This Week in History


Birth of Florence Melton, Innovator in Jewish Education

November 6, 1911
Florence Melton - still image [media]
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Florence Melton.
Courtesy of Florence Melton Adult Mini-School.

At 75, Florence Melton could have been expected to rest on her already considerable laurels.  In 1946, she founded the R. G. Barry Corporation with her husband Aaron Zacks.  One of her 19 patented inventions was for the use of foam in footwear, and washable Dearfoam slippers were the most popular brand of comfort footwear in the world.

But Melton had other plans: a method to encourage and enlighten adult Jewish learners.  Gathering friends and educators, she formed the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School, a two-year, four course curriculum for Jewish learning.  Now called the Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning, the program began with three pilot programs in North America.  There are now 47 Melton Schools in 47 cities throughout the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Hong Kong, attended weekly by some 5,500 students.  Their sophisticated curriculum is maintained by Hebrew University's Melton Centre for Jewish Education, the world's largest academic center for Jewish education.

With the adult schools established, Melton went on to found the Florence Melton Communi-teen High School, which encourages high-school students to explore their Jewish identity in a nondenominational, pluralistic and discussion-based environment.  Now collaborating with Brandeis University, the program works in four US cities.

Florence Melton‘s talent for expanding her vision into the world was exemplified by a simple act she shared with her family.  She would give each of her grandchildren and great grandchildren $15 a year for their birthdays. Along with the gift came the message "spend some, save some, and share some."

See also: “Florence Melton,” We Remember

Sources: “Florence Melton,” Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning; “High School Program Strives to Keep Teens Connected,” Jewish Daily Forward

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