I attended the final class in the two-year Melton Jewish Learning core program last week, and this Sunday afternoon there’s a graduation ceremony to mark the conclusion. I am inordinately excited about this! A while ago I got the idea to purchase a Jewish-themed article for myself when I completed Melton. By coincidence, the shop in the synagogue adjacent to the center where my classes took place has just begun to be open on Tuesdays, my class day, so I took advantage of this opportunity to browse the merchandise after the second last class and made a purchase on the last day. Although I admired the beauty of the shabbat candles and kiddush cups and mezuzahs, I quickly realized that it would not feel right to buy any of them.
Instead, I was delighted to purchase a whimsical yet symbolically rich everyday article — a “nose eyeglass holder”! I had never seen such a thing before, but I liked that it has Jewish symbols on it — the star of David on it and tree of life — but is not a ritual object. Even better is that the glasses I use at my desk, where I write and research, now rest on this bright-colored accessory, so it’s connected to learning and study and the quest for wisdom, which has been the gift of the past two years. And it dovetails nicely with the reflection I wrote on my Melton experience, posted below. (All the students were asked to write something, and I think they’ll be compiled into a booklet.)
Reflection on Melton Jewish Learning Program Experience
When I was a 20-year-old college student, preparing for a semester in France, I was very surprised when my grandmother, my dad’s mom, handed me a slip of paper with a name and a Paris address written on it. “This is a niece of mine, “she said, and insisted that I look her up while in France. Curious and with a little trepidation, I did contact the relative, a second cousin who was delightful, and our friendship allowed me to become acquainted with my ancestry in an entirely new way — an experience that unfolded over several years and was profoundly illuminating.
As a lifelong Catholic in the Melton Adult Jewish Learning program, a similar process of discovery and expansion has pervaded the past two years for me, and I am grateful for the welcome I received into the Jewish learning community. In the dynamic atmosphere of our Melton classes, I gained deep appreciation for Judaism’s unique development and contributions through the millennia and the beauty of its calendar, ritual, and practice. On a personal level, the curriculum held up a mirror of sorts to my own faith tradition that at times brought important insight about its origins and foundations but also painful realization of my co-religionists’ historical rejection of Jews and denigration of Judaism.
Significantly, this program has provided a new lens to view my ongoing experience of Christianity in the present. Whether it’s a sermon or an article or a prayer, I now reflexively pose questions to myself, like “What is being said or implied here about Judaism? Is this interpretation accurate?” More questions usually result, and I search out additional information. For example, on Sundays after mass, I often consult Amy-Jill Levine’s Jewish Annotated New Testament for further background on the texts.
Now that the program has concluded I find myself returning once more to material from the very first day to understand its impact for me. Lesson One of the first-year course Purposes of Jewish Living is called “What is Jewish Learning?” Rabbi Wise’s explanation that day expresses what has been of value to me in the Melton program and will continue to be essential to my faith journey:
“Learning is one of the most significant things we can do with our time. Its goal is to know what I think about theology and about God, but it’s not utilitarian in the contemporary sense, like to get a job. Real Jewish learning is transformative; you internalize it, it affects you. It helps us become the most we can become as unique, individual children of God. Sometimes it takes effort, and challenges our thoughts and beliefs. We’re asked to move out of our comfort zone. If you’re really open, it’s risky to learn.”