Jewish learning Hebrew College Adult Learning Courses Attract a Diverse Collection of Learners

By Joshua Polanski

Perhaps you live in Dorchester, or maybe even Dubai. You could be a retired schoolteacher, a practicing accountant, or a health care worker. You might be a seasoned student of Jewish education, or you might just be getting started. No matter who you are and what your story may be, Hebrew College Adult Learning invites you to bring your full self to our courses. You will find others that share aspects and themes of your life story in the halls (and digital halls) of Hebrew College Adult Learning.

A selfie of a man in Jerusalem with people in the background.
Neil Leifer

“I can’t think of any downsides to learning with Hebrew College Adult Learning,” said Neil Leifer, a retired lawyer and current Hebrew College Ulpan learner.

Hebrew College Adult Learning courses attract a rich and diverse thoughtful collection of learners from the Greater Boston area and beyond. One learner felt drawn to Hebrew College Ulpan’s language learning courses because of something an older Apache man told him while he was a law student working on the Fort Apache Reservation in 1979. “Are you a Hebrew?”, the man asked Neil Leifer. “Yes, I’m Jewish,” responded Leifer. “Can you speak Hebrew?”, the man asked. “No, I can’t.” “Then how can you understand your people if you can’t speak their language?”, the man asked again. That question lingered with Leifer for decades and influenced his decision to learn Hebrew after a bike riding trip in Israel. “That’s how I ended up here,” he added.

No matter how different our learners are, they are united by a profound curiosity and calling to learn about Jewish history, culture, and religion. “I am delighted to see the wide range of learners who have enrolled in our adult learning classes. The great breadth of our course offerings means that we can serve learners who are seeking different kinds of learning opportunities,” said Vice President Dr. Susie Tanchel.

Jim Schwartz

Some of our students are fulfilling long-time goals to study Judaism and Jewish history more in depth. Jim Schwartz, the former president and C.E.O. of MGF Sourcing, stepped away from the day-to-day of the business last year, giving him the freedom of time to finally commit to Hebrew College Adult Learning courses. “For years, I had friends who had taken Hebrew College Me’ah and loved it, but I never had the time with all my traveling,” said Schwartz. “With the advent of both stepping away from the day-to-day of the business and online learning with Zoom, I was thrilled to finally start Me’ah Classic.”

A family gathered together in Jerusalem
Ellen Carno (second from right) and husband Neil Leifer (left)

Our courses also offer a way to enter the gateway of Jewish history, as well as serving as means to connect with the present reality and contexts of Jews around the world. Ellen Carno, a former public relations specialist and mediator turned metal sculptor who has been taking Hebrew College Ulpan courses for a few years, first wanted to learn Hebrew to connect with her Israeli family. “When we’re all together, they slip into Hebrew, and you want to know what they’re saying to each other,” she said. “But also, being in Israel was my first-time being part of the majority. I wasn’t different. It gives you the feeling of being home—and the language at home is Hebrew, so I was motivated to be able to correspond and speak in that language,” she added.

“Especially in today’s environment, it’s important to understand why you’re a Jew and how you got to be a Jew, why is Judaism important to me, and what does it mean to live as a Jew—and all of these things arise out of study,” said Schwartz. “This Me’ah course helps me understand these relationships.”

Indeed, the history and memories of the Jewish people are indelible to each of our stories. “We were studying in the course about the rise of Baghdad (~762 to 1200 CE) and tremendous trade routes throughout the Middle East which came out of that growth. Traders went from Baghdad to Cairo to the Mediterranean…and I thought to myself, that’s me! That would have been me,” Schwartz said, referring to his work running an outsource supply chain company in the textile industry. “I would have been the guy with the camel going around the Mediterranean trading stuff, just like how my grandfather was the guy in Lenin’s Soviet Union under the New Economic Policy who bartered steel and moved wheat around—that goes to show, our story [as a Jewish people] is really one of continuity.”

Jill Goldenberg

Others see in Jewish education remedies for a hurting world. This is the case for Jill Goldenberg, a past president and board member of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and National Board of Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA), who considers tikkun olam her life’s work. “I so deeply believe that every single person is made in the image of God and that everyone is deserving of dignity. Repair for me is the desire to give others—the person who feels alone and isolated, the person who is defined by some as the enemy—dignity,” added Goldenberg. As a person interested in Jewish thought and a Democrat deeply concerned with dignity for all persons, she took Jewish Feminist Theology with Rabbi Rachel Putterman. “I found a really rich learning environment and was especially excited to get perspectives from students of such a variety of age, identity, affiliation, and socio-economic backgrounds,” she said of the Open Circle Jewish Learning course.

“I find excitement and joy in learning from different perspectives and Hebrew College enables that,” said Goldenberg. “But even more than that, it was the people that made the course a memorable experience. We learned alongside the young emerging practitioners of Jewish feminism and those who have learned and taught it for years.”

No matter what subjects you’re interested in, your educational history, or your personal background, Hebrew College Adult Learning has a course for you. Vice President Dr. Susie Tanchel said, “It’s amazing that whether our students are learning Hebrew, or about political activism or how to better handle the challenges of parenting, our students are so impressive in their thirst for greater knowledge and their desire to connect with others in our diverse Boston Jewish community.”

“It’s okay to feel uncomfortable,” said Ellen Carno to potential learners. “You can do this. The teachers meet you wherever you are—there are classes for you.  

Learn more about Hebrew College Adult Learning and register for a class at our brand-new online course catalog. We offer courses for all ages and stages of Jewish learning through our Me’ah Classic & Select, Open Circle Jewish Learning, and Hebrew Language Ulpan programs taught by our expert adult learning faculty. Register here.

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