Over 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:
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.
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!