Dr. Sivan Zakai Appointed to HUC-JIR Faculty as Assistant Professor of Jewish Education and Sara S. Lee Chair in Jewish Education at the Skirball Campus, Los Angeles

Monday, June 5, 2017

Rabbi Aaron Panken, Ph.D., President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, has announced that Dr. Sivan Zakai has been appointed to the faculty as Assistant Professor of Jewish Education and holder of the Sara S. Lee Chair in Jewish Education at our Skirball Campus in Los Angeles. A thought leader in Jewish education, including curriculum, history education, and Israel education, Zakai will begin her appointment as of July 1, 2017.

Rabbi Panken stated, “Dr. Zakai is a trail-blazer whose professional expertise within the congregational school and day school contexts as well as innovative research and publications in the areas of Jewish identity and Israel education are in the vanguard of new thinking and program development. As the holder of the Sara S. Lee Chair, established to honor our pioneering faculty member who brought forth generations of Jewish educational leaders, she will sustain and expand upon the strengths of our School of Education as she prepares and inspires her students to be agents for positive change in the vital arena of Jewish lifelong learning.” 

Rabbi Michael Marmur, Ph.D., Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Provost, added, “With the appointment of Sivan Zakai, HUC-JIR reaffirms its commitment to excellence and leadership in the field of Jewish education. Dr. Zakai has proven herself to be a significant researcher and practitioner in various aspects of Jewish education. Bringing her into our institution is a development of immense promise. We are thrilled to welcome her to the College-Institute.”

Dr. Zakai received her M.A. in History (2006) and her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Teacher Education (2009) at Stanford University, where her dissertation focused on “Learning Our History: History and Identity at Jewish Community High School.” She received her B.A. with honors in Government and in The College of Letters, an interdisciplinary program combining history, philosophy, and literature at Wesleyan University (2000), with a thesis entitled “Liberating the Agunah: The History and Politics of Israeli Divorce Law.”

Dr. Zakai comes to HUC-JIR after serving simultaneously as Assistant Professor of Education in the Graduate Center for Jewish Education at American Jewish University and as Affiliated Scholar at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis University. Dr. Zakai has led several significant research and training initiatives, including the Children’s Learning About Israel Project and the  Teaching Israel Fellowship, and has served as Director of Research in the Stanford History Education Group at Stanford University.

For the past nine years, she has been the principal consultant of Zakai Educational Consulting, helping schools, campus, synagogues and Jewish agencies on visioning, strategic planning, curriculum design, and program evaluation.  She has taught at Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto, CA; Peninsula Havurah High in Los Altos, CA; Rashi School in Newton, MA; and Adath Israel Hebrew School in Middletown, CT. She designed and implemented programs about Jewish identity and pluralism for Genesis at Brandeis University, supervised staff and developed Jewish education programs as Rosh Eidah at Camp Swig Solel Hebrew Program, and supervised counselors-in-training and developed programs at Camp Newman.

She has published articles on children’s thoughts and feelings about the Jewish State, history and heritage in a Jewish high school; Israel education in North America; purposes and practices of Israel education and Hebrew education; and integration and pluralism in Philadelphia; among other topics. Her articles have appeared in the field’s leading publications, including Teachers College Record, Curriculum Inquiry, Journal of Jewish Education, History of Education Quarterly, and AJS Review as well as popular outlets such as eJewish Philanthropy, The Jewish Journal, The Jerusalem Post, The Jewish Daily Forward, Kveller.com, HaYidion, Times of Israel, JWeekly, Sh’ma, and in edited volumes. She is a reviewer for the Network for Research in Jewish Education Awards Committee, the Journal of Jewish Education, Journal of Curriculum Studies, and Journal of Learning Sciences. She serves on the Editorial Board of Peoplehood in Practice, a Publications Series.

Dr. Zakai has presented her scholarship broadly including at the Network for Research in Jewish Education, American Educational Research Association, Association for Israel Studies, United Jewish Israel Appeal Conference on Research in Jewish Education, iCamp Conference for Israel Education, and the European Association of Learning and Instruction.

She has been honored with awards from the Network for Research in Jewish Education for outstanding publication in Jewish educational research, and research that advances knowledge and methodology in Jewish education.  She was the recipient of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship, Newhouse Dissertation Grant and Research Grant, Dorot Fellowship in Israel, and Bennett Needler Award at Wesleyan University. 


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 men and women for service to 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, 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. www.huc.edu