Two of HUC-JIR’s cherished Jewish educational leaders received the Distinguished Educator Honor at the Annual Gathering of the Association for Reform Jewish Educators (ARJE) on January 28, 2020, in Denver, CO.
Dr. Lesley Litman, Director of the Executive M.A. Program in Jewish Education (EMA), was honored for her distinguished career in spanning multiple sectors of Jewish education and the Reform Jewish community. She has driven the EMA to excellence since the program’s inception, guiding the academic curriculum and the uniquely engaged and effective mentoring program. Over 80 students have graduated from the program since 2013, with another 29 in the program currently.
Dr. Miriam Heller Stern, National Director of the School of Education, stated, “Year after year, graduating EMA students express their gratitude for Lesley’s unending support and encouragement as they navigated the stresses of pursuing a rigorous masters 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.”
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 (ECE) 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 has traveled the country presenting the research she co-authored with Dr. Michael Zeldin on how educational leaders navigate enduring dilemmas, a study of the methodology and learning outcomes of the EMA students’ capstone projects.
“HUC-JIR is so fortunate to have Lesley as the driving force of the EMA, 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.
HUC-JIR President Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D., shared a video message of congratulations during the Annual Gathering. “Not only is her 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 shared the honoree stage with one of her former students, Jo-Ellen Unger. Director of URJ 6 Points Creative Arts Academy and a member of Cohort 4 of the EMA program, Unger is a proud alumna of HUC-JIR and serves on the School of Education Alumni Association leadership team. She was selected by an alumni nominating committee to be 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.”