New York – May 19, 2014 – Three visionary educators demonstrating the power of inspired Jewish education are the 2014 recipients of The Covenant Award for excellence in the field, The Covenant Foundation announced today.
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, are the recipients of the Award, among the most coveted of honors in the field of Jewish education.
The three recipients join 69 other Jewish educators honored with a Covenant Award since the Foundation established it in 1991. Along with the honor, each will receive $36,000, and each of their institutions will receive $5,000.
The Foundation and the Jewish community will honor them at an awards dinner in Washington, DC on Nov. 9th, during the General Assembly of The Jewish Federations of North America.
Alison Kur, Executive Director of Jewish Living at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, MA, 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 Temple Beth Elohim, a Reform synagogue with 1,100 families where she has spent the bulk of her career as a Jewish educator, Kur engaged the membership in collaborative fashion to reimagine a congregation where Jewish learning and living suffuses the institution itself and the entire synagogue community.
Guided by that collective vision, 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, many of them stagnant, 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, 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 building, 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 Temple Beth Elohim, 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. There, she launched an innovative leadership development program combining case studies and Jewish texts for synagogue professionals and lay leaders. The program continues to this day.
Dr. Rebecca Schorsch, Director of Jewish Studies at Chicagoland Jewish High School (CJHS) in Deerfield, IL, has made an impact on students, fellow educators and the greater community in the Chicago area and beyond with singular dedication and leadership.
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.
Rabbi Yisroel Boruch Sufrin, Head of School at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy (HHHA) in Beverly Hills, CA for the past 11 years, has injected 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.
“My personal life goal is to help any child become a leader and innovator,” he said. “When we educate each student according to his or her unique way in a child-centered environment, then we ensure he or she will be successful in the future. To do this, each child has to feel and know that he or she is the center of the learning process. This approach also understands that it is critical for an educator or parent to focus on each child’s achievements and accomplishments. We must provide a learning environment and culture that supports innovation and spiritual exploration.
Rabbi Sufrin has exercised and activated this 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 moved to promote the use of technology in the classroom, elevate STEM and Hebrew language education, implement a Parashat Hashavua curriculum that involves parents, embrace community service initiatives, and fortify ties between the school and Israel.
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/awards.
The Covenant Foundation is a program of the Crown Family Philanthropies.