We thought you should know….




The Innovation Awards were announced last spring as an incentive to all of our Melton Schools to grow their first-year core student enrollment. Our data tells us that 2013-14 enrollment of first-year core students went up 45% from the previous year, and that more than 60% of that growth came from our three winning schools.  


We are pleased to announce that the following three Melton Schools will receive awards for their outstanding recruitment of new first-year core students: 

  •            BJE Chicago; Rolly Cohen, Director
    Denver CAJE; Yael Weinstein, Director
    West Valley Consortium (Los Angeles); Pamela Rooks, Director


Each of these three directors has significantly impacted the future of her Melton community through an impressive, entrepreneurial approach to recruitment. The awards represent a process that was about both numbers and strategy, about effort and commitment. There were no applications from our small schools category. As such, we allocated the prize to three exceptional schools from the large school category rather than the two we had originally announced.


We applaud each of the winning schools and we congratulate Rolly, Yael, and Pamela for your personal leadership and the dedication that led each of your schools to this recognition. MAZAL TOV!    


The Director Award for making the greatest contribution to the success of Melton recruitment worldwide will go to Rabbi Karen Strok, of Stephen S. Wise Temple in Los Angeles.  Mazal Tov, Karen, for being selected by your peers for this very special recognition.


All of us in the Melton network will benefit from the innovative ideas and the dedication of these four distinguished directors. We look forward to highlighting their recruitment plans and strategies in the coming months. May they lead us all to an even MORE fruitful recruitment in the future.


Let’s all bring more students to Melton and to Jewish learning!  


We acknowledge with gratitude the source of the idea and the funding for the awards: Gordon Zacks, z”l. We know that Gordy would have been pleased with the results of his challenge, and proud of the recipients. We are grateful for all his support.





Melton Innovation Awards for Core Student Recruitment (Learn more.)



Each And Every Word:

A Thought on the Occassion of the 65th Year of Israel's Independance

By Rabbi Morey Schwartz, Director of Education

of the Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning



In the course of Jewish history, 65 years is not a long time. And yet, for so many of us, the State of Israel is often taken for granted – firstly, in terms of its very existence, and secondly, in terms of the purpose of that existence.

On May 14 of 1948, the British Mandate for Palestine was coming to an end, and the British were packing up and leaving the area – that was for sure. The Jewish yishuv that numbered 650,000 would then confront an assault by five regular Arab armies actively aided by the 1,000,000 Arabs living in the Palestine mandate – that too was for certain.

What was still uncertain, just days before, was the question of how the Jews of Palestine would respond.

The decision was between accepting the American proposal for a truce, or declaring independence. On May 12th it was decided that rather than simply defending themselves against the inevitable onslaught, the leadership of the nation would publicly declare independence. That proclamation would be accompanied by a written document, a written proclamation of independence.

In her book, My Life, Golda Meir recalls the last minute wrangling over the reference to God in the document. “On the morning of May 14, I participated in a meeting of the People’s Council at which we were to decide on the name of the state and the final formulation of the declaration. The name was less of a problem than the declaration because there was a last-minute argument about the inclusion of a reference to God.”

Ben Gurion, interested in addressing the sensitivities of everyone involved from the left to the right of the religious spectrum, advocated concluding the document with the words “With trust in Tzur Yisrael – the Rock of Israel, we set our hands in witness to this Proclamation….” Rabbi Fishman-Maimon, the spokesman for the religious parties insisted that the words “and its Redeemer,” be added, following Tzur Yisrael, indicative of their strong belief that the establishment of the State would mark the dawn of Jewish redemption. The Labor party spokesman, Aaron Zisling, however was also adamant – “I cannot sign a document referring in any way to a God in whom I do not believe.”

Writes Golda Meir, “It took Ben Gurion most of the morning to persuade Maimon and Zisling that the meaning of the “Rock of Israel” was actually twofold: While it signified “God” for a great many Jews, perhaps for most, it could also be considered a symbolic and secular reference to the “strength of the Jewish People….”

“The argument itself, however, although it was perhaps not exactly what one would have expected a prime minister-designate to be spending his time on only a few hours before proclaiming the independence of a new state – was far from being just an argument over terminology. We were all deeply aware of the fact that the proclamation not only spelled the formal end to 2,000 years of Jewish homelessness, but also gave expression to the most fundamental principles of the State of Israel. For this reason, each and every word mattered greatly. Incidentally, my good friend Zeev Sharef, the first secretary of the government-to-be…even found time to see to it that the scroll we were about to sign that afternoon should be rushed to the vaults of the Anglo-Palestine Bank after the ceremony, so that it could at least be preserved for posterity – even if the state and we ourselves did not survive for very long.”1

It seems to me that the wrangling on that Friday morning in May was even more – it was a very Jewish moment! It was the continuation of a long-standing Jewish tradition of paying attention to the significance of each and every written word, and acknowledging the significance of multiple understandings and interpretations.

Jewish text-study by definition makes room for and even celebrates a variety of interpretations. In the spirit of Ben-Gurion, Maimon and Zisling, learning to accept multiple interpretations and possible nuances of understanding is an important stepping stone to building a culture of inclusiveness and unity.

Just at the State of Israel was founded on a belief in these ideals, so too is study in the Florence Melton School of Jewish Learning committed ever so strongly to the study of Jewish texts within a spirit of pluralism; seeking, respecting and celebrating multiple interpretations. One of my favorite quotes (that hangs on the wall behind my desk):

Multiplicity is a condition of unity, which is only endangered by the attempt to coerce conformity. (Yaakov Malkin, 1998)

May this Yom Ha’Atzmaut celebration give us all pause to take great pride in what this great State of Israel stands for: much more than a Jewish homeland for the Jewish homeless, this country, as established in writing by its founding visionaries just 65 years ago, has the potential to become a beacon of light unto the entire world.

1 Meir, G. (1975). My Life. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, pp. 223-24.

Melton Gelt















Introducing MELTON GELT


There are 2 kinds of Melton Gelt: a general donation to our school or a gift toward tuition for someone you know. Each donation ensures our school's future.

Put Melton on your Chanukah wish list by forwarding the link below to your friends and family. Every gift supports our school and gets you what you really want: more Melton!  Donations in your name will be acknowledged with a tribute card. Happy Chanukah from Melton!

Give your friends and family a gift that keeps on giving.
hint, hint /nudge, nudge /wink, wink  

forward this link: www.meltonwestvalley.org

 Please contact Pamela Rooks, Melton Director, to make a donation.

She can be reached at 818-854-7685 or at prooks@stsonline.org







Three Reasons Why Melton is Better Than Chipotle

by Jordanna Flores


Recently, the website PunkTorah featured an article entitled, “Three Reasons Why Chipotle is Better Than Synagogue.” You can read the full article here.  I happen to think that synagogues are going through an interesting time, but as a Florence Melton Adult School Director, I find Melton even better than Chipotle.

Why are we talking about Chiptole?  It’s not even kosher!  Because, as the original article pointed out, this fast-food-but-not-really restaurant has figured out that people,

"demand a dining experience, but they want something different. They want the quality of a nicer restaurant, but at a more affordable price and without all the ‘extras’ they were getting before. Chipotle has learned that people want Tex-Mex food, prepared on the spot and will pay a premium above typical fast food, if the quality is better. This model is working. While most restaurants fail, Chipotle is generating record earnings in a poor economy."

Well, you could say the same thing about Melton.  The Melton School knows that people want a quality experience that is different than what they can get at their synagogue in a 1-3 part free series.  People will pay if the quality is better and commit more time for a deeper learning experience and the model is working for us too.  In this down economy, the Conejo/West Valley Melton School enrolled 103 new students (compared to 43 the year before) and raised $77,000 toward operating funds.


So, there were three reasons in the original article and I have three reasons of my own:

  1.  Chipotle gives people exactly what they want.  Melton gives people what they want and challenges them with a little bit more.

Our students range from those who love to learn and want to keep learning all the way to people who went to Hebrew School and learned nothing or people (women) of a certain age who were never offered a Jewish education.  Many are nervous to be in a Jewish classroom, self conscious about their religious background and worried that it will be overwhelming or over their head.  Melton gives students a front row seat to the texts, in English, that gave rise to our traditions and beliefs.  We explore Bible, Talmud, Midrash and modern commentaries.  Students finally get to understand the difference between Bible, Talmud and Midrash is since many of us are too embarrassed to ask!  We read commentary from across the spectrum of denominations without any agenda to increase observance level.  Melton just wants learners to learn more.  Students who started out feeling nervous shed those nerves pretty quickly after comparing a bit of Talmud to a Midrash and then to a contemporary article.

   2. Chipotle sticks to 1 thing and does it well.  Melton sticks to 1 thing, does it well and doesn’t apologize for what it is.

Melton is not free and the classes meet every week for the entire school year.  There are two years of core classes, if you want to know the truth.  What?  I should pay money and commit to 2.5 hours a week for two years?? Are you insane?  I have to drive carpool and I have to play mahj jongg.  I have to do Pilates and I have to take care of my mother.  Yes, you do have to do all of those things but if you want to do something you will make time for it, so don’t try to distract me or yourself with all of these excuses.  A Volvo costs more than a Kia because it’s a completely different product.  Melton costs more than the free classes because it’s a completely different product.  It takes more time to fall in love than to have a fling.  It takes more time to do Melton because at Melton you are deepening your relationship with your heritage.  Before you get concerned that I am insulting synagogue classes—relax.  They already know I am saying this and they know I am right which is why the Conejo/West Valley Melton is a consortium of 15 synagogues and day schools from North Hollywood to Thousand Oaks (why are we called Conejo/West Valley, then?  I don’t know!) who have come together to support our school, house our classes and recruit their constituents because they agree that there is a market for the classes they offer as well as for the classes we offer.  Melton is so great—it makes Jews agree!

  3. Chipotle gives great customer service to each individual.  Melton gives great customer service to each individual and then provides them with a community to be a part of.

Once classes begin in the fall, my whole job as Director is to make sure that each student has the best experience possible.  My job includes snacks, the temperature of the room, emergency dry erase markers AND the quality of the teaching, the interaction between the students and constant evaluation.  In addition to each individual’s experience, we are creating community.  Many students tell me they learn as much from the teachers as they do from their fellow students.  There is one special group of students who have been learning together for five years (oh, there are graduate classes too) and they go out to lunch after class every week.  In our seminar-style classes, participants share their histories, their non-Jewish expertise such as their occupations or their hobbies, they share their family stories past and current and they grow in their learning TOGETHER.  It’s nice that Chipotle makes your burrito just the way you like it, but who are you going to sit and eat it with? 

If you would like to learn more about the Conejo/West Valley Melton School, you can call a real live person, Pamela Rooks, at 818-346-6106.  If you aren’t ready for that, just watch this 1 minute video.




Faculty Recommended Summer Reads

Summer gets very long and lonely without Melton classes to attend, so here is a list of books that your faculty recommends to keep you busy until fall.  Remember to be green and buy used!

Debra Cohn                                                                        

60 Days: A Spiritual Guide to the High Holidays
by Simon Jacobson by Kiyum Pr
List Price: $24.95
Our Price: $72.70
Buy Now





The Jewish Book of Days: A Companion for All Seasons
by Jill Hammer PhD by The Jewish Publication Society
List Price: $30.00
Our Price: $9.77
Buy Now 

Rabbi Dalia Samansky 
Tuesday the Rabbi Saw Red (Rabbi Small Mysteries (Ibooks))
by Harry Kemelman by I Books
Mass Market Paperback
List Price: $6.99
Buy Now 






Jordanna Flores                                                                                             

This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation
by Alan Lew by Little, Brown and Company
List Price: $28.00
Our Price: $10.76
Buy Now 





by Leon Uris by Bantam
Mass Market Paperback ~ Release Date: 1983-10-01
List Price: $7.99
Our Price: $3.98
Buy Now 

Rabbi Becky Hoffman 
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
by Rebecca Skloot by Broadway
Paperback ~ Release Date: 2011-03-08
List Price: $16.00
Our Price: $6.65
Buy Now 

Imagine: How Creativity Works
by Jonah Lehrer by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Hardcover ~ Release Date: 2012-03-19
List Price: $26.00
Our Price: $13.85
Buy Now 

The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible
by A. J. Jacobs by Simon & Schuster
Paperback ~ Release Date: 2008-09-09
List Price: $16.00
Our Price: $5.48
Buy Now 






Rabbi Yael Saidoff                                        

Pillar of Prayer: Guidance in Contemplative Prayer, Sacred Study, and the Spiritual Life, from the Baal Shem Tov and His Circle (Fons Vitae Spiritual Affinities Series)
by Fons Vitae
List Price: $24.95
Our Price: $16.18
Buy Now 





Rabbi Olga Bluman  

Man's Search for Meaning
by Viktor E. Frankl by Beacon Press
Paperback ~ Release Date: 2006-06-01
List Price: $13.00
Our Price: $6.72
Buy Now 








Rabbi Deborah Silver                                      

Surprised by God: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Religion
by Danya Ruttenberg by Beacon Press
Paperback ~ Release Date: 2009-08-01
List Price: $16.00
Our Price: $7.74
Buy Now 






Book of Mercy
by Leonard Cohen by McClelland & Stewart
Paperback ~ Release Date: 2010-03-02
List Price: $16.95
Our Price: $9.66
Buy Now

Rabbi Richard Camras
The Jewish Annotated New Testament
by Oxford University Press, USA
List Price: $35.00
Our Price: $22.07
Buy Now

A Responsible Life: The Spiritual Path of Mussar
by Ira F. Stone by Aviv Press
List Price: $17.95
Our Price: $19.14
Buy Now

Rabbi Tsafi Lev                                                  

Skippy Dies: A Novel
by Paul Murray by Faber & Faber
Paperback ~ Release Date: 2011-08-30
List Price: $16.00
Our Price: $7.99
Buy Now

The Marriage Plot
by Jeffery Eugenides by Large Print Press
List Price: $17.99
Our Price: $13.98
Buy Now




The Sense of an Ending [Deckle Edge] (Vintage International)
by Julian Barnes by Vintage
Paperback ~ Release Date: 2012-05-29
List Price: $14.95
Our Price: $7.49
Buy Now








Rabbi Noah Farkas  

The Godfather
by Mario Puzo by NAL Trade
Paperback ~ Release Date: 2002-03-01
List Price: $16.00
Our Price: $7.15
Buy Now







King David: The Real Life of the Man Who Ruled Israel (Ballantine Reader's Circle)
by Jonathan Kirsch by Ballantine Books
Paperback ~ Release Date: 2001-08-28
List Price: $17.00
Our Price: $7.82
Buy Now





Jane Ziegelman's97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement [Hardcover](2010)
by Z., (Author) Ziegelman by Smithsonian
Our Price: $16.01
Buy Now





Rabbi JB Sacks

The Slave
by Isaac Bashevis Singer by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
List Price: $16.00
Our Price: $5.57
Buy Now






As a Driven Leaf
by Milton Steinberg by Behrman House
List Price: $18.95
Our Price: $7.81
Buy Now

Wrestling With Angels: What Genesis Teaches Us About Our Spiritual Identity, Sexuality and Personal Relationships
by Naomi H. Rosenblatt by Delta
Paperback ~ Release Date: 1996-09-01
List Price: $16.00
Our Price: $2.98
Buy Now

Standing Again at Sinai: Judaism from a Feminist Perspective
by Judith Plaskow by HarperOne
Paperback ~ Release Date: 1991-02-01
List Price: $17.00
Our Price: $7.45
Buy Now





Farewell and Shavuot Message

Dr Jonathan Mirvis

International Director of the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School


On Shavuot there are two central themes which seemingly are disconnected.  The Biblical theme is Yom HaBikkurim and ‘Hag HaKatzir which refers to Shavuot as being the harvest festival and the first day upon which the farmers would bring their bikkurim, i.e. their first fruits, as an offering to the Temple (Hizkuni).  The Rabbinic theme of Shavuot is Chag Matan Torah, the Festival of the Giving of the Torah which is based on a tradition that the Torah was given at Sinai on  Shavuot. According to both themes we are thankful for Divine providence however this providence requires as well an effort on our part.

In order to succeed in his/her harvest the agriculturalist needed to master agronomy.  This included a deep knowledge of climate, fertilization, irrigation, and the like, combined with a knowledge of commerce.  This mastery is radically different from the traits needed to celebrate the Festival of the Giving of the Torah.  For this festival to be celebrated to the full, one needs to master theology and have a comprehensive knowledge of the multiple dimensions of Torah.  The agriculturalist resides in the "real world" while the Torah scholar may very well reside in an "ivory tower". 

A second disconnection between the Biblical and the Rabbinic themes is their locus.  The Biblical theme focuses on the Land of Israel, the bikkurim are brought from the seven species of the Land l.  From a Biblical perspective Shavuot can only be fully celebrated in Israel.    The Rabbinic theme, however, is not Israel dependent.  The Torah was given at Sinai which was outside the borders of Israel ; the  Torah is universal! 

While the Biblical and Rabbinic themes seem to be disconnected, in essence they create a tension which is existentially crucial for the future of Judaism.  On the one hand Judaism is grounded in a tradition of revelation, while on the other hand it is highly aware of the importance of mastering science modern challenges a and the celebration of this mastery.  A Judaism which only focuses upon revelation and authenticity is in danger of becoming fossilized and irrelevant.  A Judaism which only relates to a mastery of a current reality, which is in perpetual pursuit of relevance and personal meaning may well be popular today however is in danger of being irrelevant for the next generation who may find relevancy and meaning in other cultures.

 A Judaism which only focuses on Israel loses significance for those who wish to express their Judaism in the Diaspora and a Judaism which is universal and does not see the importance  of Israel has a danger of being detached and unable to relate to the dreams and challenges of a Jewish sovereign nation in the Land of Israel which is so central to our tradition. 

It is this dialectic which,  I have aspired to make a central ethos of the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School over the past two decades.  Embracing a spirit of pluralism we have developed courses which ensure that our students appreciate the tension between these poles. From the Mini-School perspective Jewish literacy is neither the study of dogma, nor is it a search for meaning.  It is rather the embracing of a systematic set of ideas which live in tension with one another.  Some ideas and precepts our students accept as binding and there are others which our students find meaningful and relevant however, the ultimate success is the appreciation of the tension between these ideas and the implications of these tensions. In engaging in this process, hopefully a  decision to make the study of Jewish texts will not only be  a two year journey but will become a  lifetime pursuit as well.

I am gratified that our new leadership, Judy Kupchan, Dr. Howie Deitcher and Rabbi Morey Schwartz  as well as the current Directors and faculty all embrace  this ethos ensuring that it will continue to be central to the Mini-School in the future as well. 

I wish you and all the Melton Community  a ‘Hag Sameach and a healthy and enduring future.

Shalom U’Lehtraot !


Changes for Melton Corporation

This is big news for Melton from Gordon Zacks, chairman of the Board of Directors of the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School International. We wish Dr. Yonatan Mirvis all the best in his future endeavors — he has been a huge asset to the program’s success. Likewise, we want to say mazal tov to Judy Mars Kupchan, who has been appointed to the position of CEO of the international Melton Corporation. For more information, read the press release below!

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to share news about two important developments within the Melton organization.

After 21 years of dedicated and dynamic service to Melton, Dr. Yonatan Mirvis, International Director, has announced his resignation, effective as of December 31, 2012.

Yonatan will maintain his position on the faculty of the Hebrew University, where he is the foremost academic specialist in adult education and the new field of social entrepreneurship. He will continue to teach graduate students and conduct research in these areas at the Melton Centre for Jewish Education and teach graduate courses to students enrolled in The School of Social Work’s Program in Non-Profit Management and The Business School’s MBA Program. In addition he will pursue new project initiatives in these areas.

Under Yonatan’s exceptional leadership, the Melton Adult Mini-School has achieved worldwide recognition as the preeminent leader in Jewish adult Learning. Among the many accomplishments and milestones during Yonatan’s tenure were the development of the renowned two-year curriculum that forms the core of Melton’s contribution to adult Jewish learning, as well as the Rachel Wasserman Scholars Curriculum for graduates, the new Foundations of Jewish Family Living curriculum for parents, the Israel Seminars, and the Gandel School. It was through Yonatan’s own efforts that the School expanded beyond its beginnings in North America to include sites in Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Hong Kong.

Yonatan’s close relationship with founder Florence Zacks Melton, z”l, nurtured the partnership that developed between these two visionaries. Often citing her singular contribution to the Jewish world, Yonatan, in turn, offered inspiring leadership to the international staff of the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School and to the countless students and faculty that benefited from the high standards of the Melton brand. Yonatan was awarded the distinguished Kaye Innovative Prize from the Hebrew University in recognition of his entrepreneurship in developing the social franchise model used by the Melton schools worldwide.

I am delighted to announce that Professor Menachem Ben Sasson, the President of The Hebrew University, has accepted the unanimous recommendation of the Board of Directors, and has appointed Judy Mars Kupchan to the position of CEO of the international Melton Corporation. Ms. Kupchan has been the Director of Melton ‘s North American Division since 2009, and has served in senior leadership positions in the Melton organization for more than 16 years. At the same time, Dr. Howie Deitcher, Senior Lecturer of the Melton Centre for Jewish Education, and an internationally renowned author and educator, has been appointed Director of the Florence Melton Institute at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Rabbi Morey Schwartz, currently Director of Curriculum and Faculty Development, was appointed Director of Education, maintaining his key role in curriculum research and development at the Institute in Jerusalem as well as his work with faculty, staff, directors, and communities worldwide.

Along with the Board of Directors, I am confident that these extraordinary educators will lead Melton forward with creativity and vigor. Their proven talents and leadership, their strong continuity with Melton’s past and vision for the future, will lead Melton from strength to strength.



Pesach Message 5772


Dr Jonathan Mirvis  

International Director of the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem


According to the fourth Mishnah in the tenth chapter of Masekhet Psachim we commence the story on the seder night with a negative beginning and end it on a positive note. In the Talmud there is a difference of opinion regarding this negative beginning. Rav contends that we begin the story with 'originally our forefathers were idol worshippers', taking us back to the ancestors of Abraham. However, Shmuel maintains that we commence the story with 'we were slaves to Pharoah in Egypt'.

This argument is not only about chronology, it reflects a fundamental difference of opinion regarding the essence of the story. According to Rav the origins of the story are that our forefathers chose a life of spiritual bondage, while according to Shmuel the origins of the story are that we were forced into physical slavery. It seems that for Rav our choice to remain in Egypt after Joseph's reign was a reflection of a spiritual bondage which was rooted in Abraham's ancestors. While Abraham chose a life of spiritual freedom, his descendants chose to subjugate themselves to the 'fleshpots' of Egypt. From this perspective the importance of the story is how we ensure our spiritual freedom. Shmuel however, believes that we were victims of our circumstances and therefore the essence of the story is how we relate to totalitarian rule, persecution and survive.

It is important to note that the traditional Haggadah incorporates both perspectives. We commence the story with 'we were slaves in Egypt' and then afterwards there is a flashback to 'originally our forefathers were idol worshippers.'

Within our contemporary reality in which the overwhelming majority of the Jewish People are free to choose, Rav's perspective is pertinent. We are free to subject ourselves to materialism and hedonism and free to choose lives committed to spiritual values. Ultimately the future of the Jewish People will depend on our choosing a life of Jewish values and the seder night is an important vehicle for accomplishing this choice. There are many families who observe very few Jewish rituals however for them the seder is sacred. This is particularly true among some secular Israelis who will not walk into a synagogue on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur yet who each year gather around a seder table and read the Haggadah from start to finish fully comprehending its content. The seder night thus plays an important role in not only teaching us about our past but helps us as well to cement our future.

Wishing you, your near and dear ones meaningful seder nights.




The Four Children

In true Melton style, let’s turn to the original sources, the texts, to understand the Four Sons or the Four Children in our Passover Haggadah.  We will then reference modern sources to shed additional light.


TEXT 1: Tanach       a) Exodus 12:26-27

And when your children say to you, “What does this service [the seder] mean to you?” Then you shall say, “This is the Passover sacrifice to Adonai, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt…”


                                    b) Exodus 13:8

And you shall tell your child on that day, “because of what Adonai did for me when I went out of Egypt.”


                                    c) Exodus 13:14

And when your child asks you one day, “What is this?”  You shall say, “With a mighty hand Adonai brought us out of Egypt, out of the house of slaves.”


                                    d) Deuteronomy 6:20-21

When your child asks you one day, “What are the testimonies, the statues and the judgments which Adonai our God commanded you?”  Then you shall say to your child, “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and Adonai brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.”



From these four sets of verses, each commanding us to teach the next generation about our exodus from Egypt, we have to question why this had to be repeated.  It is commonly understood in the study of Torah that nothing is repetitive, but instead anything repeated is done so for a reason.  One way to understand these four different questions/repitions has become the metaphor of the Four Children: that each child asks the question in a different way and must, therefore, be answered in a different way.  Educators understand that, according to Proverbs 22:6 “Teach a child according to his way [his strengths, his abilities, his appropriate level] and he will never depart from it [the content of the lesson]. 


Text a above is thought to be the basis of the Wicked Son.  By wording the question “what is this to YOU” this child separates himself from the community and from the exodus experience.  It is because of this that he is thought to be “wicked.”


Text b above is understood to be the basis of the Child Who Does Not Know Enough to Ask  because in this instance, there was no question posed, but that does not relieve us of our obligation to teach that child.


Text c could be the source of the Simple Son and the answer suggested for this son is equally as simple and straight forward.


That leaves Text d from which we understand the Wise Child because this question probes at all of the details.  This child must already have a good foundation of knowledge and has the curiosity to go even further.


TEXT 2: Nachama Leibowitz   

(1905-1997) Recognized as one of the leading teachers of the Torah of the twentieth century, as well as a role model for Orthodox women.  Born in Germany, made aliyah to Israel in 1930 and appointed Professor at Tel Aviv University. 

In three cases, the child approaches the parent, but in Exodus 13:8, the child does not initiate the conversation.  The midrash, therefore, deduces that this is a child that does not know how to ask the question.  In the three remaining verses, where the child initiates the conversation, two ask a question, but one (in Exodus 12: 26) makes a statement.  This son, the midrash concludes, is the wicked son who is not questioning, but challenging.



1.      How can you discern between someone who simply isn’t interested and someone who just doesn’t know how to formulate a question?

2.      If a person is simply not interested in Judaism, should this person be “answered” anyway?

3.      Have you encountered a person in your life who has challenged you the way the Wicked Son challenges his parents?  How might you turn that person from a “challenger” into a “questioner?”  Should you even try?


TEXT 3: Noam Zion

Author of A Different Night: The Family Participation Haggadah as well as other books on modern home observance.  Zion is currently a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.

“The Wicked Child” – An Unfair Description

The “wicked” child expresses a sense of alienation from our Jewish heritage.  In this age of liberalism and democracy, of pluralistic tolerance for many cultural expressions, should a person who expresses such a feeling be condemned as “wicked” or “evil?”

Bridging the Generation Gap

The inter-generational dialogues in the Torah explicitly refer to parents who participated in the Exodus addressing their children who have grown up in freedom in the Land of Israel.  The parents have undergone an experience of slavery and redemption which is totally foreign to the reality of the younger generation.  The gap in the experience causes difficulties in the inter-generational dialogue.   



1.      Does a similar generational gap exist in your family?  Is there something that one generation experienced that another simply cannot fully understand?

2.      Is one generation of your family experiencing Judaism in a way that the others cannot understand?  How does this change their approach to Judaism in general or Passover more specifically?


TEXT 4: Rabbi Deborah Silver

Currently the Associate Rabbi of Adat Ari El in Los Angeles and Florence Melton Faculty.  Formerly practiced law and taught at BPP Law School in England.  The following is excerpted from an article entitled “Who Knows Four?  The Deeper Meaning of Pesach” which appeared in Walking with the Jewish Calendar, a publication of The Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies.

In an article entitled The Four-fold Structure of the Passover Haggadah[1] Dr. Jeremy Schonfield explores the thread of ‘four’ as it runs through the first half of the Pesah Seder.  What looks on the surface like a somewhat incoherent, repetitive text is actually, he argues, a series of four different Haggadot which we read in sequence.  The Pesah story is told four times, each from a different aspect and each aimed at a different audiences.  He identifies the audiences, moreover - each version is aimed at one of the four children whose story precedes them.


The Haggadah of the ‘wise child,’ he argues, is the one attributed to the teacher Shmuel.  It begins, Avadim hayyinu le’faroh bemitzrayim [We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt], which is the answer given in the Tanakh to the wise son’s question there.  The Haggadah of the ‘wicked child’ is the one attributed to the teacher Rav, beginning, Mithila ovdei avodah zarah hayu avoteinu, [From the beginning, our fathers were slaves] picking up the child’s own language in her/his question, ma ha’avodah hazot lakhem? [what is this service to you?] The Haggadah of the ‘simple child’ is the one which follows, beginning Tzei u’lemad - ‘go out and learn’.  And the final Haggadah, appropriately enough for a child who does not know how to question, is that of Rabban Gamliel - a ‘show and tell’ of the shankbone, the matzah and the bitter herbs.  Thus, before the meal reaches the table, four types of children have had the story told in the way they personally need to hear it.


[1] Dr Jeremy Schonfield, The Four-fold Structure of the Passover Haggadah, published under the title, One Haggadah, or Four? in Robert Hayward and Brad Embry (eds) Studies in Jewish Prayer. Journal of Semitic Studies Supplement 17 (2005) 185-205.


TEXT 5: Rabbi Richard N. Levy

Reform Rabbi living in Los Angeles.  Former Director of UCLA Hillel and former Dean of HUC’s Rabbinic School in Los Angeles.  The following is excerpted from the haggadah he edited and translated entitled On the Wings of Freedom: The Hillel Haggadah for the Nights of Passover.


Perhaps (some Chasidic rabbis suggest) we should turn the order of the Four Children upside down and see the silence of the One Who Does Not Know How to Ask as the most profound response, emerging out of the awesomeness of the Exodus and even of life itself.

If this is so, then (perhaps) the knowledge of the Wise One represents the lowest step on the ladder of learning, which moves from the mastery of facts (Wise One) to the higher rung of the Wicked One to the still higher rung of the Simple One to the “One Whose Understanding Transcends Speech.”  The haggadah tells us that this is the One to whom we must open up; it is through the Silent One, the one who has moved beyond the questions, through whom we may understand what Adonai really did for each of us when we went out of Egypt.


Final Food for Thought:

Why do the Wise Child and the Simple Child receive the same answer to their very different questions?






Purim Message 

Dr. Jonathan Mirvis

International Director of the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School



Last Shabbat, the Shabbat before Purim, was Shabbat Zechor.  On Shabbat we read the imperative to remember what "Amalek did to you when you went out of Egypt".  This section is read annually on the Shabbat before Purim.  In the wilderness Amalek attacked the Jewish People without their having any political or financial motives.  They were not interested in conquering Jewish land or dispossessing them of their wealth.  Their motivation was one of hatred, the central motivation behind all anti-Semitism.  This section is read before Purim because of the tradition that Haman was a descendant of Amalek (he is described as an Agogyte and Agag was the King of Amalek) and his motivation to decimate the Jews in Persia was a continuation of Amalek's dream to destroy the Jews in the wilderness. 

This imperative to remember, marks the beginning of the "season" in which Jewish memory is the focal aspect of the Jewish experience.  We encounter it again at Pesach when we are commanded to remember that we were slaves in Egypt. 

The common denominator between these two imperatives to remember is that this memory relates to something that happened to us as a Jewish People.  In both verses referring to the imperative to remember we are not told to remember something that happened to them; rather the imperative assumes that we were the victims even though these events took place thousands of years ago.  Thus there are two central themes, the first is memory as has been mentioned and the second is peoplehood, which is based on mutual identification which stands generations.    

These two concepts are personal.  Memory is not an objective recollection of historical data, but is rather a recollection of significant events which are contextualized for everybody in their own personal manner.  Similarly, feelings of identification and peoplehood are personal feelings which are aroused on certain occasions and situations which have a different significance for each and every one of us. 

Jewish memory and peoplehood identification is the glue of the Jewish People.  It is these two characteristics which have given us the strength to survive for thousands of years through the Exile, Spanish Inquisition, pogroms in Eastern Europe and more recently the Holocaust. 

This season of memory and peoplehood has received two added dimensions in the modern era.  The commemoration of the Holocaust, in which Zechor is a central theme, and the celebration of Israel's Independence, which marks the climax of thousands of years of memory and yearning for our Return to Zion. 

It is a small wonder that these two characteristics are the key goals of the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School.  Through our success we continue to enrich Jewish memory and strengthen peoplehood. 

Purim sameach,




International Alumni Association Kallah

April 20-22 in Chicgo


It is with great excitement that we announce that registration is now open for the International Alumni Association Kallah scheduled for April 20-22, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois.  The theme for the weekend of study will be Jews Within, Jews Without: Examining Jewish Identity, led by our own beloved and talented Haim Aronovitz, Director of Israel Seminars. Our featured presenter is Dr. Hal Lewis, president and CEO of Spertus/A Center for Jewish Learning & Culture, and both Dr. Yonatan Mirvis, International Director, and Judy Mars Kupchan, North American Director, will join us as faculty as well. The theme will inspire our study and exploration of the cultural and religious borders which have kept us a people apart, but may well endanger our future. 


The program for the weekend will include:

  • Study sessions: What’s the Place of Time? What’s the Place of Place?

        Who draws the boundaries?

  • Yummy Shabbat meals and more: What makes a meal “Jewish?”  The food?  The company?      

        The conversation?

  • Panel Discussions:  Is Israel making Jewish identity any easier?
  • Group discussions:  Does the past dictate the future?
  • An Evening of Film and Wine tasting at the home of Sherrie and Albert Weiss.


To register for the Kallah, please go to www.events.org/fmams2012Kallah. Both IAA members and non-IAA members are invited! Early Bird registration prices apply to all registrations received on or before Wednesday, December 28!  We look forward to sharing this very special weekend of learning with you.  For more information, please contact Jody Hyman at jhyman@fmams.org.il



Melton Opens in Hong Kong

a message from Dr. Jonathan Mirvis, International Melton Director 

This evening is a historic occasion for the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School – we have opened Melton in Hong Kong, our first school in Asia..

Hong Kong is a small yet vibrant Jewish community. With Hong Kong being the gateway to China, Jews in Hong Kong are engaged in major commercial enterprises both in Hong Kong and in the Far East.

This evening, 35 students who registered and paid for the first Melton, commenced their studies. According to Tara Dressler, our local director, the phenomenon of Jews in Hong Kong, both registering ahead of time and outlaying a large sum for Jewish education, is almost unheard of. The more Tara refused to negotiate the price or give reductions for anticipated absenteeism; the more the interest in Melton grew stronger.

The student body comprises a wide range from ages 25 to 70, young singles, parents and grandparents. One of the earliest registrations, came from a family of 6, where a father, his wife, their 2 adult children and future daughter in law, all booked seats around the table.

A gratifying aspect of this tremendous interest in Melton is the role that your success has played in attracting this interest. According to Tara, many students were attracted because of their advance knowledge of Melton and our success around the world. Students are keenly aware of the high quality of Melton and it is with great excitement that they met this evening in the King David Room of the Hong Kong JCC, at 7:45 p.m., Hong Kong time for the opening.




Israel Update

17 October 2011


Gilad Shalit to Be Released: Part II



Dr Jonathan Mirvis

International Director of the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem



In Israel, with Gilad Shalit's pending release tomorrow, the media is in frenzy.  All three national TV channels have established headquarters at Mitzpe Hila, the Shalit family's home, and in addition to the TV stations the national radio stations are broadcasting non-stop programs dealing with his release.  This story has three dramas with the media dealing intensely with multiple aspects of these three dramas. 


The Human Drama

Gilad's release is a very dramatic event.  This is the first time that an Israeli soldier will be released after spending five years in captivity.   The interest in his wellbeing has become a primary focus.  How has he managed to survive five years of solitary confinement in the Hamas cells?  What is his mental and physical state? 

A second aspect of the human drama is the role played by his parents, Noam and Aviva Shalit.  They were responsible for ensuring that Gilad would not be forgotten by the Israeli public and that his release would be high on the Government's agenda.  The Shalits are very private people and initially resisted a public campaign for the release of their son.  When they realized that there was a danger that the lot of Gilad would be similar to that of Ron Arad who fell into captivity exactly 25 years ago, they mounted a major campaign ensuring that Gilad's captivity would not only be their concern but that of every parent in Israel.  For over a year they camped on the street outside the Prime Minister's home, spoke to hundreds of thousands of people, pleaded their case before Ministers in Israel, and Prime Ministers and Presidents of other countries. As a result of this campaign recent polls show that 80% of Israelis support Gilad's release. 

A third aspect of this drama is the response of the families of the victims of terror.  According to Israeli law terrorists need to be granted amnesty by the President in order to be released.  Prior to his granting of amnesty, the Israeli public has the option to lodge an appeal to the Israeli High Court against the decision.  The names of those to be released were circulated yesterday and today a few of the families of the victims will be pleading their case against the release of those who murdered their loved ones.  At these hearings Noam Shalit will plead his case as well and the judges in the High Court will be asked to make the impossible decision.  The mother of Sharon Edri, shot by terrorists who gave him a ride up from the Tzrifin army base in the center of Israel, cannot sleep at night.  The murderers came from the village of Tzurif which is about a few miles from her home.  There are workers from Tzurif in her area and she is petrified that very soon she will meet the murderers of her son face to face outside her home.


The Jewish Drama

Gilad's release is a major Jewish drama taking place during Sukkot, a festival of rejoicing.  This Sukkot will be remembered as the festival of extreme rejoicing.  Sukkot in Israel is a week of vacation during which families come together in a festive spirit.  On this Sukkot there is a sense that the Jewish family is coming together in the most extraordinary manner to celebrate Gilad's release. 

The code name given to the operation is 'Beit HaSho'eva'.  This code word was chosen as it was the water drawing ceremony which was a highlight of the celebration of Sukkot during the time of the Temple.  According to Talmudic sources he who did not witness the rejoicing at the 'Beit HaSho'eva' celebration, never experienced real joy.  Tomorrow we will experience real joy and thus the applicability of the code name. 

A second aspect of the Jewish Drama is the feeling of 'arevut' - mutual responsibility.  'Arevut' has both a religious and a national dimension.   The feeling of responsibility is an innate Jewish trait, part of the Jewish DNA.  It is this DNA which is the building block of Jewish Peoplehood.  The religious dimension is its translation into 'pidyon shvuyim', i.e. the release of captives which has always been an important value in Jewish tradition.


The Political Drama

Negotiations between the Israeli government and Hamas in securing Gilad's release have created a high level of political drama.  Netanyahu promised never to negotiate with Hamas and Hamas promised never to negotiate with Netanyahu.  Both sides maintained maximal positions, Netanyahu demanded a unilateral release of Gilad and Hamas demanded the release of all its prisoners in Israeli jails. In forging this agreement both sides crossed lines that initially were thought to be unacceptable.  Hamas agreed that 25 senior terrorists would remain in Israeli jails and Netanyahu agreed to release terrorists who were spending multiple life sentences for the murder of thousands of Israelis. 

The drama of this negotiation is not only the known but also the unknown.  Are there understandings which go beyond the release of Gilad affecting the balance of power in the Middle East? This release has been a major blow to Abbas and the PLO, especially with the decision to keep Marwan Barghouti, the number two PLO leader, behind bars.  Initially, as was reported in the previous update, it was expected that he would be released as this was promised to him by Hamas all through the negotiations.  However, Hamas made a strategic decision to keep Barghouti imprisoned, a humiliation for both him and Abbas.  In the Middle East there is a growing sense that the Islamic radicals may be partners to a future settlement.  The Egyptian government has commenced negotiations with the Muslim Brotherhood regarding its future; are Israel's negotiations with the Hamas part of this trend? 


All three dramas present major questions.   In the previous update many responded personally.  We invite you to respond to the blog which will appear on: 





Israel Update

11 October 2011


Breaking News: Gilad Shalit to Be Released

Dr Jonathan Mirvis

International Director of the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem



Two hours ago we received the exciting news that Gilad Shalit, after spending over five years in captivity in Gaza, is to be released.  In this release Israel is demonstrating once again the high price she is prepared to pay for 'pidyon shvuim' - for the release of captives.  One Jewish soldier will be exchanged for 1000 terrorists and prisoners.  In his opening address to the Cabinet this evening, Prime Minister Netanyahu quoted the traditional saying that 'kol Yisrael arevim ze le'ze' - that all Jews are personally responsible for each other. 


 In this update we will outline the details of the agreement and thereafter give the background to the motivation for this agreement.  It is important to note that this update is based on snippets of information that have been leaked and that the full story will only be complete in a few days. 


According to reports released thus far the agreement was reached on Thursday between Hamas and the Israeli Government.  This agreement was initialed by both sides this morning and thereafter Prime Minister Netanyahu invited Noam Shalit, Gilad's father, to his home to give him the news of Gilad's pending release.  The Prime Minister spoke as well to Aviva and Gilad's grandfather, Tzvi, by phone.  The Shalit family has been camping outside the Prime Minister's residence for over a year and thus Noam Shalit did not have far to go to receive this news.


According to first reports a total of 1000 terrorists and prisoners will be released.  They will be released in two stages.  At the first stage, 450 terrorists and prisoners will be released, after which Gilad will be transferred to Cairo where he will meet with his parents.  Thereafter the second batch of 550 terrorists will be released and Gilad will fly home to Israel via Germany.  Since this deal was negotiated by a German mediator with the strong support of the German Government, it is on German soil that Gilad will be officially released. 


The terrorists and prisoners will be released as follows:  One group will be released to the territories, a second group will be released to the Gaza Strip and a third group will be released to an unnamed country and this group will not be allowed access either to Gaza or the territories. 


In agreeing to this deal Israel has created a precedent for releasing its captives which goes far beyond that which was negotiated with the Hizbollah in previous prisoner exchanges.  For the first time an exchange will include terrorists who are serving multiple life sentences for the murder of thousands of Israelis.  Until now Israel has refused to release terrorists with 'blood on their hands' and this exchange reflects a major change in policy.  A second precedent is Israel's agreement to release terrorists who come from East Jerusalem and other parts of sovereign Israel.  Until now Israel has maintained that since Israeli law governs these areas, those who have committed crimes are defined as murderers and not terrorists and cannot be included in such agreements.


Many commentators are trying to understand Israel's change of policy.  Following is an attempt to answer this question. 


During this past year there have been dramatic changes in the balance of power in the Middle East. 


1.       The Egyptian Government was overthrown and a weakened interim government is now in power south of Israel's borders.  This Government is under severe pressure to adopt an anti-Israeli policy and there are calls in Egypt to renounce its Peace Treaty with Israel.   Until now Egypt has played a major role in mediating between Israel and Hamas and its ability to do so in the future is seriously in question.  Israel therefore felt that it is crucial now to take advantage of Egypt's mediation as in the future Egypt may not be in a position to mediate at all.

2.       PLO President Abbas' position has been highly strengthened by his attempt to declare a Palestinian State at the United Nations. For the past five years Abbas has opposed the release of Shalit in the fear that it would strengthen Hamas.  However, now that Abbas seems to have taken a stance which has infuriated the Israeli Government, Israel feels at liberty to negotiate with Hamas and indirectly enhance Hamas' standing in the Palestinian street and thereby increase the rivalry between Hamas and the PLO.

3.       A key figure who is included on the release list is Mustafa Barghouti.  Barghouti belongs to Abbas' PLO and was sentenced to five life sentences as a result of the murders he planned in the second Intifada.  Barghouti speaks a perfect Hebrew, is highly charismatic and within the PLO presents the greatest political challenge to Abbas.  This may yet be another Israeli attempt to unseat Abbas and open a new relationship with a potential Palestinian Government headed by Barghouti.

4.       Israel feels that the Palestinian public in the territories has relinquished its armed struggle, and therefore the potential threat of potential terrorism will be counterbalanced by the strong feeling in the Palestinian street that the armed struggle is something of the past.

5.       Netanyahu realizes that while this release will be condemned by many of the victims of terror it will have the widespread support of the Israeli population. He has been under major pressure from the "Release Shalit" movement, soldiers in uniform and hundreds of thousands of Shalit sympathizers.  In taking this step he is taking it with the support of the Israeli public. 


In this exchange it must be realized that Israel is taking a major gamble.  Those who are released may create winds of change in the territories leading to a third Intifada.  It has been claimed that it was the terrorists who were released in the 80's who were behind the first Intifada.  Furthermore, this release could well be an incentive to kidnap soldiers in the future with the full knowledge that this is the best proven method for securing the release of terrorists.  Hopefully this will not be the case.