Remarks from Dr. Miriam Heller Stern During the Alumni Breakfast at the 2017 ARJE Gathering - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Remarks from Dr. Miriam Heller Stern During the Alumni Breakfast at the 2017 ARJE Gathering

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Alumni eating breakfast at the 2017 ARJE gatheringOver 70 alumni of the School of Education master’s degree programs joined together for breakfast at the Association for Reform Jewish Educators gathering in St. Louis in January. It was an occasion to highlight the unification of the three alumni associations, and indeed, each program was well-represented. Lisa Langer paid tribute to Dr. Isa Aron, who will be retiring at the end of this academic year. The co-chairs of the Zeldin Alumni Campaign provided an update on the current fundraising project in honor of Dr. Michael Zeldin’s retirement.

At the breakfast, School of Education National Director Dr. Miriam Heller Stern shared the following remarks:

I imagine that what I’m feeling at this moment is what it must feel like for a person attending birthright.  I got up really, really early this morning for an experience that everyone swears is worth it. It feels a little foreign. The music sounds exotic.  Nevertheless, it feels warm and authentic and I feel instantly connected with the people; it feels like home.

Thank you for welcoming me home. It is a privilege to stand where Sara Lee and Michael Zeldin have stood previously. Theirs are big shoes to fill, but fortunately, I enjoy shoes; I embrace the challenge.

I want to begin by thanking my colleagues who put this wonderful event together-Dena Stein, HUC’s alumni engagement coordinator and our breakfast chairs, Sarah Lauing and Ellie Tepper.

I also want to thank the tri-chairs of the newly unified School of Education Alumni Association: Rachel Margolis, Debbie Bram, and Rena Fraade, who have worked tirelessly to begin the tremendous task of weaving these networks together, creating by-laws, and developing shared programming for alumni of our three programs.

I would also like to acknowledge my outstanding colleagues, the faculty and administration of the School of Education Faculty who have been teaching at the gathering: Dr. Isa Aron; Dr. Sam Joseph, and Dr. Jan Katzew. I also want to thank Rabbi Laura Novak Winer, who teaches several courses in the Rhea Hirsch School, and has been my source on all things ARJE. Thank you to our Directors:  Dr. Evie Rotstein, who stayed home in NY to welcome her first grandchild; and Dr. Lesley Litman, our intrepid director of the EMA.

I would like to share some updates:

  1. We have a faculty search underway to fill a tenure track position at the Rhea Hirsch School. I want reiterate my gratitude to the alumni and friends of the Rhea Hirsch School of Education for endowing the Sara S Lee chair in Jewish education. That endowment ensured that we were able to refill that position when it was vacated by Dr. Tali Zelkowicz this year. You have paid it forward so that the next generation can receive the same high level, sophisticated coursework and supervision that you hold dear. I thank you for your leadership and deep commitment. I also want to recognize Dr. Isa Aron, who is performing an incredible service as chair of the faculty search committee; it is a robust task and I am optimistic that the search will yield an outstanding junior scholar to provide research and teaching that will contribute to HUC’s position as a leading, visionary center of expertise in Jewish education.
  2. As many of you know, I’m on a listening tour, gathering data, perspectives and impressions of the state of the field to feed into a new vision for the School of Education at HUC. Our mission is clear:
  • A graduate school of Jewish education must be a laboratory for Jewish potential;
  • It must cultivate the highest caliber educational leadership;
  • It must provide thought leadership to advance professional practice in the field.

We do all of these things in the service of learners across stages of life and educational settings.

How do we achieve our mission?  That is the subject for inquiry, reflection and design. Over the next six months we will begin to imagine how we might upgrade our menu of graduate offerings to meet the needs of a new generation of prospective students and an evolving field.

HUC-JIR has always prided itself on its high standards and quality. But the cost of delivering high quality graduate education is high; and today’s students have more limited resources.  I have dedicated a lot of time in these first few months getting to know prospective supporters of HUC and I am working closely with President Panken and the advancement team to share our message and mission with essential stakeholders. We need to attract more talent to our field. New models or programs will not succeed without bright, committed, prepared professionals to lead.

  1. There are many people here who are the proud products of our Executive MA program; HUC and the Jim Joseph Foundation invested in you – working professionals already in the field – to enrich and elevate your practice and your leadership. And boy have you made us proud! We are thrilled that Anne Berman Waldorf is being installed as the new president of the ARJE. Some of you may have heard that this year, after 6 cohorts, we are giving the EMA a shnat shabbaton  --  pausing admissions for one year so that we can reevaluate the program design and seek new resources to keep it affordable. I am incredibly grateful to have Dr. Lesley Litman, director of the EMA program, as my partner in planning for the future. In the meantime, prospective students will still have the opportunity to take the online prerequisite course, XED500, which begins in late February. If you have had a chance to learn with Dr. Sam Joseph during the conference, then you know what a treat it is to study with him.
  2. We are actively involved in elevating the quality of practice in the field. The URJ just received a Covenant signature grant to run Youth Pro 101, a professional development program for youth professionals, and the School of Education will be a partner to provide essential content expertise. In addition, we are co-hosting, with the URJ and BJE Los Angeles, a conference on innovations in congregational education on June 11.  All of these initiatives are designed to wed our intellectual and professional resources with those of our key partners in the field and together enrich the quality of Jewish education.

I look at the talent in this room and I am in awe of this community of professionals. The future of the Jewish people is literally in your hands. What a gift we have in you. And what a gift you have in each other as a support system throughout the country, with creativity and passion.  And in those inevitable leadership moments where you feel stuck or stumped -- remember, your brain trust is right here. And your home base at HUC, even if there's someone new at the door to welcome you back, we are always here for you, ready to provide you with energy, problem solving, and new strategies.

I’m reminded of the quiet heroines of the first chapter of Exodus. A new Pharoah arises and decrees that all Hebrew baby boys be thrown into the Nile. But the midwives, Shifra and Puah, find a way to resist. Like these midwives, educators are constantly strategizing to find creative solutions in order to lead and do what’s right. I feel such a sense of pride, being in the presence of a room full of educators. Like the midwives, we always find an ingenious way to deliver.

The theme of this conference is intentional leadership. If there was ever a moment in your careers when intentional leadership in education matters, it is now.

We live in a moment where we are seeing a clash of values in society. We are also seeing a referendum on what constitutes truth and evidence. It is a moment in history where educators are among the most important leaders in society. We have a responsibility to teach the next generation how to navigate multiple truths; how to make sense of values in tension; how to bear witness, analyze and act with responsibility and integrity, with our core texts as our guides. Literacy and empathy are our most powerful tools. Literacy allows us to sort and assess information. Empathy allows us to know and respect other humans, even when they are others, or strangers, or we disagree.

The task is not easy. To be in our line of work, you really have to love what you do. You may have noticed that we have a new HUC-JIR logo and a new recruitment tagline: “Do what you love, love what you do” (#lovewhatyoudo). I suspect there are times when you feel like you are falling out of love with your job. Love isn't always romantic. Love is hard. Love sometimes punches you in the gut and makes your heart bleed. Love is a dream and an ideal -- Love takes grit. Love takes resilience. And love takes optimism because you know what's right and what matters.

Let’s not forget why we do what we do—

v For the children, youth, adults and families that we engage and inspire.

v For the communities we build through learning.

v For the Torah, the creative sparks, the values that we seed in the world.

v For each other – because we are blessed with smart, dedicated colleagues.

If you haven’t told us yet why you #lovewhatyoudo, let us know. Better yet, tell a protégé. Inspire the next generation to pursue their graduate studies in Jewish educational leadership at HUC-JIR. We can’t wait to welcome them to our campuses to learn, grow, and lead!


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.