November 9, 2014

Three Jewish Educators Receive 2014 Covenant Award; Honored by Jewish Community, Leadership

Three educators from across the spectrum of Jewish life received The Covenant Foundation’s 2014 Covenant Award today, honored for their commitment, vision and impact by hundreds of Jewish community and educational leaders, philanthropists, students, colleagues and others.

Alison Kur, Executive Director of Jewish Living at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, MA; Dr. Rebecca Schorsch, Director of Jewish Studies at Chicagoland Jewish High School in Deerfield, IL; and Rabbi Yisroel Boruch Sufrin, Head of School at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy in Beverly Hills, CA, received the Award at the Foundation’s annual dinner here.

“Tonight’s three Award recipients each have had a profound impact on their communities,” said Eli N. Evans, Chairman of the Board of the Foundation, in remarks at the event. “They ignite the flame of curiosity and emotional and intellectual connection to Jewish life and learning each day for students and adults of all ages. Each has created a welcoming community in which every Jewish soul is greeted at the door and invited into a holy encounter where everyone has a place of honor.

“By shining a light on these educators and their transformative work, we continue to shift the paradigm of teaching and learning, enabling new and innovative approaches to Jewish education and to Jewish life in North America to be explored and shared.”

Alison Kur, Executive Director of Jewish Living at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, MA; Dr. Rebecca Schorsch, Director of Jewish Studies at Chicagoland Jewish High School in Deerfield, IL; and Rabbi Yisroel Boruch Sufrin, Head of School at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy in Beverly Hills, CA, received the Award at the Foundation’s annual dinner here.

The Covenant Award is among the most prominent citations in the Jewish community, and is awarded to three educators every year after a rigorous selection process. Including this year’s awardees, 72 Jewish educators have received a Covenant Award since its establishment in 1991, and many of them attended the 2014 presentation.

The Covenant Foundation is a program of the Crown Family Philanthropies and members of the Crown family – including Keating Crown, Renée Crown, and Lester Crown – presented the three recipients and bestowed the Award. Each of the 2014 recipients received $36,000, and each of their institutions, $5,000.

In their acceptance speeches, recipients identified passions that have shaped and propelled them, and the primacy among Jewish educators in cementing community engagement, vitality and continuity.

After being presented The Covenant Award by Keating Crown, ALISON KUR said that enabling spiritual and educational journeys for individuals and community motivates her work as Executive Director of Jewish Living at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, MA.

“At TBE, we often experiment – publicly, we say ‘pilot’ – new ideas and initiatives,” she said. “It is challenging and complex, difficult and beautiful. And I love it – the community, the people, the challenges, the process, the outcomes – both the good and not so good.”

Kur is an attorney-turned-Jewish educator, who in just a dozen years in the field has altered the educational landscape in myriad settings and for a cross section of students and colleagues.

At TBE, Kur has engaged the membership in collaborative fashion to reimagine a congregation where Jewish learning and living suffuses the institution itself and the entire synagogue community.

She successfully replaced a silo approach to Jewish education with one more integrated, creating a holistic and vastly more vital model admired nationally as a prototype of 21st century congregational learning, engagement and community strength.

Along the way, she guided the reorganization and reorientation of all levels of education, from the synagogue nursery school to the adult learning program, and everything in between.

Curriculum and program innovations have pushed a doubling in student enrollment to over 700 students in grades K to 12, a tripling in post-b’nai mitzvah retention to over 70 percent, and a dramatic increase in adult education participation.

Among the most visible representations of this vision is a newly designed synagogue, a project that Kur has said is among the most meaningful. This too, became an educational endeavor, as an architect joined staff members and congregants to study Torah, Jewish ideas about holiness, immanence, transcendence and nature as the new building was conceived and constructed over the past several years.

Before joining TBE, first as Director of Congregational Learning and then in her current position, Kur served as Program Director of the Leadership Development Institute at Combined Jewish Philanthropies.

“May we – each of us – be embraced by partners who travel with us on our journeys, become immersed with us in Torah along the way so that before we know it we will have arrived, overflowing with love and learning in the Promised Land, where we can each say, Hineini, I am here,” she said in her remarks.

Receiving the Covenant Award from Renée Crown, DR. REBECCA SCHORSCH, Director of Jewish Studies at Chicagoland Jewish High School in Deerfield, IL, cited the importance of Jewish education in the trajectory of the Jewish people, as well as her own.

“In celebrating Jewish education tonight, on the 76th anniversary of Kristallnacht, a night of devastating broken glass, we remind ourselves again of past brokenness and the contribution of Jewish education in making us whole,” said Schorsch, whose great-grandfather perished in the Holocaust. “The shards become the mirror, which tonight, The Covenant Foundation holds up to Jewish education in the hope that others see themselves in the reflection, sparking imagination and possibilities.”

At CJHS since 2003, she oversaw the merger of the school’s Bible, Talmud and Jewish Thought departments under a greater Jewish Studies department and has led it for the past three years.

More broadly, she has created a culture of Torah Lismah – learning for its own sake – and has developed a voluntary learning program to engage various levels of students, her colleagues included, in Jewish study. For example, a series of lunch-and-learns by faculty and for faculty has created a new learning space for educators in which the categories of teacher and learner are fluid.

Although based at CJHS – which enrolls 166 students in grades 9 to 12 – her reputation and influence as a Jewish educator has traveled far beyond the school’s walls. Dr. Schorsch has served as Scholar-in-Residence at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin since 2001, teaching campers, staff, visitors and families, and working with counselors and unit heads to craft educational programming.

She frequently teaches in private study groups, university and academic settings, local and regional synagogues, and Jewish institutions and organizations nationally, describing herself as an “educator at large” and a “community educator” with the stated purpose of helping each student individually on his or her Jewish journey.

“I stand here especially grateful for my inheritance, a family legacy and a longstanding tradition of defiant hope,” she said. “I am grateful to be recognized for doing what I love and for the support necessary to hold up the mirrors so that in the looking glass, worlds can be imagined, repaired and embraced.”

Accepting The Covenant Award from Lester Crown, RABBI YISROEL BORUCH SUFRIN Head of School at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy in Beverly Hills, CA, cited Jewish patriarch, Abraham, and matriarch Sarah, as his guiding forces in the design and pursuit of modern Jewish education.

“Abraham and Sarah would want to see our children today learning in schools that provide tools for the next generation to discover and build on traditions of the past, as well as to imagine and open new paradigms for the future,” he said.

As head of HHHA for the past 11 years, Rabbi Sufrin has followed this path by injecting a powerful and expansive vision of Jewish education into the school, and in the process has transformed it, empowered students and teachers, and strengthened Jewish community nearby and beyond.

His philosophy, which places the student at the center, surrounded and buttressed by talented teachers, engaged parents, caring community, and immersive tools, fuels HHHA’s success and has made it one of the nation’s preeminent Jewish day schools and Rabbi Sufrin himself a leading advocate and practitioner of Jewish education.

Rabbi Sufrin has exercised and activated his philosophy in innumerable ways, and in the process has created a learning environment with an energy and vitality that defines the school and the larger community.

At the school, which enrolls 580 students from early childhood age to 8th grade, Rabbi Sufrin has promoted the use of technology in the classroom, elevated STEM and Hebrew language education, implemented a Parashat Hashavua curriculum that involves parents, embraced community service initiatives, fortified ties between the school and Israel, and made graduate studies accessible to faculty.

“As part of a family tree that boasts generations of educators, including my parents and my children, I thank my parents for showing me the unending value in this field of education, and for allowing me to develop my passion to see children as legacy builders,” he said. “Thank you to all of the children, of all ages, who I have taught and continue to teach. You have allowed me to grow … and you have never let me down, and you have proven time and again that when we have faith in our children, they always deliver.”

For guidelines on nominating an educator for a 2015 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 Philanthropies