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Jewish Learning for Adults

Jewish Learning for Adults

Adult Jewish Learning


Jewish Learning is a Lifelong Endeavor

By Dr. Dean Phillip Bell for JUF News, April 2019

What is adult Jewish learning and why is it important? How does the adult brain learn? How can we coordinate and grow Jewish learning for adults in Chicago and beyond?

These questions are just some of the ideas addressed by the Chicago Adult Jewish Learning Initiative, spearheaded by Spertus Institute with funding from the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

A trio of recent activities build on the professional training, collaborative programming, and assessment undertaken by the Initiative over the last several years. Among these, gpsforjewishlearning.org is a new website that provides a communal platform of programs and resources related to adult Jewish learning. More than 30 Chicago Jewish organizations have already registered and added programs to the calendar. The resources cover topics from Jewish history and arts to 21st-century Jewish life, from Israel to Jewish theology and practice. The site is for everyone and I encourage you to explore its avenues to Jewish learning. Presenting organizations of all types are invited to participate, sharing their own programs for adults.

Expanding the range of the Chicago Adult Jewish Learning Initiative's impact beyond Chicago, Spertus was invited to partner with the national Maimonides Fund (in cooperation with the Aviv Foundation) to explore adult Jewish learning across the United States. As a result, in February, Spertus had the honor of organizing and hosting the National Think Tank on Adult Jewish Learning.

Two dozen thought leaders and senior-level educators came together from Jewish foundations and organizations including Pardes, Hadar, Limmud, JFNA, Hillel International, Moishe House, and JPRO. Conversations were facilitated by Professor Catherine Marienau (an expert on adult learning theory from DePaul University) and myself. On the agenda: discovering effective models of adult Jewish learning and ways that these programs can become more financially sustainable, particularly through regional and naional models of funding and collaboration. The Think Tank helped clarify the landscape of adult Jewish learning by identifying challenges, tension points, and opportunities for innovation. The image shared here is by Urban Wild Studio, who were on hand to capture the essence of the conversations.

On the heels of the Think Tank, Spertus presented the second annual Chicago Adult Jewish Learning Resource Conference in February. More than 60 local communal professionals, educators, and lay leaders participated in presentations, networking, and resource sharing, as well as breakout sessions focused on hands-on application. Key presenters included Professors John Dirkx (Michigan State University), Catherine Marienau, and Barry Chazan (Spertus Institute). Breakout tracks focused on core aspects of adult Jewish learning and models of effective adult Jewish learning, with presenters from the Pardes-Kevah Teaching Fellowship, Limmud, Hadar, and the Valley Beit Midrash in Phoenix.

There is a good deal of work to be done to build the field of adult Jewish learning—from training professionals and educators, to innovating teaching models, to expanding the scope of programming and the number of people who participate. Spertus Institute’s efforts chart new ground, merge theory and practice, and bring people together to make a lasting difference.

Dean Phillip Bell, PhD, is President and CEO of Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership.

Sunday, March 10, 2019