Jo-Ellen Unger, RJE, Honored as Dr. Michael Zeldin Alumna-in-Residence for the School of Education - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Jo-Ellen Unger, RJE, Honored as Dr. Michael Zeldin Alumna-in-Residence for the School of Education

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Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Rhea Hirsch School of Education (RHSOE) students, alumni, and faculty welcomed Jo-Ellen Unger, RJE, EMA-MARE '16, Director of URJ 6 Points Creative Arts Academy as the Dr. Michael Zeldin Alumna-in-Residence on November 4-5, 2019. Over two days, Unger was an honored guest, an empathetic and creative teacher, and a sage advisor for the School of Education and HUC-JIR community.    

Unger taught in Dr. Miriam Heller Stern's "Sociology of Jewish Education" course and Rabbi Ellie Steinman’s Teaching Seminar, linking the two together by exploring both the macro and micro of Jewish education at camp. She guided the students in examining the historical and sociological phenomenon of “the magic of camp” and why some people believe camp is the savior of Jewish life. She then offered the students a look at some of the methodologies and pedagogies that are uniquely appropriate for the camp setting and how those link back to the purposes of Jewish education at camp.  

Unger brought her expertise to Dr. Michael Zeldin's "Leadership and Management" course, where she shared her experiences in starting the 6 Points Creative Arts Academy.  She demonstrated to RHSOE students how her studies in the Executive M.A. Program in Jewish Education guided and informed her work in leading this trailblazing effort. 

Creating such links between the academic course work undertaken in the School of Education and professional life one goal of the Alumni-in-Residence program. Tammy Cohen, a RHSOE and Zelikow School of Jewish Nonprofit Management student, appreciated that “Jo-Ellen provided an opportunity to think about our roles as educational leaders, as engaged Jewish professionals and representatives of the organizations and communities that we work with. She provided me with perspectives and experiences that help me to continue exploring how I connect my values, my passions and my needs to my work. I learned about building community and organizations from the ground-up and was given theory and structure from which to think through my future endeavors. Most importantly, I saw our learning at RHSOE reflected in the way that Jo-Ellen spoke about her work, her vision for Jewish education, her experiences and leadership and her connection with community. Hearing her reference the texts and theories we have been studying over the last few years, modelled ways in which I can continue to draw from my learning, following graduation in May 2020.”  

Beyond School of Education courses, Unger was also a teacher and exemplary presence in the Skirball Campus community.  Along with rabbinical and education student Mira Weller and cantorial student Ze’evi Berman, Unger led the Skirball Campus community in prayer and Torah study. During a Lunch and Learn program entitled “Keva and Kavannah in Creativity,” Unger brought examples of poetry, musi,c and visual arts in order to guide the participants in an exploration of the boundaries of creative expression in Jewish education.  The combination of online and in-person participation in this session created an environment in which School of Education alumni of multiple programs, as well as faculty and current students across HUC-JIR campuses, were able to come together for shared learning and dialogue. The session concluded with participants composing Haiku poems, as well as Jo-Ellen sharing her own, which reflected her experience of being the 2019 Dr. Michael Zeldin Alumna-in-Residence. 

In giant shadows

I stand humbled and aware

This moment, a gift 

In reflecting on the experience of learning with Unger, Dr. Zeldin appreciated that her “approach to Jewish education is that Judaism and creative arts are parallel to each other and that concepts and ideas from each can be infused into the other… This is a very sophisticated model of integration.” 

The Dr. Michael Zeldin Alumni-in-Residence program was endowed through the generous efforts of alumni and friends of the School of Education.  The Program honors Dr. Zeldin by bringing learning from the field directly into HUC-JIR’s education programs, recognizing alumni who are doing exceptional work, and inspiring students for generations to come. If you would like to make a gift to the Dr. Michael Zeldin Alumni-in-Residence Program Endowment, click here.  


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