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Melton/Midreshet Spring 2020

Classes begin on Wednesday Feb 12 and Thursday Feb 13, 2020

This semester, we offer four courses from the prestigious Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning.  Melton courses are the standard for high-quality, text-based, interactive Jewish study. Courses are designed by Jewish scholars and taught by certified Rockland-based instructors. Melton courses are conducted in ten 1½-hour sessions.


We offer two Midreshet courses as well. The curriculum is created and taught by our well-known and highly-respected Midreshet faculty.  The courses are conducted in 12 1¼-hour sessions.


9:30 - 11:00

Melton 1:
Jewish Medical Ethics: A 21st Century Discussion

Using the new (2019) Melton Scholars curriculum, we will explore Jewish approaches to a number of 21st century ethical issues, including human cloning, surrogate motherhood, genetic identity, assisted suicide and genetic manipulation. Come prepared to grapple with difficult ethical issues.

Instructor: Leslie Goldress


11:15 – 12:45

Melton 2:
The Star and the Crescent: The Long Relationship of Judaism and Islam

Jews and Muslims have co-existed, at times peacefully and at other times contentiously, for more than a millennium. What do they have in common? What are the sources of tension and conflict between Judaism and Islam?

Although there were moments of strife, during the first thousand years after the founding of Islam it was better to be Jewish in a Muslim country than in a Christian country.  Only after that period did the relationship between Jews and Muslims deteriorate, particularly in the Middle East. Outside the Middle East, though, Jews and Muslims continue to find ways to coexist peacefully and often productively.

This course will examine the longstanding relationship between Judaism and Islam, between Jews and Muslims, broadening our understanding and challenging our assumptions

Instructor: Sharon Halper


11:15 – 12:30

Midreshet 1:
Ba’al Shem Tov Stories A Gateway to Jewish Wisdom. 

We will explore the array of inspirational stories about life and lore in the Hasidic shtetels of eastern Europe. Some stories are true and others legend. But both types represent the spiritual and social ferment that revolutionized a struggling Jewry in the 18th and 19th centuries. We will encounter the deep wisdom of Jewish tradition that shaped the successful transition from shtetel to present-day America. The course is in English; 50% reading and 50% discussion. 

Instructor: Rabbi Reuben Modek


9:30 – 11:00

Melton 3:
Jewish Mysticism: Tracing the History of Kabbalah

Getting beyond Madonna, red strings, and hocus pocus: this study provides a deep, accurate, and intellectually honest understanding of the historical backdrop that led to the birth of an esoteric Jewish tradition. We will study it alongside the societal and cultural changes that shaped and reshaped that tradition throughout the centuries, until this very day.

Jewish Mysticism: Tracing the History of Kabbalah offers students the framework to understand the development of Jewish mysticism while utilizing the primary texts that have been central to that tradition. While grounded in scholarship, each class will include discussions that address the timeless mysteries of human existence and many of life's eternal, universal questions.

Instructor: Rabbi Brian Leiken


11:15 – 12:45

Melton 4:
Social Justice: The Heart of Judaism in Theory and Practice

Whether you have been engaged in social justice work for years, or you are inspired to learn more about Judaism's history and wisdom, join Rabbi Ariel Russo for an exploration of social justice through a Jewish lens.

Judaism is a religion of action. Social justice work goes beyond addressing short-term needs and takes a close look at the underlying causes of injustice, with an eye toward bringing about change.

This ten-lesson course explores historical and contemporary examples of Jewish commitment to social justice through the lens of Jewish wisdom manifest in our texts, seeking to inspire participants to take a stand and make a difference.

Topics of study include poverty, immigration and environmental degradation.

Instructor: Rabbi Ariel Russo


11:15 – 12:30

Midreshet 2:
A Jewish Spiritual Journey:  The Search for Oneness

Many Jewish spiritual seekers have turned to sources outside of Judaism because their own religion seemed lacking.  Our traditions, clothed in ancient metaphors, often fail speak to Jews in modernity, and spiritual pathways from the past seem either too esoteric, or too outdated.   Yet the secular world’s dependence on reason and science leave many of us unfulfilled in matters of the spirit.

Using the book “Seek My Face, Speak My Name: A Contemporary Jewish Theology” by Rabbi Arthur Green, and other readings, we will explore our own spiritual longings within the context of Judaism, reinterpreted through a modern lens.

This will not be a lecture class – although we will look at some spiritual learnings of the past (drawing from kabbalah and other sources).  Rather we will struggle together as a community to find a language within Judaism that helps us on our own spiritual journeys.

Instructor: Rabbi Jill Hackell

Leslie Goldress has taught Melton and Midreshet since their inception in Rockland. A Jewish educator for over 40 years, she has a graduate degree from the Jewish Theological Seminary. Leslie served as Educational Director of the NCJC for over 20 years. She has taught Dramas of Jewish Living, a Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning core class, Melton graduate courses on American Jewish Experience, Contemporary Jewish Issues, Israel, and the Development of the Jewish Denominations.


Dr. Rabbi Jill Hackell received her M.D. degree from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and practiced pediatrics for several years. She worked for over 20 years in the pharmaceutical industry, where she did clinical research on new vaccines for children. She was ordained at the Academy for Jewish Religion, a pluralistic rabbinical school.  Rabbi Hackell is the rabbi at the West Clarkstown Jewish Center and has been on the faculty of AJR.

Sharon Halper has been in the field of Jewish education for three decades, first in the field of informal youth education and as a Reform congregational educator and then as a Melton Adult Mini-School Teacher and Director. Sharon has also served as regional educator for the Union for Reform Judaism.


Rabbi Brian Leiken has been the Senior Rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom since June of 2012.  He is passionate about social justice, Jewish history, and the study of modern American Judaism.  As the religious leader of Temple Beth Sholom, Rabbi Leiken has transitioned the temple into a relational synagogue, one that is built upon the inter andintra-relationships between the clergy and its members. He attended the Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion where he was ordained in May of 2007.  Rabbi Leiken is an instructor for the Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning.  

Rabbi  Reuben Modek serves as spiritual director of Hebrew Learning Circles, and Makom HaLev Community in Nyack, NY. Ordained by both the Aleph Semicha Program and The Academy for Jewish Religion, he has served as the Rabbi and Educational Director for a number of Renewal and Conservative communities since 1990. A native Israeli, Rabbi Modek has led programs on Jewish Spirituality and Torah in Israel, Germany, England and the US. He is the author of the innovative Legacy Passage Bar/t Mitzvah Program, celebrating a child’s whole self, and served as educator in the Solomon Schachter Day School system. Rabbi Modek has studied closely with the Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi. He continues Rabbi Schachter’s legacy of an open-minded Judaism for the 21st Century

Rabbi Ariel Russo is the spiritual leader of CSI Nyack, which she has served since her ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in 2014. Rabbi Russo's rabbinate in Nyack has most recently focused on emerging leadership development, young family engagement, and interfaith initiatives. In addition to ordination, Rabbi Russo holds a masters of Jewish education and a Certificate in Pastoral Care and Counseling from JTS. Returning to teaching Melton is very exciting and Rabbi Russo is particularly looking forward to exploring social justice issues together. 


Registration questions: call Emma Lebowitz (845)362-4200 ext 180 or email

General questions: call Cantor Barry Kanarek (845)362-4200 ext 170 or email