I just finished teaching my Adult Education class for the year. It was truly fun, truly exhausting. We had eight sessions covering pre-history from the time of Abraham and going through the modern Jewish-American experience. I wrote about 120 pages of notes. We covered about 4000 years.
We started off with definitions of what it has meant to be a Jew and what it means today. There was a lot of Bible discussion, a lot of contemporary archaeolgical works cited. My goal was for a re-examination of Jewish identity.
I had a lot of "second generation" students as I liked to call them. I mean that I had taught their kids in Sunday School and now the parents were attending my class. We Jews thrive on abuse.
I got a lot of older folks attending. The median age for today's class, for example, was probably around 50. I made a new friend, a true gentleman who survived three concentration camps. Next year, I hope to have him back as a speaker.
The class attracted more non-Jews than I expected. One of my proudest moments came after my class on Judaism and Christianity. An older gentleman came up to me and began by saying "I am a Lutheran minister..." I have to tell you that I froze for a moment. I had just quoted from Martin Luther's pamphlet "On The Jews and Their Lies" one of the most terrible anti-Semitic works ever written and I wasn't sure where this conversation was going. He went on to say "and I am going to recommend that everyone take your class" and I started to breath again.
I quoted from Old Testament (Torah), Talmud, New Testament and the Qu'ran. I like original sources. I read Sermon on the Mount in a Secular Jewish class...perhaps the first time that ever happened.
I covered as much as I could. Today's class on the American Jewish experience began with the arrival of the first Jews in America in 1654, covered the first synagogues, Haym Solomon and the American Revolution, Washington's visit to the Touro Synagogue, Judah Benjamin and Joseph Seligman during the Civil War, the Lower East Side, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, Schiff and the Russian Revolution, Henry Ford and Father Coughlin and the rise of American Anti-Semitism, the role of Jews during the First World War, the US and the Jews during the Second World War, the Freedom Riders, the House Un-American Activities Committee, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, the Jewish comedians including Lenny Bruce and the Jewish influence on Punk Rock. The old folks were shocked to learn that Lou Reed and Joey Ramone were Jewish.
Now that its over....I can't wait for next year.
PS: The link posted has most of my lecture notes (except this last one) available in PDF form.