It’s August, and our inboxes are already beginning to clutter with countless emails about back-to-school sales, while at the same time the educators and parents among us are working on preparing and transitioning students back into their classrooms. But while we typically think about the back-to-school season as one for children, one of the most interesting emerging trends is the growing number of Jewish adults who will also be returning to text-based and classroom learning over the next few weeks.
Adults are seeing continuous learning not only as a way to connect with and explore our rich tradition, including Torah, Talmud and philosophy, but also as an opportunity to engage in an enriching atmosphere of discussions and experiences that foster connectedness and build community.
We are seeing more learners from a wider range of ages come together. Perhaps what is most interesting is that in the post-COVID era, more and more of these learners are choosing to do so in the classroom rather than from self-paced options. While the pandemic fostered innovation in the education environment, we are seeing even stronger interest from learners returning to the classroom and away from Zoom fatigue.
As educators, we always believed that bringing students of any age together created a more stimulating and dynamic environment for learning. Nothing compares to the sharing of opinions, questions and general discussion that takes place between everyone in the classroom—and the statistics are proving it.
A Talmudic commentary (Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 63b) on a curious verse in the book of Deuteronomy makes this point clearly:
When Moses took leave of Israel on his last day in this world, he said: “Keep silence [hasket] and hear Israel; this day you have become a people unto the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 27:9). The Talmud interprets the word hasket in this verse homiletically, as an acronym of the words as, make, and kat, group. Form [asu] many groups [kitot] and study Torah, for the Torah is only acquired through study in a group.
While many of these “groups” can meet in person at Jewish centers, synagogues and Jewish Community Centers, we also see even more significant growth in interest within the immersive travel and learning experiences like those offered by the Melton School of Adult JewishLearning.
These trips, curated to develop the most impactful learning opportunity, enable adults to experience the history and culture of Jewish communities around the world, using their experiences on the ground to facilitate a better understanding of the context of different time periods and sages, and the customs and culture of Jews from different regional backgrounds. The learning opportunities these kinds of trips provide are second to none, and the community they build among participants transcends city, state and sometimes even continental borders.
Teacher and current first lady Jill Biden once told a group of educators at a lecture she gave at Stanford University in 2018: “Education teaches us compassion and kindness, connection to others. Education doesn’t just make us smarter. It makes us whole.”
Education is in the eye of the beholder. For some of the children going back to school this season, it will take years for them to fully appreciate what they learned in the classroom from both the teacher and their classmates. For most adults though, appreciation of their in-person learning experience is immediate because in essence, for many, learning as part of a motivated group and a community is the key reason for their decision to take the course.