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Three Exceptional Jewish Educators Receive 2009 Covenant Award and are Honored, Celebrated in Nation’s Capital
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Contact: Glenn Rosenkrantz, 646.245.8975, email@example.com
Cited by The Covenant Foundation for their Innovation, Inspiration and Transformative Impact on Jewish Education
The three 2009 Covenant Award recipients, who have made significant marks in their communities, and have designed and used innovative educational approaches, are: Dr. Erica Brown, Director of Adult Education at the Partnership for Jewish Life and Learning in Washington, DC; Rabbi Stuart Seltzer, Dean of Judaic Studies at the Shoshana S. Cardin School in Baltimore; and Nili Simhai, Director of the Teva Learning Center in New York.
The Award, considered by Jewish educators and community leaders to be among the most prominent citations on the Jewish landscape, goes to three educators every year after a rigorous selection process. Including the 2009 awardees, 57 Jewish educators have received a Covenant Award since its establishment in 1991, and this year’s honorees were selected from a list of more than 130 nominees.
“The Covenant Foundation, created in 1990 in a rare partnership between the Crown Family Foundation and JESNA (Jewish Education Service of North America), was founded on the idea that we could elevate and enrich the field of Jewish education by recognizing the best and nurturing the most promising educators in North America,” said Eli Evans, chairman of the board of the Foundation, in remarks to the more than 350 guests at the event. “Tonight, we honor and recognize three extraordinary educators who have devoted their professional lives and considerable talents to awakening joy in creative expression and knowledge, through Jewish education.”
Members of the Crown family, including Renee Crown, Barbara Goodman Manilow, and Steve Crown, presented the three educators with the Covenant Award.
In their acceptance speeches, each of the three Covenant Award recipients spoke of the passions that have shaped and propelled them, and the primacy of Jewish education in ensuring community engagement, continuity and vitality.
Brown, Director of Adult Education at the Partnership for Jewish Life and Learning in Washington, has made and continues to make a deep and continuing impact leading community-wide programs of adult Jewish learning and leadership development. Jewish educational and communal leaders have cited the expansiveness of her educational outreach, and her ability to engage and commit her students to action, both in their own Jewish lives, and in the greater community.
“(The Covenant Foundation) has elevated and celebrated the place of the educator in Jewish life,” Brown said as she accepted her Covenant Award from Renee Crown. “The teacher has always been historically revered in Jewish tradition and the Foundation has reinstated that role. I am deeply honored to be associated with an organization with ‘covenant’ in its name, since being part of a covenant is a blessing, a joy, and a tremendous responsibility.
“And I want to stress the last word – responsibility - since I feel that not all of our people right now are aware of the responsibility it is to be part of a covenant, a covenant to which we are all precious stakeholders. We are in desperate need of an ancient prophet in our midst to remind us of our covenantal responsibilities. There can be no better time to think of the role of education in Jewish life and the importance of education and leadership to strengthen our sense of purpose. In accepting this honor, I hope I can do my small part in restoring the covenant.”
Seltzer, Dean of Judaic Studies at the Shoshana S. Cardin School in Baltimore, and former Director of the Rosenbloom Religious School and Director of the Congregational Education Center at the Chizuk Amuno Congregation there, was presented with a 2009 Covenant Award by Barbara Goodman Manilow.
As an educator in synagogues and day schools, he has conducted pioneering and inspiring work integrating the arts into Judaic studies, developing an astounding array of family educational programs, and creating partnerships with Jewish community leaders and visiting educators to highly enrich educational experiences.
Accepting the Covenant Award, Rabbi Seltzer spoke of the blessings of being a Jewish educator.
“The sages command us to be sensitive to the joy and beauty of the world, to grace and thank God for his creation,” he said. “This is an ideal standard for which the Jewish educator to aspire, to find at least 100 things to be thankful for every school day.
“Blessings are the lens that magnify and clarify our experience as educators. Some blessings are easy to see and be thankful for - when the whole class gets it; when the bell rings and no one stands up to leave; a snow day, when you turn off the alarm and recharge your batteries; the first day of school and the last day of school; the straight-A student; 20 pairs of attentive eyes. And some blessings are difficult to recognize immediately and require time to be thankful for - the disinterested student who comes back years later and tells you that you changed his life; the student whose resistance challenges you to rethink the material; the troubled colleague who finally shares a problem; school sports teams that never win, but you keep going to the games; and punishment that ultimately turns a kid around.
“And some blessings are so small that we don’t know they are blessings - a smile in a hallway; a pat on the back from your supervisor; a quiet student who is clearly thinking; a clean classroom and adequate supplies. And some blessings we take for granted - the freedom to practice Judaism; parents who choose to give their kids a Jewish education; a religion and a Torah thousands of years old; the freedom to question, to argue and to disagree; teenagers not quite children and not quite adults, and the tremendous effect you can have on them. May we all continue to be blessed as part of this great endeavor of Jewish education.”
Simhai has served for the last decade as director of the Teva Learning Center in New York, a prestigious Jewish environmental educational institute that works with Jewish day schools, congregational schools, synagogues, camps, youth groups and other Jewish organizations and institutions to marry environmental and Jewish values.
Considered an authority and leader of the Jewish environmental education movement, she has trained and counseled hundreds of educators in the pedagogy of Jewish environmental education through seminars and other gatherings, has grown the Teva Learning Center exponentially, and has put environmental sensibilities and programs squarely in the middle of Jewish educational programming and outreach.
“I am keenly aware of the fact that I am the first Jewish environmental educator to receive this recognition, and I want to thank the Covenant Foundation,” she said after receiving the Covenant Award from Steve Crown.
“Look around because these are our foot soldiers in innovation in Jewish education,” she continued, referring to educators who attended the event, and those who didn’t. “They are warriors of love and light in the name of Jewish identity. They work on the edge, where new Torah is found, and where Torah that we thought we knew like the back of our hand surprises us. They are not afraid to take a learner’s hand and say, ‘I don’t know what we will find but let’s go on this journey together because the world needs us.’
“The world desperately needs us to be our truest, most authentic Jewish selves. The best advice I can give to everyone is get one of these folks in your Jewish institutions and then step back.”
In their diversity and impact, the 2009 awardees reflect the breadth of activity within Jewish education.
“Through their incredible work, our 2009 Covenant Awardees prove once again that Jewish education is multi-faceted, and that all Jewish institutions are fertile places for educators to plant the seeds of the Jewish future,” said Harlene Winnick Appelman, Executive Director of The Covenant Foundation. “Their individual and collective impact gives us all great pride and great hope.”
Each will receive $36,000, and each of their institutions will receive $5,000.
“Award recipients cannot easily be characterized,” said Evans. “They do not share one denomination, one pedagogical approach, one teaching venue, or one definition of teaching. The one commonality among these uncommon people is their abiding love of Judaism and the Jewish people and their devotion to the perpetuation of the Jewish heritage.”
For guidelines on nominating an educator for a 2010 Covenant Award, and to view a list and biographies of past recipients, visit www.covenantfn.org.
The Covenant Foundation is a program of the Crown Family Foundation and the Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA).