Michelle Shapiro Abraham, Director of Program Development for the Campaign for Youth Engagement at the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) since 2014, as well as a consultant for the Foundation for Jewish Camp, and a clinical faculty member in the HUC-JIR Executive Master’s Program in Jewish Education, is one of the three visionary educators named as the 2015 recipients of The Covenant Award for excellence in the field. The Covenant Foundation stated that Abraham demonstrates “the power of inspired Jewish education to create change and drive impact.”
Abraham is a 1996 graduate of HUC-JIR’s Rhea Hirsch School of Education (RHSOE), which she credits for her career path and excellence. “Everything I am as a Jewish educator has its roots at the RHSOE – the way I think, the way I approach issues, the colleagues I turn to for advice and collaboration. I would not even be in this career if Barry Lutz had not encouraged me to be a Jewish educator and consider his alma mater.”
In announcing the award, Eli N. Evans, Chairman of the Board of Directors of The Covenant Foundation, lauded Abraham for elevating and inspiring the field “with unwavering devotion, strong leadership, sacred obligation to the future, and dynamic approaches that fuel individual community enrichment, cohesion, and growth.” Harlene Winnick Appelman, Executive Director of The Covenant Foundation, added that Abraham is “moving the field forward and strengthening the Jewish present and future.”
Abraham will be honored at the awards dinner in Washington, DC, on November 8, 2015, during the General Assembly of The Jewish Federations of North America. She will join 72 other Jewish educators honored with a Covenant Award since the Foundation established it in 1991. Along with the honor, Abraham will receive $36,000 and her institution will receive $5000.
A Jewish educator who has altered the educational landscape in myriad settings and for a cross section of students and colleagues, Abraham explained that her work takes her “from synagogues, classrooms and offices, to camps, conferences and preschool programs,” and that her award validates “all of these settings and the many places Jewish educators can make an impact.”
Her roles encompass being the author of children’s books, a writer of curricula, director of a synagogue school, and creator of summer camping programs, among others. Her multi-faceted professional career reflects that Jewish education transcends labels, boundaries, and silos to make lasting impressions and generate short- and long-term rewards. When queried about her specialization or her being a formal or informal educator, or author of curriculum or prayer books, or teacher of adults or children, she replies that she does “whatever is required; for me the lines are fluid.”
At the URJ, she has created educational experiences that have transformed the lives of thousands of Jewish youth and altered approaches of camp staff and educators. At the Foundation for Jewish Camp, she designed Jewish values-based curricula customized for URJ specialty camps, including the Six Points Sports Academy and Six Points Sci Tech Academy. As manager of the URJ Service Corps program, whe works with college-age camp staff to bring camp-type experiences to synagogues during the off-season, building a continuum of exposures throughout the year and solidifying community. She helped develop the Kivun program, designing a series of professional development opportunities to equip camp specialists with skills and Judaic knowledge to deepen and enhance learning and experiences for campers.
URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs noted, “Abraham’s outstanding work enacts bold, new ideas that represent the URJ’s 2020 Vision, our strategic, ambitious action plan. I thank her for her dedication to ensuring a strong Jewish future.”
Prior to joining the URJ, Abraham served as Director of Education at Temple Sholom in Fanwood, NJ for twelve years. There she designed and supervised educational approaches and programming for nearly 140 students in the religious school and for the congregation as a whole. She launched a markedly successful approach to family and congregational learning that engages the entire synagogue in the same topics concurrently, fortifying community and cross-generational ties.
The two other recipients of the 2015 Covenant Awards are Sandra Ostrowicz Lilienthal, Ed.D., Instructor and Curriculum Developer for The Rose and Jack Orloff Central Agency for Jewish Education of Broward County, Davie, FL; and Amy Meltzer, Lead Teacher, Gan (Kindergarten) at the Lander-Greenspoon Academy, Northampton, MA.