Rabbi David Ellenson, President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) awarded Professor Jo Kay, Director of HUC-JIR’s New York School of Education, with the Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, in recognition of her extraordinary achievements in the field of Jewish education and service to the Reform Movement and the Jewish people. The presentation was made on May 3 at HUC-JIR’s Graduation Ceremonies at Congregation Emanu-El in the City of New York.
Rabbi Ellenson stated, “Professor Kay has served our institution with distinction for over a decade. Her abiding concern for Jewish education and for the integrated involvement of the family motivated her founding of the award-winning PACE (Parents and Children for Education) family education program. Her innovations and creativity have won her the respect and admiration of her colleagues throughout North America, while her prolific publications and lectures have shared the message of Jewish education with academic societies and councils.”
For the past thirteen years, Jo Kay has served as the Director of the New York School of Education HUC-JIR. Under her leadership, the school has grown exponentially. Almost 100 students have completed the program and gone on to serve congregations and Jewish communal organizations as educational leaders. Increasingly, people have chosen to immerse themselves in the full-time MARE program and spend a year studying at the Jerusalem campus. The curriculum has been strengthened with dynamic classes, diverse internships, and a substantial capstone project. Education students are increasingly learning and working together with their rabbinical and cantorial classmates and the education program is seen as a valuable opportunity for many students in those programs as well.
Before bringing her vision to HUC-JIR, Kay’s early career started with her receiving her BA in Education from Brooklyn College and her MA in Hebrew Culture from the School of Education at New York University. In 1987 she was chosen as a Melton Fellow, studying in the Senior Educators Program for Jewish Education in the Diaspora at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In 1996, she studied at the Fingerhut School of Education at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles for a “Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies in Family Education,” after which she participated in the Teacher Educator Institute of the Council for Initiatives in Jewish Education (CIJE).
After years of experience as a teacher in public and religious schools and summer camps, Kay created the award-winning PACE (Parents and Children for Education) Family Education Program. She served for a decade as Director of Judaic Studies of the Rodeph Sholom Day School in New York City, followed by nine years as the Education Director of the Rodeph Sholom Religious School. During her time there, Kay also served as a consultant and faculty member in Jewish Family Education for The Consortium for the Future of the Jewish Family: Expanding the Work of Whizin (formerly, the Whizin Institute for Jewish Family Life at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles). She also worked as a consultant for the American Friends of Rechov Sumsum (Israeli Hebrew Language Sesame Street of Children's Television Workshop), and as a consultant for the Shalom Sesame Video Series and Family Materials.
Kay contributed her time, energy, and expertise to many other educational initiatives as well. She served on the JESNA Task Force on Congregational and Communal Jewish Education, on the BJE of Greater New York’s Academic Advisory Committee, on the Executive Board of NATE, on the URJ Sub-Committee on Camp Institutes, on the URJ’s Commission on Lifelong Jewish Learning Executive Board, on the URJ Press Editorial Board, and on the Continental Council for Jewish Day School Education. She was elected Vice-President of the Association of Institutions of Higher Learning for Jewish Education (AIHLJE). She has been invited to speak at Jewish education conferences worldwide, on Adult, Family, Informal, and Jewish Day School education, as well as on the state of the field of Jewish Education in general. Kay served as Chair of the June 2006 conference of the Network for Research in Jewish Education (NRJE). In 2001 Kay was named a recipient of the “Covenant Award for Excellence in Jewish Education.”
Kay served as Chairperson of the Editorial Board of the CAJE magazine Jewish Education News for eight years, and was Vice President for Educational Resources for 2 years. She has had the opportunity to bring her ideas about Jewish education to the broadest audience of Jewish educators. Some of her recent publications include “Jewish Family Education,” What We Now Know About Jewish Education, Torah Aura Productions (2008);Make Your Own Passover Seder, Jossey-Bass Publishers (Jan. 2004); “Family Education: Who We Teach,” The Ultimate Jewish Teacher’s Handbook, Ed. Nachama Skolnik Moskowitz, (ARE Publication, 2003); “Commentary on Cases in Jewish Family Education,” Casebook in Jewish Family Education, Eds., Rachel Brodie and Vicky Kelman, (Torah Aura, 2001); Torat Hayim: Parashat Yitro (online Torah study posted 1/25/03 by the URJ); Israel in Jewish Family Education, co-authored with Etti Serok (Israel Education Project of the Charles M. Bronfman Foundation, Jewish Agency, JESNA, 1999); and three articles in First Fruit: A Whizin Anthology of Jewish Family Education, Adrianne Bank and Ron Wolfson, Eds. (The Whizin Institute for Jewish Family Life, 1999).