Florence Melton stepped up as a footwear inventor and innovator who created a community for Jewish lifelong learners

December 11, 2020

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After a seven-year recess, the Florence Melton School of Adult Learning is back in session.

The name Melton is associated with innovation, activism, and invention. Florence Melton disrupted the footwear industry when she founded the R.G. Barry Corporation with her late husband and adopted the first use of foam in footwear. Though her brilliant mind changed an entire industry, her primary passion was Jewish education. Melton served on committees and commissions in her local community, nationally, and internationally. Two of many prestigious awards she received were an Honorary Doctor in Philosophy from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and an Honorary Doctor in Humane Letters from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

Melton remains a worldwide movement of committed learners empowered to enrich Jewish life. The school engages learners in the life-enhancing study of Jewish texts and ideas. Its accessible approach promotes open dialogue and nurtures a deepening of Jewish community. Core courses have stayed true to the Melton method, but have been revised or rewritten and are intended to offer a sense of community and new ways to look at evergreen subjects. Some Melton 2021 courses are shorter, online, and customized to meet learner’s personal preferences.

The Konikoff Center for Learning actively pursued a 2021 Melton Tidewater comeback. With instructors in place, area classes begin on Thursday, January 7. For dates, times, fees, and more information, go to https://www.jewishva.org/KCL.

Social Justice: The Heart of Judaism in Theory and Practice
Taught by Rabbi Michael Panitz
Thursdays, Jan. 7–March 11

Trained at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he was ordained as a rabbi in 1982 and where he received a Ph.D. in Jewish history in 1989, Michael Panitz combines both specialties in his professional career. He has served as rabbi of Temple Israel in Norfolk since 1992. Active in the field of adult Jewish education, he has taught for the Florence Melton Adult Mini School since it first opened in Tidewater. He also teaches religious studies, history, and Hebrew language at local colleges, Old Dominion University and Virginia Wesleyan University. Prior to arriving in Norfolk, Rabbi Panitz was a faculty member at the Jewish Theological Seminary and served a congregation in New Jersey. Rabbi Panitz contributes articles to scholarly journals on Jewish subjects. Married to Shelia Panitz since 1978, their larger family includes their three children, spouses, and four grandchildren, ranging in age from 15 to 1½.

“The materials brought together in our Melton Course, ‘Social Justice…. The Heart of Judaism,’ go straight to our most authoritative traditions, both ancient and recent. Looking afresh at these classics and modern classics, we see that the mandate to bring society more in line with God’s commandments that we respect and love one another is not some passing fad or fashion. It is authentic Judaism.”

From Sinai to Seinfeld: Jews and Their Jokes
Taught by Dr. Amy K. Milligan
Thursdays, Jan 7–March 18

Dr. Amy K. Milligan is the Batten Endowed Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies and Women’s Studies and the director of the Institute for Jewish Studies and Interfaith Understanding at Old Dominion University. She is an ethnographer and folklorist whose award-winning research focuses on Jewish bodies, Jewish folklore, and small or marginalized Jewish communities.

Jews like to laugh. We laugh at awkward situations, we laugh at coincidences, and more often than not…we laugh at ourselves.

Our matriarch, Sarah, got berated a bit for her laughter–honestly though, who could blame her for bursting into laughter at the suggestion that she was to yet give birth to a child at the age of 90! Face it, it’s a funny thought!

This course explores the world of Jewish humor. It has been organized chronologically, and suggests a developmental narrative of Jewish life that lies just below the surface of the jokes Jews tell, the jokes that make us laugh. Some historical humor may strike us as quite inappropriate. And yet, like Sarah, we cannot help but laugh! Students of this course will be given the opportunity to laugh and to learn, to become connoisseurs of Jewish humor.

Dr. Amy K. Milligan is the Batten Endowed Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies and Women’s Studies and the director of the Institute for Jewish Studies and Interfaith Understanding at Old Dominion University. She is an ethnographer and folklorist whose award winning research focuses on Jewish bodies, Jewish folklore, and small or marginalized Jewish communities.

OMG, Can You Believe?
Taught by Rabbi Marc Kraus
Thursdays, April 22–May 27

Rabbi Marc Kraus is passionate about creating safe spaces for open, pluralistic Jewish exploration and is fascinated by those Jewish voices most often ignored. He has studied in environments as diverse as Orthodox yeshivot and co-ed pluralistic seminaries and received his undergrad in Hebrew Literature from Oxford University. He was ordained by the Ziegler School in Los Angeles and is in his eighth year serving as rabbi of Temple Emanuel at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront.

“I think most of us walk away from Hebrew School with this image of ‘God’ as Santa Claus in the sky,” says Rabbi Kraus. “For my part, I tend to think of Jewishness as a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ journey, especially because our tradition offers so many ways to struggle with ideas of the Divine and spirituality. That’s why I’ll be teaching ‘OMG: Can You Believe!?’ in the late Spring.”

Rabbi Kraus says that he’ll be drawing on his own struggles to teach the class: “Struggle and uncertainty continue to be part of my Jewish journey. Every time I think I might be comfortable, a new door opens and I grow some more. I’m especially passionate about this Melton course because I’ve studied in pluralistic contexts across the Jewish spectrum, and I know I want to learn from and with people who think differently from me.”

Soul Cycles: A Ride Through the Chapters of Life
Taught by Miriam Brunn Ruberg
Thursdays, April 22–May 27

Miriam Brunn Ruberg grew up in Buffalo, N.Y. the oldest daughter of parents who both survived the Holocaust. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, which included a year of study in Israel. Brunn Ruberg then earned a Master’s degree from Brandeis University in Jewish Communal Service with a concentration in Jewish Education. She worked at the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater in Jewish Education and Israel Youth Programming for nine years. She then worked as a Jewish educator for the Simon Family JCC for 15 years, retiring in June 2015. During her tenure at the JCC, Brunn Ruberg brought the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School to the Tidewater community around the year 2000. She then directed and taught in the program.

Brunn Ruberg will teach a course for six weeks in the spring called ‘Soul’s Cycles: A Ride Through the Chapters of Life.’ This course will navigate the winding roads of childhood and adult rituals and how we understand them as Jews today.

“I am very much looking forward to teaching this new Melton curriculum as Life Cycle is one of my favorite aspects of Jewish life to teach and to learn,” says Brunn Ruberg. “I feel this way because Life Cycle events touch the lives of everyone who is a part of the Jewish community.”

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