HUC-JIR Launches Third Cohort of Executive M.A. Program in Jewish Education with Student Rabbi Phyllis Sommer - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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HUC-JIR Launches Third Cohort of Executive M.A. Program in Jewish Education with Student Rabbi Phyllis Sommer

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Executive M.A. Program in Jewish Education at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) launched its third cohort of fifteen students on May 21, 2013 with a three-day intensive seminar on its Cincinnati campus, followed by a two-week Summer Institute at the New York campus from June 16-27. 

The Executive M.A. Program in Jewish Education, a 24-month-long program of study, is made possible by the generous grant support of the Jim Joseph Foundation.  The Jim Joseph Foundation has provided $15 million to HUC-JIR to increase the number and enhance the quality of Jewish educators working with Jewish youth and young adults through the development of new certificate and degree programs and training and mentoring new and practicing educational professional.

“The Executive M.A. Program builds on the ‘wisdom of practice’ that the students have developed during their years of service to schools and congregations.  The program enables them to enhance their knowledge about Judaism, strengthen their understanding of education, and refine their leadership capacity,” stated Dr. Michael Zeldin, Senior National Director of the Schools of Education, HUC-JIR.

Lesley Litman, Coordinator of the Executive M.A. Program in Jewish Education, explained, “Student excitement about their learning was palpable as they engaged in their first two courses on the HUC-JIR New York campus.  This cohort is deeply inspiring both intellectually and spiritually.  They blend the wisdom of their experiences with their coursework, thereby enriching both their academic learning and their workplaces.”  

The fifteen students of the third cohort of the Executive M.A. Program in Jewish Education hail from throughout North America, span in age from their late 20s to late 50s, and reflect a diversity of professional experience ranging from congregational educators to a Hillel assistant director and synagogue executive director.

Rabbi Phyllis Sommer is a member of the third cohort. She has served as the associate rabbi at Am Shalom in Glencoe, IL, for the past 10 years. Ordained in 2003 from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, she also holds a Certificate in Jewish Education from HUC-JIR. She is nationally recognized for her blogging and work in integrating social media and technology into Jewish life and learning. She is married to Rabbi Michael Sommer and they have four children, David, Sam, z"l, Yael and Solomon. 

The Executive M.A. Program is designed for educational professionals with a minimum of five years of experience working in the field who seek advanced academic and professional training through a part-time program that allows them to strengthen their skills and knowledge while continuing to live and work in their own communities throughout North America.  The Executive M.A. Program in Jewish Education offers a course of study that utilizes the cohort-based approach of many executive M.B.A. programs and high-quality doctoral programs in Education.  Through a series of intensive on-site seminars at HUC-JIR’s campuses in Cincinnati, Los Angeles, New York, and Jerusalem, cohort learning with long-distance courses, and mentorship by veterans in the field, the students will emerge with enhanced knowledge, honed educational skills, and strengthened leadership capacity that will enable them to transform Jewish education in their own institutions.

From May 21-23, the cohort studied with HUC-JIR’s leading education faculty, including Rabbi Samuel K. Joseph, Professor of Jewish Education and Leadership Development at our Cincinnati campus; Dr. Michael Zeldin; and Dr. Evie Rotstein, Director of the New York School of Education.  In addition, students studied with Dr. Gary P. Zola, Director of the American Jewish Archives and Professor of the American Jewish Experience, and Dr. Jonathan Cohen, Dean, HUC-JIR/Cincinnati, and met with their mentors who are guiding their journey throughout the program. 

The goals of this first intensive learning experience were to build cohort relationships and connections with the academic and clinical faculty; establish familiarity with HUC-JIR’s research resources, including the campus-wide system of the Klau Library, the second largest Jewish library in the world, and the American Jewish Archives, the renowned center of study, research, and publication in the field of American Jewish history; and synthesize and take home new learning in Jewish studies and education.

The cohort began their learning in earnest at a Summer Institute in residence at HUC-JIR/New York with two intensive courses during the final two weeks of June.  Dr. Michael Marmur, Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Provost at HUC-JIR, taught a course in Modern Jewish Thought and Dr. Adriane Leveen, Senior Lecturer in Hebrew Bible and Lead Judaica Specialist in the Jim Joseph initiatives at HUC-JIR, taught a course on the Jewish Textual Tradition with a particular focus on Bible.  The instructors noted that the learning was substantially enriched by the great wealth of experience students brought to bear on the learning.

In early November, students studied at the Jack H. Skirball Campus in Los Angeles, where they engaged in a three-day intensive as part of the Teaching and Learning course with Dr. Lisa Grant, Professor of Jewish Education at our New York campus.  Upon their return home from the intensive, two students had the following to share:

"This program invites practitioners to a conversation at the intersection of leadership, teaching and learning.  The content is excellent; but this program is particularly remarkable for its depth, relationships, and systematic, competent modeling of excellence in education." Anna Hartman, The Paradigm Project

"The Executive M.A. Program in Jewish Education has handed me a kaleidoscope with many new lenses through which I can view Jewish education.   Every class, every assignment turns the kaleidoscope so that a new image emerges filled with ideas and possibilities.  At the same time, the program continuously refers back to the reality of our current professional lives.   I am growing, learning, exploring and considering how to apply all this to my work." Louise Riddell-Kaufman, Congregation Beth Israel, Carmel, CA

For more information about the Executive M.A. Program, click here or contact Lesley Litman, Program Coordinator, at


The Jim Joseph Foundation Education Initiative at HUC-JIR expands HUC-JIR’s education programs to reach a wide variety of people from across the United States with a broad range of interests in the field of Jewish education.  In addition to generous scholarships, the initiative enables HUC-JIR to create an Executive M.A. Program; certificates in Jewish education of adolescents and emerging adults and in Jewish early childhood education; alumni induction and retention programs; and a joint rabbinical-education program in Cincinnati and cantorial-education program in New York (to complement the current rabbinical-education program in Los Angeles and New York).

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding.