Spotlight on Ellie Ganz: CAJE Chair of Adult Learning

Posted on 07/21/2023 @ 06:00 AM

Tags: Adult Jewish Learning & Growth, CAJE Spotlight

Ellie, tell us about yourself and how you grew up.
I grew up in Charleston, West Virginia, in a conservative Jewish home. My mother lit Shabbat candles every Friday night, and Judaism played an important role in our lives. My formal Jewish education began the first day I attended Hebrew school in the early 1940s.
In those days, girls were not able to study for a Bat Mitzvah. Even though I could read Hebrew and was fascinated by the teachings of our tradition, I wasn’t able to participate fully like the boys and that bothered me.
But then, in the 10th grade, I was asked to teach Sunday school, since I was a star pupil. In preparation for a lesson, I went to my Rabbi, and I asked him the question, “What does Judaism teach about life after death?”
I was a curious 16-year-old and to this day, I remember what he said to me. He looked at me, and in a dismissive tone, he said “Go read Maimonides.” That was it; that was his answer. There was no discussion, and it left me with a very unsettling feeling.
This interaction with my rabbi turned me off from Judaism and Jewish education for a long time. Then many, many years later, my adult daughter invited me to attend one of her Melton Adult Learning classes. It was this invitation that would change my life and introduce me to a whole new world of Jewish learning and living.
Tell us more about your background and career.
I was a speech pathologist and worked mostly with older people, many of whom had suffered strokes. On my 50th birthday, I decided I was going to try something new and seek out a career change.
I went for career counseling, and they suggested that I work at a university or at a Center for Aging. And it just so happened that the FIU Center for Aging was opening. I applied for a job and there were no openings, but they were very glad to take me on as a 40 hour a week volunteer.
I worked there for 10 years focusing on creating adult education opportunities. This was a real passion project for me, and the work was fulfilling. I have always been passionate about volunteering and supporting organizations that are close to my heart.
I am an active volunteer and board member of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, CAJE and several other local organizations.
How did you get involved with CAJE Adult Learning?
I’ve been involved in Adult Jewish Learning for close to 20 years. I remember when I attended my first Adult Learning class, I was shocked! It was unbelievable! The room was full of adults interested in learning for the pure joy of Jewish learning. They were intelligent, they could talk freely without judgement and the teachers encouraged the learners to ask deep questions. If Hebrew school had been like this, I would have never gone astray.

"My Adult Learning journey has been nothing short of amazing.
Not only has the experience been an enriching one, but it is something I love to share with others. Years ago, I established a scholarship fund for Day School teachers, and most recently I gift courses to friends and family.
I encourage anyone who can give the gift of Jewish learning, to do so. One class can change a life!"

Why and how did you become the Chair of Adult Learning at CAJE?
I was honored to serve as Chair for The Department of Adult Learning and work with such a devoted and dedicated team.
I'm 89 years old and a few years ago I had promised my daughters that I would no longer accept chairmanship positions. But then, three years ago, Rabbi Laila Haas and Carla Spector asked me to partner with them and serve in the role of chair. So here I am, entering my third year with the same enthusiasm and excitement for the important work we do.
We have accomplished so much, and we have exciting ideas in the pipeline that I look forward to seeing come to fruition. I love my daughters, but I don’t always have to listen!
The Department of Adult Learning and my Melton & More courses have enhanced my life by a factor of 100! Since we transitioned to a fully virtual program, I have been taking as many as 5 courses a semester. It’s a joy to learn with so many amazing faculty members and my fellow learners have become like family to me!
Our Adult Learning family extends far beyond our local region to places around the country and even the world. I've learned so many things and the courses have changed my whole attitude about being Jewish.
Melton & More is a gift to the community, and we should all appreciate that gift. The work we do is so important in ensuring a vibrant Jewish future. As part of my legacy, I have made a personal commitment to support our community of Adult Learning with a meaningful gift that will sustain the department for years to come.

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