By MYRON LOVE After an absence of more than ten years, the Florence Melton School of Jewish Learning is once more being offered in Winnipeg under the auspices of Congregation Shaarey Zedek.
“Kudos really go to Rena (Secter Elbaze) for the vision of bringing Melton back to Winnipeg,” says Patti Cohen, who taught the recently completed course, “Jewish Denominations: Addressing the Challenges of Modernity”. (Rena Secter Elbaze is the Melton director in Winnipeg as well as the Shaarey Zedek’s Engagement and Education Director.) “Rena did all the hard work – the organizing and working with Melton staff to get the course off the ground.”
Cohen reports that 14 students – nine from Winnipeg and the others largely from American east coast communities – participated in the ten-week course which consisted of 90-minute weekly classes Mondays from 4:30-6:00 which began at the beginning of March (with breaks for Shavuot and Victoria Day). This wasn’t the full Melton program – which offers a Master’s Degree in Education specializing in Jewish Education through the Melton Centre at the Hebrew University – but rather a forshpice, she notes.
“Jewish Denominations” examined the impact of 19th and 20th century modernity on Judaism and the development of the various Jewish denominations that have emerged in response and what the future may hold.
“We had a nice group and received a positive response,” Cohen says. “It was a small enough group that we could engage in good discussion on line and everyone felt comfortable participating.”
Winnipegger Louis Colish, one of the students, says of the course that “it was truly enlightening. This course taught me how The Jewish People can find common ground because we are the People of the Book. Even though we have different denominations, we are one people because we share the ‘Torah’, which has given us a commonality in our Prayers no matter what denomination we represent.”
The Florence Melton School of Jewish Learning is the realization of the vision of the late American philanthropist Florence Zacks Melton, who 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 and sophisticated program of Jewish learning for adults. Melton is the largest pluralistic adult Jewish education network in the world, with 50 Melton communities throughout the United States, Canada, Australia and South Africa. More than 50,000 learners have experienced Melton’s professionally developed curriculum and lively interactive classes. In Winnipeg Patti Cohen and her husband, Dr. Arthur Blank, were among the original Melton students. They also went on two Melton travel seminars.
The first Melton program in Winnipeg, Cohen recalls, was a two year adult learning curriculum consisting of four courses. She had previously taught the courses “Purposes of Jewish Living” and “Rhythms of Jewish Living”.
“I always liked the course material,” says Cohen, who has a B.S. in Elementary Education from the University of Illinois, Champagne-Urbana in her native Chicago, and an M.Ed. in Educational Administration from the University of Manitoba. She retired five years ago after teaching for many years in the public school system in Winnipeg.
Last December, she was awarded her Master’s Degree in Jewish Studies by the Chicago-based Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership. She notes that she supplemented the Melton curriculum with material from her own recent studies. She is currently working on her Doctorate in Jewish Studies.
As to the timing of the next Melton course through the Shaarey Zedek, Cohen reports that she and Rena Elbaze have begun planning for a second course in the fall.