Lifelong learning gets a boost…

Rabbi Glenn Karonsky loves it when the night air once again turns chilly in late summer. That change in the weather means another school year is just around the corner.

That's what Karonsky loves most of all.

As executive director of the Center for Jewish Living and Learning, Karonsky oversees childhood and adult education programming for the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay.

He knows that education is anything but a static enterprise. Karonsky and his staff constantly retool CJLL programs even as they design new ones.

"Summer is an extremely busy time for us," says veteran educator, now in his 11th year as the center's director. "We serve as the central address for one of the nation's largest programs of supplementary education for high school students."

He's referring to the federation's acclaimed Midrasha program. Geared towards students from eighth to 12th grades, Midrasha helps kids from across the Jewish spectrum live a fuller Jewish life through after-hours classroom education and various retreats.

"This year, we put together a new core curriculum for all Midrasha schools," notes Karonsky, "and several components are being redesigned for next year."

For example, given the ongoing turmoil in Israel, Karonsky and his team felt particular urgency regarding Midrasha's 10th-grade curriculum. "Students spend that school year talking about Israel," he says, "so we needed to completely redraft the curriculum in light of what's happening."

In addition, CJLL is putting the finishing touches on a new prayerbook designed for teens. Set for publication this fall, the siddur not only includes traditional prayers, but many contemporary and youth-driven interpretations that speak directly to teens.

Says Karonsky: "Given that our programs cater to all streams of Jewish life, we include the appropriate prayer services, as well as make assurances that Shabbat and kashrut will be observed. This multipurpose siddur will be used at all our various events."

This year, the center will turn its attention to Jewish students with special needs. One new program (a first for CJLL and the East Bay community at large) brings together the center with its 18 affiliated religious and day schools, to help those institutions develop grant proposals for special education, i.e., students with physical, emotional or learning disabilities.

"We'll be giving $10,000 to the schools," says Karonsky. "The money could be used to train teachers in mainstreaming special-needs kids, or it could be used to supplement tutoring."

Kids aren't the only ones to benefit from beefed-up CJLL programming. Adults will also have new opportunities to learn.

The new Federation Academy offers expanded adult education courses in concert with Contra Costa County synagogues and the Contra Costa Jewish Community Center. The series of monthly community lectures kicks off in January 2004 and will present a cross-section of nationally known Jewish scholars.

For those seeking a more intimate learning environment, CJLL has cooked up Federation Havurah, a home-study program in which adults enjoy an up-close-and-personal encounter with a visiting Jewish scholar.

The monthly events take place at the home of a participant. "The host prepares dinner," notes Karonsky. "Guests eat with the scholar, then join in informal conversation about issues of concern to the Jewish community."

Returning for its 37th year, the center's popular MID (Multi-Interest Day) Thursday morning series begins Sept. 4 with Zev Brinner of U.C. Berkeley's department of Middle East studies and ends March 18 with best-selling author Jonathan Kirsch. The series takes place at San Leandro's Temple Beth Sholom.

"MID offers a potpourri of Jewish topics over the course of the year," says Karonsky. "It address topics like Israel, Jewish arts and culture, politics and the Jewish community around the world."

While the foregoing programs are open to all, some have more specific targets. CJLL is planning a series of continuing education seminars for East Bay synagogue presidents, administrators, chairs and board members. Topics range from fund-raising to developing spirituality in the business affairs of the synagogue.

Finally, CJLL has gained national recognition for being one of only four such agencies to co-sponsor summer youth trips to Israel. In a time where tourism to Israel is down and fear is up, Karonsky believes nothing is more important that sustaining the ties between American Jewish youth and Israel.

For Karonsky, these are exciting days, but like the educator he is, any day he can help Jews learn more about their heritage and faith is a good day.

"There's tremendous dynamism in a place where the concerns of the future rest on Jewish youth," he says, "and Jewish youth seem to want more of what we have offer."

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.