After-school courses aim to deepen knowledge of Mideast, Israel

Rabbi Yonason Goldson

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

Block Yeshiva’s principal hopes that a special set of courses coming to his high school will help deepen the understanding of area students on a range of topics thanks to a new program set to premiere next year.

“It comes about mainly because over the years, parents have talked to me about this and so have leaders of Jewish schools,” said Rabbi Gabriel Munk. “They feel there is a need for kids who want to learn substantive information about Israel, the history of the Middle East — a topic which is on everybody’s mind and is in the news on a daily basis.”

That’s where the focus will be in COMET, an acronym for Comprehensive Overview of Middle East Topics. Each course, which will be transferrable for high school credits, will be slated to meet twice a week, either Mondays and Wednesdays or Tuesdays and Thursdays with various late afternoon time slots available. Courses, which cost $750 each, are designed to give an education on issues important to the region but without the substantial price tag that can come with sending a student to day school.

“It is really geared toward kids who are coming from secular schools,” Munk said.

Subject areas for COMET will include ancient and modern histories of the Middle East headed by lecturer Susan Leman as well as a section focused on the specifics of Jewish history taught by author and longtime Block Yeshiva teacher Rabbi Yonason Goldson.

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“Our philosophy has always been one of integrating traditional Jewish studies with a general understanding of the world — science, culture, literature, history,” said Goldson. “We really can’t understand who we are as Jews unless we understand how we fit into the world around us.”

A study of the Shoah and Zionism will be the topic material for a session led by William Tannenbaum, a consultant to many Holocaust museums nationwide.

Munk himself will teach a seminar on living in Israel while longtime educator Naomi Munk will teach Hebrew for both beginners and advanced students. Social worker Rabbi Amiel Rosenbloom will offer a course on the Babylonian Talmud.

Although the core of the program will revolve around Mideast issues, COMET is just part of a larger initiative known as Enrichment High School, which will include learning opportunities in more general subjects like automotive mechanics or anatomy. There is even a science class based on the Socratic Method and which highlights contemporary literature.

“It’s a course which really teaches students to analyze science essays and writings through literary means and through film and movies,” Munk said.

Goldson said that all the educational components go hand-in-hand.

“We believe that God created the world and that there is a plan for everything in the world,” he said. “We don’t have to choose between living life in the secular world or a belief in science.”

Munk said that he hopes that by offering the courses Block can help students who might otherwise not receive this kind of in-depth instruction.

“That was the major gist of what we’re trying to do, to accommodate those hundreds, maybe thousands of kids whose parents may be interested in some sort of enrichment in those respects,” he said. 

He said that the afternoon schedules will permit a variety of people to avail themselves of the classes regardless of what school they attend. He is also working to arrange a possible West County location.

“The idea is to have all these courses in alternate hours and alternate times so that anyone, whatever program he has, can take one of them at least, and satisfy whatever his needs are,” he said.

The principal noted that these are classes at an accredited institution available for transferrable credits and led by high-caliber lecturers.

“It’s not ‘Let’s talk Judaism’ or ‘Let’s Talk about the Middle East and Eat Pizza,’” he said. “This is a bona fide course taught by professionals who have taught at either the university or high school level. This is substantive stuff.”

An open house is set for Oct. 25 to introduce the community to the offerings. 

Munk believes the classes will probably operate on a pass/fail basis. 

He also feels this may only be the beginning as more courses are added over time.

“But my focus at this immediate time is really getting the Mideast – the COMET — off the ground,” he said.

Goldson praised the program as a worthwhile effort that could benefit many in the community.

“We’ve always been a Jewish school and our mission is to serve the Jewish community but the truth is this enrichment program could really be valuable to anyone who has an interest in broadening themselves and acquiring a broader vision of man’s place in the world,” he said.


For more information about the program or the open house event, call 314-872-8701, visit or email [email protected].