Jewish Education at The Davidson School

The Blog

Bringing a Jewish Learning Community From NC to NYC

Posted by Ben R on October 31, 2013 at 11:30 AM Comments comments (0)

by Kelly Kossar

I came from an incredible job and a community that was so supportive it was like my family. When I considered graduate school, I had difficulty finding reasons to move to another part of the country. I visited JTS in November 2012, and before long, I had packed up my life and left my community to head to New York City.

For four years after graduating Binghamton University, I lived and worked at the American Hebrew Academy. AHA is an international Jewish boarding school in Greensboro, North Carolina. For two years, I served as a Fellow and gained valuable experience in teaching, admissions, fundraising, programming, and residential life. After my second year, I became the Administrative Coordinator for Student and Jewish Life, a House Parent, and a Synagogue Skills teacher.


My time at The Academy helped me to determine the kind of Jewish professional I wanted to become. Living and working in a 24/7 Jewish environment for teens was an incredible experience as an educator. On The Academy campus, students’ lives are completely interconnected. The entire community studies, eats, lives, prays, and plays together every day. I don’t think the community life can necessarily be replicated outside of the boarding school world, yet the theory and pedagogical skills I am learning at The Davidson School builds on the experiences I gained while working at The Academy.

My experience at The Davidson School has been inspiring and exciting. I’ve been surprised by how much the faculty here wants to get to know you, not just as a student, but as a person. My cohort has been supportive and helpful in acclimating to graduate student life in New York City. While I miss my Southern home, I feel more and more that coming to study at JTS was a great decision for me.

Kelly Kossar (DS ‘16) is an MA Candidate in Jewish Education, with a concentration on Educational Leadership in Synagogues and Communal Settings. She hosts a personal blog about experiential education at Contact Kelly to learn more.


A network of Inclusive Jewish Education with Camp Ramah

Posted by Ben R on October 16, 2013 at 1:30 PM Comments comments (0)



Howard Blas (middle) and Elana Naftalin-Kelman (right) discuss inclusion at a Lunch and Learn hosted by The Davidson School about engaging children and families with disabilities

by Ben Rotenberg



The Davidson School hosted a Lunch and Learn on October 14 entitled “Jewish Engagement of Children & Families with Disabilities.” Featured speakers were Howard Blas, the Tikvah Director for Camp Ramah in New England, and Elana Naftalin-Kelman the Tikvah Director at Camp Ramah in California and Director of Rosh Pina, an organization that offers a certification process for organizations and institutions to meet the requirements of their special needs populations.

The luncheon capped off a weekend symposium hosted by National Ramah called “Al Pi Darko.” The symposium offered students an opportunity to speak about inclusion programs with JTS faculty, camp directors, Tikvah alumni, and experts in special education. Camp Ramah is recognized as a leader in making Jewish camping accessible to children with physical and developmental disabilities. Ramah’s symposium was named for a phrase from Proverbs 22:6, "על פי דרכו.” This expression, literally translated as “according to his way,” encourages us to acknowledge each child’s uniqueness and help the child learn in a way that is meaningful to him or her.


Dr. Zachary Lasker, Director of Educational Projects at the Melton Research Center of The Davidson School, explored how we can bring the successes of Ramah to supplemental and day school programs. Elana Naftalin Kelman encouraged educators and synagogues to “think about family members who are tired of experiencing a door slammed in their faces.” She suggested that instead, communal leaders should think of who may be knocking on our doors to access our programs.


For more information about Camp Ramah and special needs programs, visit the Camp Ramah website


Student Spotlight - Joe Robbins

Posted by Danny on February 5, 2013 at 8:50 PM Comments comments (0)

This week we shine the spotlight on Joe Robbins, a first year student concentrating in Educational Leadership in Synagogues and Communal Settings.

Tell us a little about yourself as a writer.

I first began writing as a child and have not stopped since. I remember writing my first song in elementary school, then transitioning to rapping in high school. I continued rapping in college, where I was a Creative Writing and Judaic Studies double major. The focus of my Creative Writing major was fiction and I alternated between writing fiction and writing song lyrics before switching to poetry almost exclusively towards the end of my college career. I continued writing poetry after graduating and became involved in the New York poetry scene when I moved to New York City in 2009. I am currently working as a professional spoken word artist, in addition to being an active participant in the Poetry Slam scene. My debut collection of poetry, One Man Gang was released in January 2012 and I am currently working on a second collection entitled, Love Loss.


How does your passion for writing intersect with your interest in Jewish education?

Going back to my days as a high school rapper in Northern California, my goal as a writer has always been to be heard. My official rap logo included radio waves intended to symbolize the transmission of my thoughts and ideas to my listeners. Once I became an educator, my goal as a writer became reaching and teaching as many people as possible. In addition to writing many “Jewish Poems” with content relating to Judaism comprised of Jewish History, Jewish Nationalism and Torah, I perform in non-Jewish settings around the country wearing a Kippah, outwardly identifying as a “Jewish Poet.” I also spend a lot of time working as a teaching artist in various classroom settings, leading writing workshops of my creation for students of all ages. The majority of the work I do as a teaching artist is now done in Jewish settings including Synagogues, Hebrew Schools, Hillel houses and Jewish youth group conventions.


What has been the most valuable/useful tool/skill/knowledge/growth you've gotten from your time at Davidson so far?

More than anything, the relationships I’ve forged at Davidson have been the most valuable part of my experience thus far. I have had the chance to connect with great professors who have broadened my horizons and supported my aspirations and endeavors. I have also met wonderful classmates who have enriched and enhanced my experience. In the years leading up to my enrollment at Davidson, I spent a year learning at a yeshivah in Jerusalem, before receiving my Masters in the Teaching of English from Columbia Teachers College. Having the opportunity to synthesize my Jewish and educational knowledge and backgrounds in a Jewish Education program has been invaluable, as well.


What would you like to do when you graduate?

While I am not sure exactly what I would like to do when I graduate, I know that writing, educating—and using my writing to educate—will remain a staple of my life for years to come. I cannot picture myself doing anything other than educating in some capacity and I cannot imagine losing writing as a passion—even if it does not remain my profession. Between my strong Jewish Identity and all of the work I currently do with Jews of all ages, I definitely see myself educating within the Jewish Community.


Do you have any upcoming shows? Where can we find out more about your poetry?

I will be performing at Columbia Hillel’s Shabbat Dinner and Oneg Shabbat this coming Friday, February 8th. I am currently booking performances, teaching artist sessions and artist-in-residencies at Jewish venues and settings across the country. For booking information please e-mail [email protected]


Videos of my performances are available on my YouTube channel at I also have a Facebook Fan Page which can be found at

Student Spotlight - Meredith Levick

Posted by Danny on January 31, 2013 at 10:40 AM Comments comments (0)

Meredith Levick is a first year Davidson student in the concentration dedicated to Educational Leadership in Synagogues and Communal Settings. She is also a professional writer and poet, and this Sunday, February 3 at 5 PM she will be reading her work at Art 101, a gallery space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

 What are you passionate about?


My range of interests is diverse, from entrepreneurship to spirituality / personal development to international travel. I believe that the human experience is a shared opportunity for us to overlap in compassion and in growth as often as possible. In April 2010 I created Morning Love Letter, a daily e-letter intended to highlight the shared nature of this human experience. The voice of the writing is that of one's higher self which is your most loving, authentic, genuine, passionate, generous self.


For my information about my writing, you can check out my website:


How did you develop an interest in the Jewish sector that led to your enrollment at Davidson?


I was raised as a reform Jew in Westchester County, north of Manhattan. I felt culturally connected to my Judaism when I was growing up but did not feel rooted in the traditions with any significant depth. When I was in my mid-twenties, I was invited to a Shabbbat dinner by a friend which set off a buzzer inside of me, an alert that whispered, "keep moving further into this." Slowly but surely this voice, this knowingness, led to my desire to explore the religion with purpose. I found (and continue to find) that exploration to be meaningful. I had spent my professional career up until then working in the communications arena, specifically in marketing, and I decided I wanted to focus my skill set in the direction of a pursuit that impacted people's lives with intention and integrity. At the time I also was leading writing workshops to encourage adults to use stream-of-consciousness writing as a tool for self-exploration. I realized that my next step should involve combining these experiences and energies: religion, language, relationship building, self-empowerment, education, and entrepreneurship. Then I discovered the program I am in now at The Jewish Theological Seminary, and the pieces seemed to fit. It was a major change for me across the board, but I felt myself walking through a series of open doors to arrive here so I kept trusting that putting one foot in front of the other would take me down the path I needed to go.


How do those interests and beliefs intersect with your desire to work in the field of Jewish Education?


Studying at Davidson is the intersection of my multiple interests. I want to build innovative and dynamic learning opportunities for my students to view their Judaism with curiosity and an enthusiasm for authenticity. I believe in the importance of understanding that we are meant to chart our own course while living in the community of our individual microcosms and the world-at-large. The strength of tradition and community can be transformational, and I want my learners to recognize the possibility for that strength.


What has been the most impactful educational experience you have participated in thus far at Davidson?


I have studied and worked in Spain and Argentina, respectively, and I am fluent in Spanish. But studying Hebrew in a formal environment at JTS is a new adventure for me. It is gratifying because learning Hebrew is another forum for me to learn how to use words to relate to other people. I am humbled by the intricacies of this language which tie us to our ancient roots and our contemporary objectives.


Additionally, our recent trip to Israel via Visions and Voices was incredibly engaging for me. I thought we were introduced to a varied range of complex questions which reflect Israel's inherently complex structure. I am now working on how to keep that spark of engagement alive here in New York so I can continue the exploration stateside.


What has been your greatest challenge and success as a synagogue teacher?


My third grade students surprise me time and time again. My greatest success has been watching them learn the Hebrew letters and vowels. Hearing them sound out words with excitement is energizing to me. My greatest challenge has been behavior management in the classroom. I have brainstormed many times as to how to create a consistent structure of discipline and peace in my classroom, and I have seen how the word "behavior" takes on a very different meaning when I am communicating with eight year olds.

Educators' Resources Available on Davidson Blog

Posted by Danny on October 23, 2012 at 9:30 PM Comments comments (0)

Visit the Resources section of the Davidson Blog to find helpful information and services for Jewish educators.

We will be continuing to add links to the resources page. Highlighted this week:

The Lookstein Center for Jewish Education of the School of Education at Bar-Ilan University was established to promote Jewish education in the Diaspora. It focuses on leadership programs, teacher and curriculum development, as well as interactive communication and networking for Jewish educators worldwide.

The Lookjed Digest is an email-based forum for Jewish educators. "The classroom problem that you have, the idea that you are working on, the question that your student asked that has you stumped, can all be shared with other teachers who have, perhaps, grappled with these issue before" (

Below, please read a tantalizing quote from a recent edition. The post's title? "Grading Like God".

The premise of the Teshuva process is remarkable: if one follows the proper steps of Teshuva, he is forgiven for his transgression. Actually, to be more precise, his sin is atoned for, wiped clean, struck from the record.

 ...Why don’t we adopt this same attitude and strategy in our classrooms? If our goal as educators is indeed to educate, to develop the faculties and powers of our students, then why do we not allow our students to master what we are teaching them?

(full text available on Lookjed's threaded archives.)

If you would like to subscribe to Lookjed, go to the on-line form at

First Year Davidson Students Visit The Jewish Museum

Posted by Danny on October 3, 2012 at 1:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Meredith Levick, first year Davidson student concentrating in Synagogue Leadership, reports on her core seminar's visit to the Jewish Museum.


This semester all first year JTS students are enrolled in one of three interdisciplinary core seminars, purposefully designed for incoming students to acclimate to the rigors and expectations of graduate school life at JTS, including an appreciation for Jewish history, culture, and perspectives. On September 28th, JTS faculty member Dr. Stefanie B. Siegmund (Associate Professor of Jewish History; Chair, Jewish Gender and Women's Studies) organized a guided tour of an exhibit at The Jewish Museum for students in her seminar, Signs and Symbols of Jewish Identity. After spending the first four weeks of class unpacking the language used in identifying and understanding symbols in relation to Jewishness and identity, students engaged in dialogue firsthand with the "Word Symbol Space" exhibit.

Associate Curator Karen Levitov (pictured above) navigated the class through the six pieces on display, all post-1970 works of art which use techniques of abstraction and visual wordplay. One particularly provocative piece by William Anastasi, a non-Jew, presents the audience with the the word "jew" splashed across the top left corner of a large scale white canvas in a black typewriter font. Levitov touched on discussions the students have had in class about how signs do and do not connect to a lexicon we already are familiar with in our daily lives. This tour provided students with an opportunity to approach the art intuitively and also through the eyes of the authors they have read in class, with theory, research, and context in mind.

For additional information about the exhibit:

Student Spotlight - Daniel Graber

Posted by Danny on September 26, 2012 at 9:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Daniel Graber is a second-year student at Davidson concentrating in Synagogue Leadership. 

Please see below for an abridged transcript of our interview with him, as well as an mp3 of the full interview. You can read Daniel's full interview here.

Where is your practicum this year, who is your mentor, and what is your role?


My practicum is at the international USY office, working with Amy Dorsch (Davidson '08) as my mentor. I am helping to flesh out the program bank online, which is a major resource to member synagogues of United Synagogue all over the continent, to create experiential programs specifically designed for Hebrew school settings, as well as coordinating the Abraham Joshua Heschel Honors Society Kinnus in the spring and A.J. Heschel Day at JTS in the winter.


You have been involved with USY since you were in high school. What do you love about working with USY?


USY is all about people. I love working with these kids because by the time you're at high school age you've got some life experience and can start to analyze the world around you in the context of what you've been taught. Suddenly your education is a practical thing that you can challenge. It's one of the greatest pleasures I have in life to be there with these kids when their lives become one big challenge to, and of, and from, the world around them, and to help them navigate the hard turns, and share from my life experience and from the deep wells of Jewish tradition.


You're concentrating in Synagogue Leadership at Davidson. In what ways do you consider yourself a leader?


I try and embody the lessons that I try to teach to the kids. Also when I have staff I'm supervising - and also with the kids - I try to help them find what their strengths are and how to accentuate them, how to overcome what their strengths aren't, and to facilitate people's growth by seeing what they really need and helping them find it and achieve it. I believe I have a vision of a way that people can understand each other, be towards each other, be towards themselves, understand themselves, and how it can all relate and stem through the lens of Jewish belief and practice.

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Student Spotlight - Dana Levinson

Posted by Danny on September 10, 2012 at 3:05 PM Comments comments (0)

Dana Levinson is a second year student in the Jewish Experiential Education concentration. In this interview she tells us about what brought her to Jewish education, what she sees as an area for improvement in Jewish Education, and about her project for the Jewish Futures Competition.

Why did you choose the field of Jewish education?

Choosing the field of Jewish education came quite naturally to me as I grew older and as my experiences within the Jewish world became more profound. As I became more involved in USY as a teen, Ramah as a young professional, and other Jewish ventures throughout university, it became increasingly clear to me that the field I was most interested in working in--and growing in--was Jewish education. It was a field that I felt was progressing and evolving, and this evolution was something I wanted to be a part of.

Why did you choose Davidson?

 I chose Davidson because the new Experiential Education concentration seemed right up my alley. It was innovative and exciting and allowed for a tremendous amount of learning opportunities that would guide me on the right path as a Jewish professional.

What do you see as the greatest opportunity / area for growth or improvement in the world of Jewish education?

 Israel education is an ever evolving process and the way in which it is encountered leaves much room for growth and improvement. Programs and resources that focus both on content and emotional connection are crucial, as are fostering and strengthening relationships between young Israelis and young Americans. The area I find most interesting is the growth of cultural literacy between these two social groups.

What are you learning at Davidson that you are most excited about?

I'm excited about the Jewish media course I'm taking right now, as I have always been fascinated by the cultural implications that Judaism and Jewishness have had on American popular culture.

Please tell us about your project for the Jewish Futures Competition.

Last December Ramah received a Signature Grant from the Covenant Foundation which enabled us the privilege of hiring RustyBrick app developers to fulfill the vision of creating a Ramah social networking app for Iphones, Androids, and Ipads. The goal of the app is to allow our Ramah staff members to engage in the actual world using a virtual platform, ie: the app, and utilize the Jewish leadership that they acquire all summer long during the year. The app is made up of a series of missions that fall into categories such as Israel Education, Tikkun Olam, Alumni Engagement, etc. In order for the user to complete a mission and earn points, they must upload a photo or a video and share it in the virtual space. The app is a great way for staff to connect in both the actual worlds and the virtual worlds and promote a sense of togetherness and Jewish values.

Voices of Jewish Educators-in-Training

Posted by Danny on September 5, 2012 at 3:10 PM Comments comments (0)

Classes have resumed at JTS! On Wednesday a reporter stationed himself in the JTS lobby. Amidst the rush of students waiting to take the elevators up to their classes a few Davidson students were kind enough to share their thoughts regarding the new school year. 

The students responded to these questions: What are you most excited about this year? What projects are you working on?

Their responses show that Davidson students are energized and looking forward to a year of learning, personal growth, and meeting new friends. Please enjoy these voices of Jewish educators-in-training.

Sigal Hirsch, Jackie Schreiber, Allison Adges, Samantha Vinokor, Rebecca Nadis, and Julie Goodman are looking forward to learning within JTS's Jewish community. Plus: find out what class everyone is talking about!

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Jenna Daniels can't wait to improve the experience of synagogue school staff. Guess where her High Holy Day pulpit is?

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Josh Jacobs can finally find his way around JTS...almost. Find out what he wants to spend "hours" studying.

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Nicole Raphael will be teaching at a well-known Upper West Side synagogue this year. Discover what she considers to be "a huge, huge, honor."

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Yael Hammerman will be offering rabbinic as well as educational services to a synagogue in Queens. Find out why she is a resource for women at JTS.

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Davidson Alumni Spotlight: David Wolkin - Limmud NY Exec. Dir

Posted by Mark on August 27, 2012 at 9:25 AM Comments comments (0)

How are Davidson alumni impacting the Jewish field? Take David Wolkin.

Wolkin (DS 2007), who has helped transform synagogue youth and family programs at both Cenrtal Synagogue and Temple Emanu-El in New York City, is now in his second full year as Executive Director of LIMMUD-NY. LIMMUD-NY holds an annual weekend of learning and several smaller group learning opportunities each year that welcomes hundreds of educators, learning, adults, teens, and young children to meet and celebrate Jewish life and learning together. LIMMUD-NY 2013 is President's Day weekend in New Brunsick, NJ.

Read David's latest article on creating a community of LIMMUD Educators in today's ejewishphilanthropy.