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Jewish learning Hebrew School for Adults

By Kim Bodemer
illustration of person walking under clouds

When I worked as a congregational educator and shared the congregation’s vision for learning with prospective families, I asked parents to share their own experience of religious education. Regardless of whether they grew up going to Hebrew School or attended religion classes from another faith tradition, their stories were the same. They described the experience as “boring,” “not meaningful,” and something that “took them away from their friends.”

Given these descriptions of their negative experiences in adolescence, I was surprised to learn how popular the phrase “Hebrew school for adults” is on Google search. I wonder why adults would be interested in returning to something they purported to dislike. What are they looking for? Are they seeking basic information, or to study specific topics? Do they want the sense of community and comradery, or do they desire a deeper connection within themselves? Or perhaps something else? And, why now?

Perhaps adults are more prepared to learn. Several years ago, a conversation with my husband helped me understand why adults might welcome and even seek learning opportunities later in life. Sitting at the dinner table, I explained the plan for transporting our daughter to and from her gymnastics class. After I finished, he asked how our daughter was getting home. Frustrated, I exclaimed, “Why don’t you listen to what I’m saying?” He replied, “Well, to be honest, unless I specifically ask for the information, there is a good chance I’m not listening.”

Learning and internalizing information is only effective when one is ready and willing to receive it. Children have little agency over whether they attend Hebrew School. For some, it means missing Sunday morning soccer games or not being able to hang out with friends after school. Perhaps these experiences color their ability to learn and engage with Jewish tradition. Adults, on the other hand, can explore topics that match their interests and engage in ways that are meaningful to them.

I am proud to be part of the Hebrew College Adult Learning team that is committed to providing many different entry points for adult learners. There are many reasons adults might search the internet for “Hebrew school for adults.” Some yearn to fill in the gaps of knowledge — to understand the “why” behind holidays and rituals. Some strive for meaning from our ancient tradition that remains relevant today. Some might want to master Hebrew language. Others want to gain new skills and connect with people who are also on a path of learning and insight.

Whatever leads someone to a search engine hoping to discover opportunities for Jewish study, we strive to understand, support, and respond to our learners wherever they are on their journeys, building a community of learning and connection.

Kim Bodemer is Director of Adult Learning at Hebrew College in Newton, MA. View Hebrew College’s adult learning online course catalog for winter/spring offerings.

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