Jewish Education at The Davidson School

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Students and Faculty Reflecting on Israel

Posted by Ben R on March 21, 2014 at 4:35 PM Comments comments (0)

by Ben Rotenberg, Blog Editor

MA students Gabe Miner, Bekkah Gold, Lauren Schuchart, Ayala Wasser, and Julia Siegel organized a lunch in March for students who had been on Visions and Voices, an experiential trip to Israel, organized by Professors Ofra Backenroth and Alex Sinclair. They called the lunch, “Recalling the Visions & Hearing the Voices: Reflecting on our Time in Israel.”  Gabe Miner said, “One of the things that was emphasized on the trip was hearing as the diversity of voices and opinions shared. We felt that hearing multiple voices from the Davidson community was a great way to honor the spirit of the trip and connect and share with our community.”

The organizers, in preparation for the program, framed their topic with two difficult questions:
“How do we relate to the word Diaspora?” 
“When you think of Israel, what word or phrase comes to mind?”

For me, these questions offered a provocative start for what I thought was going to be a polite lunch-time discussion. Important questions were raised, such as: “Do Jews in North America (or in any place outside of Israel) feel at home or in exile?” “Is there an expectation or hope that Jews living outside Israel will be more connected to Israel?” People shared different views about their sense of connectedness to Israeli culture and Israeli issues, and whether Jews have a responsibility to affect changes on Israel. One faculty member pointed out that lack of Hebrew language skills present a challenge because the language is a powerful bond to the nuances and changes in Israeli culture.

The discussion quickly turned to a dialogue between faculty and students regarding the connections that Jewish educators have to Israel. A great final question was posed - what can we do as Jewish educators to bring the next generation into this discussion? Rabbi Jonathan Lipnick, Rabbi-in-Residence at The Davidson School, talked about trying to engage in conversations with people who find themselves on disparate parts of the political spectrum. I wonder whether the key is the gap that exists between those who live “outside” of Israel, and those who make Israel home.  When I asked Gabe a week later what he thought resulted from the conversations, he said: “I was excited by the way people were willing to jump right into these big questions, even in the brief hour we had together. It was great how students and faculty came together as colleagues to pose questions, respectfully challenge, and ultimately try to move a little closer to an answer.”

For me, perhaps Jewish educators need is a third, less polarizing question. This should live in between the two questions posed earlier. It represents the creative space for dialogue between those who live “in the Land” and those who are chutz La’Aretz (literally, “outside of the Land”;). In between the two earlier questions is the space for a conversation which will help us gain an understanding of Israel today.

An Update from Davidson School Student President Debra Fricano

Posted by Ben R on February 6, 2014 at 12:10 AM Comments comments (0)

Debra Fricano updates students on Student Organization plans for the spring (Photo by Ben Rotenberg)

by Debra L Fricano 

Welcome back to another semester at JTS! 

The Davidson School Student Organization (DSSO) draws from Student Activities fees to generate social, educational, and spiritual programs for education students in the JTS community.  

As the elected President for 2013-2014, my approach for leading the DSSO is through a lens of community organizing: building relationships with students, facilitating collaboration, and empowering you—the students—to plan initiatives to meet your holistic needs as graduate students.  I also serve as a representative and advocate to administration of JTS about certain strategic planning issues.     

A group of our second year students had a lunch meeting on January 27th to reflect on Fall 2013, and to develop a vision for the Spring semester.  This what we talked about at that meeting: 

1)  Our Communication 

How do we contact students? Right now we have the following tools:

   • Divrei Ha Yamim list serve, managed by Sara Horowitz send information about community wide programs.

   • Jillian Halpern and Dean Ofra Backenroth send information connected to the academic program, and upcoming events planned by the Administration

   • The Davidson School seasonal newsletter markets The Davidson School program 

   • Visions and Voices/ Kesher Hadash Israel blogs 

   • Student driven blog coordinated by Ben Rotenberg. This is a forum for students to share their stories of their experience in The Davidson School program.

   • The Davidson School's current Facebook presence

2) Programming.
In our upcoming semester we are working to build new and exciting programs led by our students. Students will be taking leadership to create the following programs:

   • Bibliodrama training on a Friday in April with Yael Unterman 

   • LGBTQ training on a Friday in March with Keshet  

   • Superbowl viewing party

   • Conference bank/fair

   • Conference subsidy program

   • Mets game  

   • The Davidson School SWAG  

   • Regular contributions to the blog 

   • Seudah Shlishit to discuss how The Davidson School presents itself as a pluralistic school to the larger Jewish community.

   • Red Bulls game

   • movie night and talk back featuring the film “Monuments Men"

Some other things that people would like to participate in include:

    • Student Bowling night

    • How do we do Jewish spiritual education

    • Networking visits with leaders in Jewish organizations in NYC

    • Challah making

    • Laser tag

    • Israeli modern dance

I am looking for people who have an appetite to plan events, and I welcome your ideas, suggestions, and feedback. Contact me by email,  [email protected] or on Facebook

The Davidson School Shabbat Dinner Leads to Words of Torah

Posted by Ben R on December 19, 2013 at 7:20 PM Comments comments (0)

One Friday in early December, some of The Davidson School students and faculty braved the inclement weather and looming presence of final exams, gathering together to celebrate Shabbat at the home of Rabbi Jonathan Lipnick.  The students thought that as they ended their fall semester at The Davidson School, this dinner would provide a great opportunity to return to the world of Torah. After dinner, MA students Gabe Miner and Hannah Grossman shared thoughts about Parashat Vayigash. They discussed some interpretations of the phrase, “Do not be afraid on the way” (Bereishit 45:24). They considered several commentaries that offered different meanings for the verb תִּרְגְּזו (tir’g’zu). Then they looked at the story from the brothers’ point of view. What is the right way to deliver the news to Jacob? Is it preferable to tell him the whole truth, and cause their father agitation, confusion, or possibly even anger? In terms of the life of the educator, Gabe and Anna asked about how to address a holiday like Hanukkah, and how this story might be applied. What are the things that Educators really want to teach students?

Jewish educators, like clergy, have the power to share words of Torah with our students. We wrestle with the text just as rabbis and cantors do, in search of teachable moments where texts can give insights into our lives. Educators take responsibility for exploring the world of Jewish learning, using all kinds of skills, whether they work with liturgy, ritual, text, history, or community organizations.

Students Host Israeli Cafe Night with Ami Yares

Posted by Ben R on December 5, 2013 at 11:10 PM Comments comments (0)

While The Davidson School students are always busy with their academic work and hands-on training in Jewish education, they also find opportunities to share their interests with one another. MA students recently hosted a shulchan ivri, or Hebrew table, sponsored by The Davidson School Student Association. We enjoyed relaxing, practicing our Hebrew language skills and enjoying delicious food.

We savored the live music of Ami Yares, a Jaffa-based singer/songwriter. Ami performs original, socially-conscious multicultural songs in English, Hebrew and Arabic

Ami spoke about why he chose to perform at this event:

I've always had an attachment to the Hebrew language. Especially as a musician, it is an 
incredibly challenging and enjoyable experience to try and capture the nuances of Hebrew
in song. The Hebrew cafe program gave me the opportunity to share my experience learning 
the language and the additional challenge of making it sound like music to other educators 
with their own affinity for Hebrew. 


New Program Highlights Skills for Prayer Leadership

Posted by Ben R on November 26, 2013 at 1:10 PM Comments comments (0)

By Kelly Kossar


During my time teaching before coming to JTS, I taught a required class called “Synagogue Skills,” designed to educate students on how to participate in and lead tefillot, prayer services. In my classes, I had students from Russia, Israel, Mexico, Ethiopia and all across the United States. These students came from different Jewish backgrounds, among them Reconstructionist, Orthodox, Reform, and Conservative. The task of teaching prayer in a pluralistic setting was something that excited, frustrated, challenged, and inspired me.

When I started my studies at The Davidson School just a few months ago, like all first-year students, I was introduced to the Liturgical Interpreter’s Project, a new initiative aimed at giving students at The Davidson School  the tools to be prayer leaders. As someone who taught a class with similar goals, I have great enthusiasm and excitement for this opportunity.

We have several lunch and learns devoted to specific areas of prayer, and have been given some additional resources for independent learning. Because students at The Davidson School come from such different backgrounds, this offers the opportunity to teach and learn from our professors and from each other.


Dr. Kress runs ING New York City Marathon

Posted by Ben R on November 7, 2013 at 8:15 PM

Yasher Koach to Jeff Kress, The Davidson School Interim Dean, for providing a great role model for us all by exemplifying Jewish values of tzedakkah and gemilut hasadim through his participation in the ING New York City Marathon on November 3, 2013. This is the third marathon Jeff has run to support Chai Lifeline and Camp Simcha, but his first New York marathon.

Chai Lifeline is an organization that helps children and their families during stays in the hospital and beyond.

Teachers Were the Engine of My Jewish Education

Posted by Ben R on November 1, 2013 at 12:00 AM Comments comments (0)

By Ben Rotenberg

I’ve been in a classroom in one way or another for almost twenty-seven years. I’ve gone to day schools and to Shabbat services, taught Hebrew school and bar and bat mitzvah students, participated in limmud at summer camp, and been present in college lecture halls. Whether in a synagogue classroom, a sanctuary, or on benches by the lake, each place of learning had two things in common–There were students and the teacher was someone making Jewish life relevant and engaging.

I’ve been in a classroom in one way or another for almost twenty-seven years. I’ve gone to day schools and to Shabbat services, taught Hebrew school and bar and bat mitzvah students, participated in limmud at summer camp, and been present in college lecture halls. Whether in a synagogue classroom, a sanctuary, or on benches by the lake, each place of learning had two things in common–There were students and the teacher was someone making Jewish life relevant and engaging.

In Foundations of Jewish Education this week, we discussed the role of the teacher and watched two clips that challenged my conception of what it means to be a teacher educator. The first clip was an inspiring TED Talk, “Rita Pierson: Every Kid Needs a Champion, by the late Rita Pierson, a lifetime classroom teacher. Pierson shares powerful anecdotes about the influence teachers can have by building relationships with students. 

 “I gave [my students] a saying to say: ‘I am somebody. I was somebody when I came. I'll be a better somebody when I leave. I am powerful, and I am strong. I deserve the education that I get here.’

The other clip was a TED Talk by Sir Ken Robinson, a professor and lecturer. Robinson’s 2006 lecture, “Ken Robinson: How Schools Kill Creativity,” has been viewed more than nineteen million times.

In his talk, Robinson said,

“... Teaching, properly conceived, is not a delivery system. You know, you're not there just to pass on received information. Great teachers do that, but what great teachers also do is mentor, stimulate, provoke, engage.”

There is a nobility of purpose to Pierson’s statement that teachers can bring to Jewish formal and informal education―Hebrew school, summer camp, day school, and travel experiences. Teachers are more than just a Jewish delivery system. The teacher who integrates their knowledge, experiences, and passions into a dynamic and engaging educational experience makes people want to learn.

In thinking through my different experiences, I remember my teachers as more than what they taught (although I blush at sharing this with them). They built classrooms where I discovered the texts of Rashi. They made my tzrif (bunk) at camp a place of Shabbat celebration. My relationship to my teachers was as powerful as my relationship to other learners, because both provoked me to learn and live a Jewish life.  

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.


Mark Young's articles to be focus of Jewish Ed Lab webinar

Posted by Ben R on October 29, 2013 at 12:10 AM Comments comments (0)


Mark Young, the Program Coordinator of the Experiential Learning Initiative, at JTS’s William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education wrote two very interesting articles that were published in the Journal of Jewish Communal Service and were re-published in


These articles, “The $54,000 Strategy: A Bold Solution to Undervaluing our Jewish Professionals” and “The $54,000 Strategy Step 2: Making ‘Change’ Happen” focused on strategies to attract and retain talented young Jewish professionals in Jewish communal service careers.

The JEDLab (Jewish Education Lab) Facebook group decided to host their first webinar conversation based on Mark’s articles.

Join Mark and JEDLab on Wednesday, November 20, 2013 from 12:00 to 1:00 p.m.:

The $54,000 Strategy Step 2: Making Change Happen Webinar with JedLab

The webinar will include a short presentation from Mark Young followed by responses from Ken Gordon of PEJE, Liz Fisher of Birthright-NEXT, and Dr. Jonathan Krasner of HUC. Our very own Sara Shapiro-Plevan will moderate.



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