The Challenge for Adult Jewish Learners

Contributed by Rabbi Joan Glazer Farber and Marilyn Price, coordinators HEVREH, A Community of Adult Jewish Learners

The liberal movements of Judaism emphasize the need to be open and inclusive. Congregations follow their movements’ examples and speak the language of the open tent. When you look closely at the messages of the movements and the congregations, you discover that the flaps of the tent are not completely open and that the majority of the programs and educational opportunities are directed at the youth, teens and young children. Many congregations are struggling to keep teens engaged post B’nai Mitzvah and are hoping to maintain membership by engaging the youth. However, these same congregations have neglected the key stake holders–the adults, the soon-to-be-empty-nesters–or in other words the people who drive the youth and make the financial decisions.

There is a void in congregational and communal Jewish life created by this emphasis on the youth. Adults are not finding intellectual and spiritual connections in their congregations. When their youngest child leaves the nest, many are turning away from congregations (if they have not previously left) and finding intellectual sustenance elsewhere. These vibrant adults are auditing courses at local universities, traveling around the world with historians and naturalists, developing interests beyond Judaism and the synagogue walls. It is time to serve their needs.

As a community, we need to reconnect with the intellectual searchers, On the congregational level, educational programming needs to be relevant, challenging and inspiring to the adult learners and must be able to stand on its own, separate from the educational needs of the children. By creating opportunities for adults to apply Jewish tradition, history and texts to their active lives, congregations may discover that these adults will remain part of the community and the community will benefit from their involvement. The synagogue and the clergy will be needed for more than life cycle moments. For Jews living across North America, we need to find ways to connect lovers of Jewish learning and provide formats where they can explore their common interests.

And here is the good news:

Hevreh: A Community of Adult Jewish Learners was created to bring together adult Jews whose learning needs are not necessarily being met. The first Hevreh gathering will be July 15-19, 2015 at Capital Camps’ Retreat Center in Waynesboro, PA.

Registration is open. Course descriptions and faculty biographies are included on the registration form. There are a limited number of single rooms available. Please follow this link for registration.

We will study with master teachers, pray and seek spiritual renewal, hike the trails and build a community of learners. For more information, visit our Facebook page or email:


  1. Thank you. Since the URJ DC Biennial I have felt that the,people,who,are actually in the pews, who,are engaged in learning and tikkun, and who believe in supporting Jewish communal life, are being largely ignored by our movement. They must be engaged and respected and we need tools to do that.

  2. Although my congregation, Sinai Temple of Springfield Ma has not neglected our older demographic, I am greatly excited by this initiative. The energy and intellectual stimulation of the URJ Kallot (both Israel and US based) provides inspiration to move ahead with this wonderful project. I’ll be glad to help!!! Thank you.

  3. I agree with Audrey Korotkin. I emailed Rabbi Jacobs to that effect, but received no reply–or maybe the reply was not funding the annual summer Kallah which drew adults mostly middle-aged and older, long commited to Judaism and eager to learn more. Thank you, Marilyn and Joan

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