" The turning point in my life was coming to RZJHS because that was when I became a leader. I was empowered by my teachers and I learned how to be a good student. I developed a good work ethic, I took initiative, and I got to shape a lot of things that are still in existence at RZJHS today. I definitely wouldn’t trade my unique experience for anything."
Three visionary educators demonstrating the power of inspired Jewish education, including Dr. Rebecca Schorsch, Director of Jewish Studies at Chicagoland Jewish High School in Deerfield, are the 2014 recipients of The Covenant Award for excellence in the field, The Covenant Foundation announced last week.
Schorsch is joined by Alison Kur, Executive Director of Jewish Living at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, Massachusetts and Rabbi Yisroel Boruch Sufrin, Head of School at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy in Beverly Hills, California, as the recipients of the award, among the most coveted of honors in the field of Jewish education.
Eli N. Evans, Chairman of the Board of Directors of The Covenant Foundation, cited them as catalysts of innovation and educators with a drive, commitment and creativity that is strengthening students, institutions, communities, and the Jewish future.
“These three individuals illuminate the field of Jewish education through a combination of devotion, approach, strong leadership for the present and sacred obligation to the future,” he said. “Each of them, each day, is proving that Jewish education – across the broad spectrum of ages, venues and denominations – fuels individual and community enrichment, cohesion and growth. They are models of what we all can be.”
Schorsch 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.
“What is compelling and even stirring both in Rebecca’s teaching and in her more personal interactions is how she pushes people to challenge their beliefs and engage in difficult reflection about the things that matter most,” said Tony Frank, CJHS Head of School, who nominated her for The Covenant Award. “Ultimately, this is the way in which Rebecca’s influence is so often experienced not merely as profound, but as transformative.”
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. 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.
“Reaching kids of any age can be a challenge for an educator,” said Benjy Forester, a 2012 graduate of CJHS who studied with Schorsch and continues to do so as a counselor at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. “Empowering the next generation of Jews and helping them cultivate Jewish identities that make them proud, however, is an imperative on which Jewish continuity depends. The skills Rebecca teaches and the conversations she begins leave students with important challenges and lessons that resurface as they continue their lives as independent young Jewish adults.”
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.
“Every day I feel blessed to do what I love, something at once meaningful and critical to building the world that we wish to inhabit,” Schorsch said. “I am grateful to Covenant for honoring my work and, more importantly, for valuing the significance of Jewish education.
“This award depends upon the deep support of family and friends, students, colleagues and community, who nourish me, encourage me, challenge me, and work devotedly to teach and embody Torah. I am excited to join a national cohort of committed and excellent Jewish educators who will further stimulate my thinking and support my work in the field.”
Schorsch, Kur and Sufrin join 69 other Jewish educators honored with a Covenant Award since the Foundation established it in 1991. Along with the honor, they 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, D.C. on Nov. 9, during the General Assembly of The Jewish Federations of North America.
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