A year of Jewish learning

by | Jul 26, 2021 | What’s Happening


Originally published in the March 22, 2021 issue. 

Sierra Lautman

A year ago this month, the world entered the pandemic. Amazingly, Jewish organizations of all sizes, including United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, have seen increases in the numbers of engaged adult learners over the past year. In this time of uncertainty, Jewish adults have found that the opportunity to learn online can provide something they can count on. Zoom webinars can nourish the spirit or challenge the mind. Small group, ongoing, online courses, such as Melton, offer the chance to mingle and develop relationships when social isolation is the difficult reality for many. The study topics have bound learners together with something meaningful to discuss aside from challenging news stories.

Restarting the Melton School in Tidewater meant shifting the model to the virtual classroom, which has several advantages. Past Melton students, for example, who no longer live in the area, may learn with familiar faces. A daughter in Virginia Beach can take a course with her father who lives in Miami—meeting weekly on Zoom to learn, to laugh, and to grow together.

While many are ready to rejoin the world for in-person programs, the chance to learn from the comfort of home or office has been liberating in ways that were not anticipated. The commute from a couch to a dining table, or one screen to the next, is much shorter than any drive. Some participate while preparing dinner, enjoying their morning coffee, or while on a lunch break at work. With spouses seen vacuuming behind a muted learner and children climbing into laps to kiss parents goodnight and wave to the faces on the screen, this new reality provides a chance to glimpse into each other’s lives and feel like a part of a larger family.

The newfound intimacy is important for some, and the increased chance for anonymity is the best part for others. It’s possible to be on camera in class while waiting for dinner to come out of the oven, but then turn off the camera to eat in privacy. Those who are hesitant to speak up in class are able to put their questions into a chat box. The incredible flexibility of a virtual classroom suggests more ways to contribute, more ways to ask questions, and more ways to respectfully disagree with one another.

Many lessons have been learned over this past year—for instructors and organizations, in addition to learners. Of course, when the pandemic is over, in-person classes and lectures will be offered again. But, since the convenience of tuning in from offices, learning from homes, or listening while stuck in traffic is attractive to many, virtual and hybrid programs and classes are here to stay. Plus, a virtual setting allows national and international scholars to be “in residence.” The hard work of learning how to Zoom this year will certainly not go to waste.

This year might have felt like ‘a year-on-pause,’ but that is actually not the case. People have gained new understandings and have grown, spiritually, and intellectually. There is hope for a better tomorrow, as well as for plenty of opportunities to learn together.

For more information about the Melton School in Tidewater and other Jewish learning opportunities, go to JewishVA.org/KCL or contact Sierra Lautman, director of Jewish Innovation at United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, at 757-965-6107 or slautman@ujft.org.