JLI Launches Advanced Women’s Study Division

Posted Thursday, Dec 3rd, 2009

JLI Launches Advanced Women’s Study Division

by Dvora Lakein - Malmo, Sweden

(lubavitch.com) The Rohr Jewish Learning Institute, pioneer of adult Jewish education, is breaking new ground with its latest division–a women’s only study program that debuts this month in 40 cities around the world.

The Rosh Chodesh Society (named for the mini-holiday of the first day of the Jewish calendar month traditionally celebrated by Jewish women) will feature monthly classes, each focusing on a particular mitzvah inherent to the Jewish woman.

“For many years, JLI has been interested in engaging women with more advanced study options,” explains director Mrs. Chana Lightstone. While more than 50 percent of JLI's students are female, Lightstone says that the impetus for the women’s division “which focuses on the uniqueness of Jewish womanhood,” was inspired by Mrs. Rivkah Holtzberg, killed last year in the Mumbai terror attacks. 

Classes for the 2009-2010 year developed under the rubric, “Rivkah’s Tent,” will include an artistic exploration of the mitzvah of Shabbat candles and a discussion of the spiritual side of kashrut. The central JLI office distributes syllabi, multimedia presentations, and marketing materials to affiliates. Individual communities tweak the curriculum as they see fit.

Mrs. Reizel Kesselman of Malmo, Sweden, welcomes this new initiative. Like many JLI teachers, Kesselman has neither the time nor the resources to prepare extensive lectures and activities. Her students, she says, appreciate the idea that Torah study courses will be presented in a streamlined manner.  Some 20 women —aged 19 to 60--have pre-registered.

Kesselman believes strongly that men and women should study independently; most of the classes she and her husband present are for either men or women. “Not only don’t they mind having classes separately, they like it, understand it, and want it. Sweden is a country which puts a strong emphasis on equality between men and women. Nonetheless, or perhaps because of this, ladies appreciate getting together on their own,” she explains.

In recent years, the United States government and several private research firms have initiated extensive reviews on the benefits of single-sex education. The findings, which are based on scientific analyses of the human brain and case studies from thousands of classrooms, point to significant advantages of gender-specific classrooms.  

But do these gains extend to an adult, female audience?

Yes, asserts Mrs. Esther Kosofsky, a member of the Society’s steering committee from Longmeadow, Massachusetts. Kosofsky, who has taught both co-ed and single-sex classes and recently opened a high school for girls, believes that when women are alone in a classroom more questions are asked and more emotions are free to come out. “They respond more frequently and better in an all-women setting and more personal connections are made,” she says.

Kosofsky has been in Longmeadow for 25 years. For her, this program could not have come at a better time. The women of her community “are getting older and reaching inside, looking to learn more. They are thirsty for knowledge for themselves.” While a regular monthly learning program attracts up to 15 women, the first Society lecture drew 35 participants. And though Kosofsky has been teaching women for a quarter of a century, she says this program allows for “much deeper text learning” as well as a chance for “women to be part of something global.”  

Participating communities are part of a pilot program in which individual instructors provide feedback before and after each course. (All JLI courses begin in this manner.) Organizers intend to open the Society to new members each year. In the interim, three unique lessons will be made available to instructors interested in offering these to their communities. The syllabi will be distributed at the annual conference of women emissaries early February.

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