STROUDSBURG — Many believe it’s healthy to be familiar with one’s own faith.
Conveniently accessible adult education on Jewish law, ethics and practices has been virtually nonexistent in Monroe County.
The Poconos recently became one of 200 regions around the world that now host the Jewish Learning Insitute, described on its Web site as “adult Jewish education the way it was meant to be.”
The courses aren’t offered in the traditional manner that is, on a campus or in a building in any one specific location. Instead, they’re offered throughout the area via places of worship, community organizations and area colleges. Doing it this way avoids the time and expense of constructing a building or campus.
Rabbi Mendel Bendet’s Jewish outreach organization, Chabad Lubavitch of the Poconos, currently is offering the courses at the Hampton Inn in Stroudsburg.
“We’re in the process of looking for additional venues through which people can access these studies,” Bendet said.
Jewish children attend Hebrew school up until boys achieve their bar mitzvahs and girls their bat mitzvahs at age 13, marking the culmination of their childhood studies and the start of Jewish adulthood. After that, many don’t pursue adult studies for various individual reasons, Bendet said.
“As a result, there are many in the Jewish community walking around with only a childhood level of knowledge about their faith and heritage,” he said. “At the Jewish Learning Institute, you don’t have to be familiar with Judaism or even be Jewish to take the courses, although the institute does prefer to see a significant Jewish presence among students.”
The institute began in the 1990s as a pilot program organized by rabbis in 10 U.S. cities, Bendet said. Over time, it spread throughout the national and global Jewish communities, with institutes now in regions around the world and the headquarters and central board based in New York City.
“There are criteria a region has to meet in order to be considered by the central board as a location for an institute, such as whether there’s enough of an interest in adult Jewish studies in that particular area,” Bendet said. “The Poconos, being an ever-growing, ever-diversifying community, is an ideal location.”
The courses are arranged in three-semester groups with a different course for each semester.
For example, a fall semester course, “You Be The Judge,” covers the Jewish legal system based on religious teachings and how it differs from American civil law.
“Some Monroe County Bar Association members might be interested in this for their own personal knowledge,” Bendet said.
A winter course, “The Kabbalah Jewish mysticism of Character,” deals with restoring balance to the soul in order to make life more productive and meaningful. A spring course, “Flashbacks in Jewish History,” examines the Jewish diaspora’s challenges and achievements dating back to ancient civilizations.
“I’ve talked to people in the Jewish community here who are very excited to have something like this and very honored that our area has been chosen as a location for it,” he said.
Although Jewish children in their faith’s tradition are considered adults at age 13, the institute is for those 18 and older. Perhaps in the future, there can be a component of the program for those between 13 and 17, Bendet said.
Those seeking more information can contact Chabad at 570 420-8655 or visit www.myjli.com.