that. With rising assimilation rates, intermarriage and couples choosing not to have children, the passing on of Judaism to the next generation “le dor va dor” is not a given.
Time and again studies, research and surveys have shown the importance of Jewish education in addressing this problem. The Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning is proud to be part of the solution ensuring Judaism and Jewish values live on through the generations. Melton offers adult learners the opportunity to explore our centuries old tradition through sequential and comprehensive text-based curricula and discover how they relate to us today. It offers a profound understanding of what it means to be Jewish.
The school engages adult learners in a life-long and life-enhancing study of Jewish texts and ideas that nurtures and deepens Jewish community worldwide. Through classes and travel seminars – both in-person and online (even before the pandemic) – Melton learners are introduced to Jewish texts and ideas and discover how relevant they are to their lives. As students of their Jewish heritage, they find themselves part of a worldwide movement of passionate learners that can then themselves enrich Jewish life at all levels, from within their families to communal organisations to global initiatives.
Melton is the largest non-denominational, inclusive adult Jewish education network in the world, with over 40 Melton communities throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, and South Africa. More than 50,000 learners have experienced Melton’s professionally developed curricula and lively interactive classes.
This creative journey into the world of adult Jewish education began when a remarkable woman who began life in humble beginnings in Philadelphia, USA, expanded her vision from taking care of millions of tired feet to uplifting people’s minds!
Inventor and activist Florence Zacks Melton (1911-2007) envisioned and endowed The Florence Melton Institute in 1986 as a project of the Melton Centre at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She sought to bring to life a comprehensive, relevant, and sophisticated programme of Jewish learning for adults. To this day, Melton attributes its values of accessibility, open-mindedness, integrity, community, and innovation to her enduring vision. Florence Melton saw in her lifetime that for most Jews, their Jewish education ended at Bar/Bat Mitzvah, if they were even lucky enough to have had a Jewish education up to that point. Florence was passionate about creating a programme of study to help adults attain Jewish literacy. She understood that for many, it was their lack of knowledge and familiarity with Jewish learning that seemed to close the doors for further Jewish engagement.
Shoulders, Feet & Minds
Born Florence Spurgeon to Meir and Rebecca Spurgeon in Philadelphia on November 6, 1911, at 19, she married Aaron Zacks, and the couple moved to Columbus, Ohio.
A housewife with an entrepreneurial flair, Florence invented Shoulda-Shams, washable cotton shoulder pads. She later then discovered she could use the material to line slippers which were marketed first as Angel Treads and later as Dearfoams. Florence’s slippers were a huge hit and were immediately successful, selling in their billions.
Florence’s first husband, Aaron Zacks passed away in 1966 and in 1968, she married industrialist and philanthropist Samuel M. Melton, an Ohio stainless steel fittings tycoon and philanthropist, who served on the boards of many national Jewish charities.
Retiring from business in 1959, Sam Melton turned his attention fully to a range of community and educational philanthropic enterprises, including sponsorship of The Melton Research Center for Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, The Melton Center for Jewish Studies in Ohio State University in Columbus, and The Melton Centre for Jewish Education at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He served on the Board of Governors of The Hebrew University and funded the construction of the Samuel Mendel Melton Building for Jewish Education on the Mount Scopus campus.
Sam Melton is credited with having donated more funds in support of Jewish education than any other individual philanthropist.
Florence become an active partner to her husband’s philanthropic projects. Many were sceptical and had concerns about the number of adults that were interested in Jewish study or would even want to view Jewish Study as serious. But Florence, passionate about Judaism and education, perhaps because hers had been interrupted, was determined to empower adult Jews to “Enter The Jewish Conversation”. And so, together with her husband, Sam, in 1986 they created the “Florence Melton Adult Mini-School” – a two-year, non-denominational programme, which operated across North America, Australia and South Africa. To her credit, 35 years later, her school is still growing, stronger than ever. But instead of a 2- year programme, Melton students are still learning decades later.
The fervent passion of its founder, Florence Melton, to bring Jewish education to adult learners lives on to this day in Melton’s leadership, staff, Board, and directors.
Outreach from Jerusalem
Melton’s dual head offices are directed out of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, driven by Rabbi Dr Morey Schwartz, Melton International director, and New York City, led by Rabbi Rachel Bovitz, Melton Executive Director. In true inclusive Melton style, Melton is directed from Jerusalem in the East by a Modern Orthodox male rabbi and New York in the West, by a Conservative female rabbi.
Simply and more affectionately referred to today as “Melton”, the Florence Melton School Of Adult Jewish Learning is enriching the lives of participants across the world who are gaining Jewish literacy through a world class academic curriculum created by scholars and educators at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Melton can be described as an international network of community-based schools that aims to positively impact the destiny of the Jewish people by offering adults the opportunity to acquire Jewish literacy in an open, inclusive, cross-denominational, and intellectually stimulating learning environment.
The Melton Centre at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem has expanded to a large community of eager adults that have a strong commitment to the sustainability of Jewish culture and heritage. As Israel’s first Centre for Jewish Education, the Centre offers a wide variety of research and other resources to accentuate the knowledge of its scholars, including a MA in Jewish Education.
What Makes Melton Unique
Melton learners participate in multi-session courses (ranging from 4 to 30 weeks) that make Jewish texts and ideas accessible, relevant and inspirational. Melton learning is text-based and is designed to be studied within an environment of openness, where questioning and dialogue are encouraged. There are no examinations or tests. The only prerequisite is a commitment to learn. Many of our learners choose to make Jewish learning a way of life.
Network of Learners
Melton learning is powered by an international network of communities. Local offerings (online or in person) are augmented with Melton International’s online learning as well as travel seminars that unite our global community of adult Jewish learners. During 2020 and 2021, due to Covid-19, all our classes moved online, including our first-class travel seminars which have become virtual reality tours, proving almost as good as the real thing, enabling “travel” at a time when physically that has not been possible.
Engaging and Sophisticated Curriculum
Written by talented, insightful scholars and reviewed by experts at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, our extensive and ever- growing selection of courses engages learners with a variety of interests.
Quality Teaching and Learning
Jewish Federations, Jewish Community Centres, Bureaus of Jewish Education, Synagogues, and community coalitions are natural partners with the Melton School. This ensures a community commitment to maintaining the high level of quality expected of each Melton School. To preserve the high standards which are the hallmark of the Melton School, alumni, local faculty members and educators within their communities participate in ongoing professional enrichment offered through Melton itself or The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Directors attend the yearly International Directors Conference which alternates between America and Israel. In 2020 it was held online with great success.
Being a project of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, being staffed internationally from Israel and America, having travel seminars criss-crossing the land of Israel as well as the Diaspora, alternating the Directors’ conferences between America and Israel and having Melton schools across the Jewish world, the Israel-Diaspora relationship is powerful and symbiotic. Many courses have an Israel component so the links between Israel and the Jewish diaspora are deep and lasting.
Courses On Offer
Our text-based curricula are the hallmark of Melton’s success and keeps Melton students returning for more for close to 40 years. Students come for the learning and stay for the community, creating close friendships with their classmates often extending far beyond the classroom.
From our initial core course which spanned a 2-year curricula, covering the Jewish Calendar and Life Cycle, Jewish Philosophy, Jewish History and Jewish Ethics, Melton now proudly offers approximately 40 more courses.
Examples of Melton courses are:
Shivim Panim– a series covering all 5 books of the Torah; Foundations of Jewish Living – teaching Jewish Values to parents and grandparents of young children; Beyond Borders – The History of the Arab Israeli Conflict; Israeli Literature As a Window to Israeli Society; The Holocaust as Reflected In Diaries and Memoirs; Biblical Women – Emerging From the Margins Through Midrash; Jewish Denominations; The Star and The Crescent – A History of Jewish-Muslim Relations; Jewish Medical Ethics; Jewish Mysticism; Social Justice – The Heart Of Judaism In Theory And Practice and Jews In America – Insiders And Outsiders; Jewish Answers to life’s most challenging questions, Yesod – Jewish Leadership
In a recent research study two-thirds of those interviewed reported a strengthening or enhancement in different facets of Jewish life.
By offering a robust menu of online courses during these challenging times, Melton has been able to:
- Increase its reach internationally to individuals in communities otherwise not serviced by Melton
- Introduce Melton courses to new learners
- Re-engage former learners with new offerings
- Develop high quality digital pedagogy
- expand its partnerships
Since 2006, we have, under the umbrella of the Midrasha Adult Education Institute enriched lives within and beyond the Cape Town Jewish community to an ever-increasing global student body.
Midrasha offers Melton courses as well as their own home-grown Midrasha courses, with a faculty of talented intellectual and academic experts. It boasts over 3500 graduates inclusive of all sectors of Cape Town Jewry and beyond.
Our latest Midrasha course on SA Jewish History: Dilemmas & Debates is FULL. Let us know if you are interested so that we can place you on a waiting list for a repeat of this course in 2022.
To end the year on a high note, we will be running Melton’s “From Sinai to Seinfeld: Jews and Their Jokes”.
About the writers:
Viv Anstey is the Director of the Midrasha Adult Education Institute incorporating the Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning and is also currently Director of The Eliot Osrin Leadership Institute. she is founding member of Limmud South Africa, first Director of SA Jewish Museum, co-driver of PJ Library and the Jewish Literary Festival. Viv currently serves on the Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies as elected committee member and previously on its executive as vice-chair.
Lauren Snitcher graduated as a BA.LLB(UCT) and has worked as an attorney in Cape Town. She is passionate about Jewish Education and after completing the Melton Course in 2008, she took on the position of recruitment and marketing for Melton Cape Town. As part of her interest in her Jewish Heritage and as a descendant of an Ochberg orphan, she undertook extensive research and travel, resulting in the creation of an Oscar short-listed documentary movie, “Ochberg’s Orphans”.
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