Dr. Lesley Litman and Jo-Ellen Unger Named Distinguished Educators by the Association of Reform Jewish Educators - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Dr. Lesley Litman and Jo-Ellen Unger Named Distinguished Educators by the Association of Reform Jewish Educators

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Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) is proud to announce that Dr. Lesley Litman, Director of HUC-JIR’s Executive M.A. in Program in Jewish Education, and HUC-JIR alumna Jo-Ellen Unger were named Distinguished Educators by the Association of Reform Jewish Educators at their Annual Gathering in Denver on January 28, 2020. 

The Association of Reform Jewish Educators (ARJE), the professional association of Jewish Reform Educators, serves a wide variety of Jewish organizations by working to strengthen Reform Jewish religious education. As part of the ARJE’s commitment to advocating for the field of Jewish education, the Association presents awards to practitioners whose work exemplifies best practices. The Distinguished Educator Award honors educators who exemplify the values of ARJE and make significant contributions to Reform Jewish education, in all its forms.

Dr. Lesley Litman

Dr. Litman received this honor for her distinguished career spanning multiple sectors of Jewish education and the Reform Jewish community. She has driven HUC-JIR’s Executive M.A. Program in Jewish Education to excellence since the program’s inception in 2013, guiding the academic curriculum and the uniquely engaged and effective mentoring program. Designed for leaders with at least five years of experience in a Jewish educational leadership position, the Executive M.A. offers a rigorous academic program designed to expand students’ learning and education while enabling them to continue building momentum in their current role. Students expand their capacity for imagination and risk-taking by stepping outside their daily world. Over 80 students have graduated from the program, with another 29 students currently enrolled.

Dr. Miriam Heller Stern, National Director of the School of Education, stated, “Year after year, graduating Executive M.A. students express their gratitude for Lesley’s unending support and encouragement as they navigated the stresses of pursuing a rigorous master’s program as working professionals. She has personally shepherded over 100 Jewish educators to a new level of leadership and service in the field – not many people can claim such an achievement.”

President Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D., shared, “Not only is Lesley’s work strengthening and inspiring the whole field of Jewish education, it is pioneering in distance learning, advancing the way we need to be educating throughout North America and the world.”

Dr. Litman’s expertise and service reaches wide horizons. With decades of experience in day schools, she led the Reform Day School Externship at HUC-JIR and served the Jewish Day Schools of the 21st Century initiative at the Rhea Hirsch School of Education. In the realm of congregational education, Dr. Litman is the lead consultant for the Experiment in Congregational Education in Boston, guiding innovative curriculum and program design. This year, she designed and hosted a field trip for Chicago congregational educators to observe and learn from innovative visions in action. She is also a mentor and trainer for youth professionals through the Cincinnati Jewish Teen Initiative.

A founding member of Kibbutz Yahel and a Hebraist to her core, Dr. Litman is known for her contributions to the fields of Israel education and Hebrew education. She is a consultant for the iCenter, guiding day schools as they implement the INfuse toolkit for Israel content integration in Jewish day schools. Her years of experience as the Union for Reform Judaism’s national specialist in Hebrew and Day School education positioned her to advise HUC-JIR’s Provost on the College-Institute’s Hebrew program. 

This year, Dr. Litman traveled the country presenting the research she co-authored with Dr. Michael Zeldin, former National Director of the School of Education, on how educational leaders navigate enduring dilemmas, a study of the methodology and learning outcomes of the Executive M.A. students’ capstone projects. 

“HUC-JIR is so fortunate to have Lesley as the driving force of the Executive M.A., the vanguard of ‘one School of Education’ and a team player in so much of the College-Institute’s frontiers, especially hybrid learning. She is a gifted leader and Jewish educator,” Dr. Stern stated. 

Dr. Litman shared the honoree stage with one of her former students, Jo-Ellen Unger.  Director of URJ 6 Points Creative Arts Academy and a graduate of Cohort 4 of the Executive M.A. Program, Unger is a proud alumna of HUC-JIR and serves on the School of Education Alumni Association leadership team. Unger was selected by an HUC-JIR alumni nominating committee to serve as the the 2019 Zeldin Alumna-in-Residence, a program endowed by School of Education alumni to bring an alum to the Jack H. Skirball Campus in Los Angeles to teach, mentor, and inspire current students. During the program in November 2019, she shared her philosophy of creative integration, delved into the “magic” of camp, and delighted students with the story of her professional journey. The Distinguished Educator Honor is a celebration of Jo-Ellen’s creativity and leadership.

“One thing I can say that Lesley and Jo-Ellen have in common is that I have had educators tell me that they literally owe their lives to one of these two women,” Dr. Stern stated. “They care for people deeply, the kind of care that pushes people to be better, stronger versions of themselves. That kind of care is transformative and essential for cultivating new leaders for the field.”


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