New Initiative Advances Adult Jewish Education


by Rivka Chaya Berman - LUBAVITCH HEADQUARTERS, NY

June 19, 2006

In a statement to Lubavitch.com early this morning, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, Vice Chairman of the Lubavitch educational arm, confirmed that 33 communities around the world have been selected for inclusion in a groundbreaking adult Jewish education initiative.

The initiative announced at the last Shluchim Conference, designates 33 young couples to become full time, specially trained adult education leaders in communities around the world. Traditionally, Chabad representatives devote themselves to meeting every Jewish need from baby naming to burials, camp to crisis counseling, limiting the number of hours available for adult education. Designating a representative exclusively for the purpose of adult education, affords the community and the Chabad center the gift of focus on this linchpin Jewish growth. “This effort, generously sponsored by the Rohr Family Foundation, speaks to the need we discerned in stepping up the level and availability of Jewish educational opportunities for adults,” said Rabbi Kotlarsky.

A committee of senior Chabad shluchim, led by Rabbi Kotlarsky, shaped the mission, criteria, training of the candidates, and grant awardees. Chosen communities will be awarded a two-year grant toward funding of Adult Educator’s salary on condition that the Chabad center fund the rest of the educator’s living expenses and keep the position viable for another three years past the funding period. More than 70 Chabad centers applied for the grant. Initially slotted for 25 communities, the grant grew to accommodate 33.

Awardees mirror Chabad’s international reach and include centers in Antwerp, Belgium; Calgary, Alberta, Canada; Sydney and Brisbane, Australia. Established communities with booming centers in Florida, in Palo Alto, CA, and across northern California were chosen. But the placement of Adult Jewish educators in Little Rock, AR, Louisville, KY, and Omaha, NE, evince the selection committee’s openness to choosing locations where the educators would make the greatest difference. “Jewish adult education teachers can galvanize a community – large or small,” said Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, a Board Member of Chabad-Lubavitch Headquarters.

The adult educators “will be part of a network of scholars dedicating their careers to the furtherance of Jewish scholarship and making treasures of Jewish scholarship available and relevant to all Jews,” said Rabbi Efraim Mintz, a member of the committee who is involved with coordinating the initiative.

To that end, an intensive training program, created expressly to provide novice rabbis with pedagogical foundation to grow into master teachers, was conducted over the past three months. Noted education experts, Rabbi Berel Bell, the founding dean of Bais Chaya Mushka Seminar in Montreal, and Rabbi Nochem Kaplan, director of the Merkos Office of Education, guided the group of 50 adult educator candidates through the rigors of objective-oriented lesson preparation, principles of interactive learning, use of audio-visual aids. “They do not have the luxury of learning and training on the job,” said Rabbi Nochem Kaplan. “They must come to town and immediately make a positive impact.” Classes on Sundays and Tuesdays, three hours per session, are the first step in what will be an ongoing relationship between the adult educators and the home office. Course work, materials, and continuing training will help the graduates affect their new communities and upgrade the caliber of adult education throughout Chabad’s worldwide network.

Several definitions of “Jewish adult educator” fit under the umbrella of the new initiative. An adult educator can be one who teaches the community at large, coordinates adult education programs, offers higher-level courses to knowledgeable community members or acts as a scholar in residence. All “share a passion for the study and teaching of Torah,” said Rabbi Mintz. Both prospective candidates and communities were invited to check off the roles most applicable to their talents and needs, respectively.

Over the summer, Chabad representatives from the chosen communities will interview graduates of the special training course. By fall, the new adult educators and their families will be on their way to their new homes, advancing the literacy and educational level of Jewish adults in these respective 33 communities. “Torah is what inspires and nourishes the soul,” said committee member Rabbi Nochum Schapiro of Sydney, Australia. “You can inspire someone with a Shabbos meal, but only Torah study keeps the inspiration alive.”

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