Not just for kids

Remember that back-to-school thrill? It’s still waiting for you

In Short

Learning in a community of your peers as an adult can feed needs that you won't satisfy studying solo

Millions of children around the country returned to school this month. The annual surge of anticipation beforehand could be attributed to the excitement of purchasing of fresh school supplies and new clothing, if school were just about showing up prepared to learn and looking good, but school is so much more than that for kids. It is about reuniting with friends, adjusting to new teachers with new styles of teaching, meeting new expectations and experiencing new challenges of all sorts.

The same hold true for adults choosing to return to the classroom as well.

So much of what makes school a formative experience is not the information covered in the classroom but the interactions with teachers and fellow students. The discussions and the sense of community that accompanies the learning is not something that only children seek. Adults are searching for these experiences as well. Community is at the very foundation of continued adult Jewish learning, coming together to discuss and debate.

“Education teaches us compassion and kindness, connection to others,” Dr. Jill Biden once said in a lecture to educators at Stanford University in 2018. “Education doesn’t just make us smarter. It makes us whole.”

It is a good reminder that going back to school is not just good for our children but can be enriching for adults as well. As adults, committing to learning together reconnects us with our colleagues and helps us to grow our communities. Jewish adults studying together helps us re-engage with our peers and rekindle dialogues that enrich our lives – the interactions that make us, as Dr. Biden described, “whole.”

The impact of learning together and how it builds community is something we at Melton witness daily as the largest adult Jewish education network in the world. Through online and in-person classes, learners find and analyze how Jewish texts and ideas are relevant to their lives and personal experiences in an engaging atmosphere of discussions and experiences that foster connectedness and build community.

Many of our learners continue to learn together for years, well after their initial introduction to Melton Learning. A Talmudic commentary (Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 63b) on a curious verse in the Book of Deuteronomy makes this point clearly:

When Moses took leave of Israel on his last day in this world, he said: “Keep silence [hasket] and hear Israel; this day you have become a people unto the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 27:9). The Talmud interprets the word hasket in this verse homiletically, as an acronym of the words as (make) and kat (group). Form groups – asu kitot – and study Torah, for the Torah is only acquired through study in a group.

Why might that be the case? What is so significant about learning within a group? Within the context of a group, we are able to share our thoughts and perspectives, listen to the thoughts and insights of others, and thereby sharpen our own understandings. It facilitates acquiring Torah in a much deeper and richer way.

This back-to-school season need not just be about our children. Let us as adults reconnect to learning within a community of learners who will enhance our overall experience. Whether it is studying Jewish thought, history and practice or contemporary issues of the 21st century, let’s join in the back-to-school excitement and continue to broaden and strengthen our learning as well.

Rabbi Morey Schwartz, EdD, is the international director of the Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning.