Sonia Mittleman's class schedule would make most high school students jealous. The school she attends does not give grades, has no penalty for tardiness and assigns no homework.
The Sherman Oaks resident is a student at Adat Ari El Sisterhood's Multi-Interest Day (M.I.D.), an adult education program for Jewish seniors. From October through May, participants attend weekly classes like current events, getting older finding God, Israeli folk dancing and yoga. While this particular program is in its 42nd year, synagogues around the community are encouraging similar classes, lectures and events for a minimal price to allow our community's matriarchs and patriarchs to continue to learn.
"Those who are in their 60s and older have the wisdom of life which they bring to their studies," said Rabbi Michelle Missahieh, who oversees the adult education program at Temple Israel of Hollywood. "Their life experience allows our traditional texts and modern expressions of Jewish learning to take on a special richness and depth." The shul offers two classes for the 60 and older crowd, including a monthly ethics discussion led by one of the other rabbis and a Jewish-themed movie with a potluck lunch.
Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Westwood, who is heavily involved in Sinai's adult education program, feels that one of the reasons many flourish in such classes is their level of commitment. "In my experience, seniors eagerly absorb the wisdom of the Jewish tradition and many of them are excited about it," Wolpe said. "Many of them now have the time they did not have earlier to study and learn in a serious way." The temple's Sisterhood sponsors a variety of classes for older members and nonmembers including novels, nutrition for life, the Rosh Chodesh club and behind the headlines. The synagogue itself also offers an array of classes that appeal to seniors like Hebrew, bar/bat mitzvah classes, a study of Israel, a Jewish perspective on Islam and a book club.
In addition to increasing their knowledge, classes also give seniors the opportunity to get involved in the Jewish community. Erika Neumann, chairman of the steering committee for Hazak, the senior program at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, feels that the group is responsible for many friendships. "[Hazak] provides a chance for Jewish seniors to meet other Jewish seniors to socialize," Neumann said. As far as classes go, she has noticed that students are most interested in the ones that provoke intellectual discussions.
One of the most popular discussion classes at Adat Ari El's M.I.D. is one called "Getting Older with Dr. Sylvia," taught by Sylvia Weishaus. The class focuses on issues relating to getting comfortable with aging. For the more artsy intellectual, M.I.D. offers a creative writing class. "I think that when this group gets together by sharing their writing, they see how universal their problems are," said teacher Leah Schweitzer. "And they've built up a sense of trust and community with each other so there's no judgment."
Besides providing a safe and beneficial environment for seniors, such programs often provide an example for the younger generations. "[These programs are] important both for the seniors themselves and as a model for the community," Wolpe said. "When younger people see that somebody with all this life wisdom is suddenly turning to Jewish education and growth, it reinforces its importance."
Above all, classes often help keep older students feeling younger than their years. "We feel like we're going back to college, but we don't have to take the exams!" Mittleman said with a laugh while hugging a friend on registration day.
For information on Adat Ari El Sisterhood's M.I.D. contact Estelle Salberg at (818) 780-1570. For Temple Israel of Hollywood's program, call Rabbi Missahieh at (323) 876-8330 x225. For Sinai Temple, contact Lisa Goldstein at (310) 481-3243. For Hazak at Valley Beth Shalom, call (818) 530-4096.