More than a decade after they last appeared in Seattle, Melton School courses have returned. As of next month, world-class Seattle Jewish educator Rivy Poupko Kletenik has opened an official Seattle-based “mini-franchise” of Hebrew University’s popular Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning.
The first-year courses in HU’s certificate program will be held at the Seattle Hebrew Academy and the Stroum Jewish Community Center on Mercer Island, which makes Washington one of 23 states in the U.S. to have a dedicated Melton site.
“We’re bringing Melton back to Seattle,” a very excited Kletenik, SHA’s head of school, told JTNews. Kletenik has previously taught individual Melton courses in Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Israel. “The two classes at SHA are open to the entire community. At the SJCC, we are offering the “Foundations of Jewish Living’ class that I’m teaching, and that is open to the SJCC early childhood parents exclusively.”
This year’s streamlined Seattle program is tailored to meet the needs of both busy adults and multi-tasking parents. In the past, Melton courses required a three-hour commitment per week. For young parents who don’t really have that kind of time, however, this class may be more schedule-friendly.
“Foundations of Jewish Family Living” is a 20-class curriculum where parents can apply life lessons and the wisdom from biblical stories to their own families through an everyday-type approach to problem solving and communication.
“Basically, it has parents taking a look at Jewish texts through the parenting lens,” Kletenik said. “So even though we’ve heard the story of Joseph and his brothers, or God creating human beings, we’re looking at things now, specifically, as a parent. How does that help us become better Jewish parents? How do we have a conversation at home really driven by Jewish values?”
The “Purposes of Jewish Living” course, a 30-session module, is more philosophical and allows students to ask “the big questions of life” by exploring biblical and modern approaches to areas of Jewish thought.
“It’s less of a focus on how do I do Jewish and more of a focus on how do I be Jewish,” Kletenik said. “It really helps parents talk about God. It’s an opportunity for people to talk about questions they may have just been wondering about for all of these years and there was never a space to talk about them.”
A leader and a pioneer in its field, the 26-year-old Melton school has built its reputation on welcoming adults from all Jewish backgrounds while giving them a place to learn about the practical, everyday application of Jewish values from expert teachers.
The tuition is largely subsidized by the SHA and Jewish Education Services of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle. Each course costs $100, mainly because the two instructors, Kletenik and Rabbi Aaron Bayer, will be teaching the classes as part of their responsibilities at SHA.
“The tuition is nominal,” said Sari Weiss, SHA’s director of institutional advancement. Weiss will also serve as the director of the Melton School as part of her job at SHA.
“We don’t want to undervalue the course by charging $100 but we also don’t want to put a roadblock in front of anybody who is thinking that this is a great opportunity for me to step into Jewish learning for the first time.”
The Melton classes are also designed to be small so students can take their time and incorporate the life lessons while getting to know others in their group.
“These aren’t classes that are 30 or 40 people busting out of the rooms,” Weiss said. “They’re meant to be intimate and to be able to carry on a dialogue and talk about your personal experiences. It is meant to be that intimate class of 12 to 15.”
Another new initiative from the Melton School, which began this month, is an online program for distance learners where no Melton franchises currently exist.
“Melton has a spectacular reputation and they have a team of experts at Hebrew University,” Weiss said. “The four courses really provide an adult with the breadth and depth of Jewish knowledge, while at the same time, really engaging people, firsthand, with texts. It is a product that is tried and true.”