Two new educators bring fresh approaches to synagogue programs.
By Lisa Grajewski, Orange County Jewish Life Journal
As Jews we are so mindful of education that it is embedded in our prayers and commandments: "Thou shalt teach them diligently to thy children" (Deut. Vi.7) and in our proverbs: "If you have acquired knowledge, what do you lack? If you lack knowledge, what have you acquired?" Our commitment to our children, through education, is a preface to building our future Jewish community, so it is always an honor to be given the responsibility of recognizing those very special women and men who make a career of creating our future leaders as educators.
Two recent additions to our community, as educators -- Jocee Hudson and Estee Pollak -- bring a brand new perspective to the two synagogues. Their freshness to the Jewish communal world is equally matched by their energy, resourcefulness, and creativity -- a new set of eyes. Both women, just out of graduate school at the Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, bring equal values and commitment to education, but have two entirely different styles matching an equally diverse philosophy.
Jocelyn "Jocee" Hudson, who holds Master of Arts degrees in Jewish Education and Hebrew Letters will be ordained as a rabbi in May 2007. However, her impact on the world as a Jewish educator was not always in the forefront of her mind. As a young child her dream was to be an orange juice tester, but, living in Nixa, Missouri, and being the only Jewish kid in school, "...really affected the kind of Jewish person I became. I had to learn about my own faith to teach others. I needed to understand my own people, discover my roots." Shortly after this realization, Jocee spent a quarter in Israel, attending the Alexander Muss High School Program and gave up her dream of OJ to finally end up in the OC.
Jocee will be ordained as a rabbi, but sees herself as an educator and pursuer of justice as well. She has spent time in El Salvador, which made her look deeper at the question: "Is there a difference between giving tzedakah and performing social justice?" Her answer? An emphatic "yes." Looking at justice in the history of the Jewish people, especially the early Reform Movement is an inspiration of how we can use it [justice] today. As an educator, she could not be in a better position to spread the word.
Though Jocee has spent time as a student rabbi for a synagogue in Ohio and as a teaching assistant at the University of Southern California, she was recently a rabbinic-education intern at Temple Beth Sholom. In taking her current position at the synagogue, Jocee wants to continue helping Beth Sholom on the path that Mindy Davids began. However, she would like to help the education program evolve as well by infusing her love of justice and the exploration of Biblical texts through a literary lens. And, as Beth Sholom is her first professional position, she begins with a clean slate, albeit challenging.
Having worked with and educated the adult community most recently, Jocee loves working with people of all ages, which is why she is so excited about being a synagogue educator. She states, "Judaism can be fun and accessible to people of all ages - that's what makes my job so much fun!" One of her main goals as educator is to put together a committee at Beth Sholom, renewing the process of fitting together diverse learners, i.e. adults, children, and everything in between.
Estee Pollak is also a recent graduate, with a Master's Degree in Jewish Education from the Hebrew Union College, but a history of a Jewish experience across the spectrum. Originally from a suburb outside of Detroit, Michigan, Estee attended an Orthodox day school until she moved to Orange County at the age of nine, where she then grew up attending services at Temple Beth El. With this experience, it is not accidental that she wrote a thesis on comparative Judaism and the higher goal of showing differences while embracing unity.
That embracing unity is being brought to the educational program at University Synagogue. While Estee busily writes new curriculum that involves entire classrooms and the school, she is also bringing groups together by starting a new high school program, which will discuss ethics, values, and modern teen issues; and providing a free dinner once a month for religious school families so they may participate in services and learn together.
Parents will also have an opportunity to join their children for tefilla one Sunday a month.
The synagogue has also done a good job of embracing. Says Estee, "The rabbi and cantor are right by my side. They are visible and totally committed to the school and share my vision of creating a place of lifelong learning." Estee wants the adults to feel a part of the synagogue through education [as well]. "Being an active member is not just going to services but being involved in classes - even if their children have moved on."
Estee's goals for the school are very clear: not to be a traditional school, but experiential. "Classroom learning is very important and necessary, but active learning is by far more influential." Her hope is that in creating this experiential learning environment she will allow for experience and create a love for Judaism through active learning. "I hope that my students leave with a few things: a strong Jewish identity; a love of Judaism; a desire for life long learning; and a feeling that the synagogue is their home - a community for them. I also want the students (both adult and children) to feel intellectually challenged and engaged and to feel comfortable in asking difficult questions."
Both of these new educators come at a time where a lot of change is taking place in our Jewish community. They bring a fresh set of eyes and innovative ideas. As it is written in the Tanach, "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven." So, we say goodbye to Mindy Davids and Jessica Schroeter, two dynamic and well- respected educators and welcome Jocee Hudson and Estee Pollak to Orange County. We look forward to the new season and purpose they bring to our community.