Students in the Executive M.A. Program in Jewish Education Awarded Inaugural Rabbi Aaron Panken Memorial Scholarships from ECE-RJ - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Students in the Executive M.A. Program in Jewish Education Awarded Inaugural Rabbi Aaron Panken Memorial Scholarships from ECE-RJ

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Monday, May 13, 2019

Early Childhood Educators of Reform Judaism (ECE-RJ), an affiliate of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), has honored the memory and mission of Rabbi Aaron D. Panken, Ph.D., z”l, with the creation of The Rabbi Aaron Panken Memorial Scholarship. The Scholarship provides financial support to help ECE-RJ members further their Jewish education in an accredited school of higher learning.

The inaugural Rabbi Aaron Panken Memorial Scholarships were awarded to two educators enrolled in HUC-JIR’s Executive M.A. Program in Jewish Education: Mary Passell, Director of the Temple Chai Early Childhood Center in Phoenix, AZ, and a member of Cohort 8 of the Executive M.A. Program; and Susie Wexler, Early Childhood Director at Temple B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim in Deerfield, IL, and a member of Cohort 7 of the Executive M.A. Program.

Miriam Heller Stern, Ph.D., National Director of HUC-JIR’s School of Education, stated, “Rabbi Panken believed deeply in Jewish educational outreach, and these educators are ensuring his legacy with joy and commitment on the front lines.”

Lesley Litman, Ed.D., RJE, Director of HUC-JIR's Executive M.A. Program in Jewish Education, continued, "We take enormous pride in the accomplishments of our students who, even while participating in the Executive M.A. experience, immerse themselves in the work of ECE-RJ, as members and aspiring ECE-RJ leaders. We are grateful to the ECE-RJ for partnering with us to deepen and enhance Jewish educational leadership for early childhood education and the broader field of Jewish education."

Mary PassellMary Passell has served as Director of the Temple Chai Early Childhood Center for the past six years. "I am so grateful to have been awarded the Rabbi Aaron Panken Memorial Scholarship through the ECE-RJ. It has been an aspiration of mine to earn an M.A. in Jewish Education, and as a recipient of this Scholarship, I am making that dream a reality. I did not know Rabbi Aaron Panken personally; however, I know that I would have appreciated the depths of his scholarship and the kindness of his heart. I hope to amplify his voice and share his vision in the greater Jewish community."

Passell earned her B.S. in Family Studies and Child Development from the University of Arizona and an elementary teaching certificate from Arizona State University. She has been AMS-certified in three- to six-year-old Montessori education. She was a participant of the JECELI (Jewish Early Childhood Education Leadership Institute) Cohort 3, holds a 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training, and is trained in Mindfulness Meditation. As well as being the Director of the Temple Chai ECC, Passell teaches yoga and mindfulness to the children at her school. She has presented on Mindfulness at various conferences, including Mindfulness for Educators at the ECE-RJ Peace in Our Time conference.

Susie WexlerSusie Wexler has served as Director of Temple B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim's Early Childhood Program for the past five years, bringing over 15 years  of experience working with Jewish families and young children to the Chava Center community. "Being an inaugural recipient of the Rabbi Aaron Panken Memorial Scholarship is about more than the dollars to support my participation in HUC-JIR's Executive M.A. Program in Jewish Education. The dollars are incredibly helpful in underwriting the cost of classes, purchasing books, and utilizing additional sessions of Hebrew tutoring. Yet, for me, the value of the Scholarship is greater than its financial implications. I feel a sense of encouragement from my Jewish community to push through on the days when being a student AND a full-time working adult feels overwhelming. I look at the framed certificate on my desk and know that I am a part of the continuity of Jewish learners. While I never had the fortune to meet Rabbi Panken, from all I have heard, he was a man to emulate; an educational role model to use as a beacon to guide me through any challenges I face as a learner.”

Wexler holds a B.A. in Psychology and Master of Social Work.  As a lifelong learner, she has taken courses at Erikson Institute and Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership, and is an active participant in CEELI (Chicago Early Engagement Leadership Institute).  She has been involved in Jewish education her entire adult life through her work at JCC, in Jewish camping, and by her service on the Boards of Directors at local Jewish institutions. Wexler has presented locally and nationally including NAEYC, ECE-RJ, and URJ Biennial.

The Executive M.A. Program in Jewish Education at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion invites educators with a minimum of five years of experience in a leadership position in the field of Jewish education to strengthen their skills and knowledge in a part-time, flexible program. This program is ideally suited for professionals looking to expand their professional learning who cannot enroll in HUC-JIR's full-time programs due to employment and location. Students study in intensive onsite seminars at our campuses in Cincinnati, New York, Los Angeles, and Jerusalem, as well as participate in e-learning courses, study in Israel for ten days. Students are guided by clinical faculty mentors who are veterans in the field and engage in a culminating capstone projects. After 24 months of study with our full-time faculty, students emerge from this innovative program with enhanced knowledge, honed pedagogical skills, and strengthened leadership capacity that will enable them to enrich their career, enhance their role as a Jewish educator, and transform Jewish education in their own institution. The Executive M.A. Program is currently seeking interested candidates for Cohort 9. To learn more, click here or contact Lesley Litman, Ed.D., RJE, at llitman@huc.edu.

Rooted in the Reform Movement, Early Childhood Educators of Reform Judaism provides valuable resources to directors, teachers, and stakeholders of early education programs with a connection to a Jewish organization.


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. www.huc.edu