The Executive M.A. Program: Meet the Jewish Educational Leaders of Cohort Ten

Lesley Litman, Ed.D.
Director, Executive M.A. in Jewish Education

Members of the tenth cohort of the Executive M.A. Program in Jewish Education (EMA) have begun their EMA journey amidst an ever-changing reality that is COVID-19. Their can-do attitude and thirst for rich and profound learning and connection are nothing short of remarkable. The twelve students who comprise this cohort serve in a broad range of Jewish educational settings. They hail from the United States and Canada, leading change in multiple sectors of Jewish learning and engagement. The Executive M.A. Program supports and advances the work of mid-career Jewish educational leaders as they imagine and implement the future of Jewish education.

Although we have not gathered in person yet, Cohort 10 came together online and formed a strong bond. In June 2021, they began creating a sense of community and connection as a Cohort during a 2-day online orientation with Dr. Lesley Litman, EMA Director, Dr. Miriam Heller Stern, Vice Provost for Educational Strategy, Associate Professor and National Director of the School of Education; Dr. Katherine Schwartz, Associate Director, EMA, Rabbi Dr. Jan Katzew, EMA Senior Educator and Associate Professor of Education and Jewish Thought and Dr. Sam Joseph. Together they charted their upcoming journey in the Executive M.A. Program, sharing the unique gifts they bring to each other and their aspirations through reflection, Jewish text study, discussion and more.. Through sophisticated use of the online milieu, students connected deeply with each other and engaged in meaningful learning and conversation in small groups, large groups and by sharing a virtual meal. Cohort 10’s studies thus far have included Modern Jewish Thought with Rabbi Jan Katzew and Educational Practices – a deep dive into the nature of our learners with Dr. Miriam Heller Stern and guest expert Dr. Betsy Stone.

These students are an intrepid group of leaders navigating their studies while being present for their learners and institutions during this challenging time. The range of settings in which they serve point to their capacity to transcend boundaries and, together, make a difference for the field of Jewish education as a whole, whether in early childhood, teen education, day schools, congregational education and in communal and national agencies. Collectively they are weaving and creating a vision for the Jewish future.

Dr. Lesley Litman, along with the group’s three clinical faculty mentors, guided the cohort in building a unique cohort culture through sharing each other’s talents and gifts and shaping a set of group norms. “The Executive MA program is a cohort-based program predicated upon relational learning. Cohort 10 opened their hearts, spirits and minds to embrace one another and their learning even while at a distance. They face the uncertainty of this time with grace, generosity of spirit and openness.”

Dr. Miriam Heller Stern stated, “Jewish educators today need to lead with the dispositions that are critical for today’s reality: resilience, empathy and creativity. With Jewish wisdom as their compass, the Executive MA program is advancing a new cohort of mid-career Jewish educational leaders to meet the demands of our ever-complicating landscape of Jewish living and learning. Our curriculum, mentorship and cohort experience has always emphasized these sensibilities, but they are more explicit learning outcomes than ever before.”

Meet the mid-career Jewish educational leaders of Cohort 10:

Devra C. Aarons is the Executive Director of Contra Costa Midrasha in Walnut Creek, CA.

Molly Bajgot is the Director of Religious School and Youth Programs at Sinai Temple in Springfield, MA.

Pamela Barkley is the Director of Strategic Implementation at Moving Traditions in Terrytown, NY.

Marla Aviva Bentley is the Director of Music at Temple Beth Israel in Skokie, IL.

Samantha Eichert is the Assistant Director of Education at Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough, NJ.

Mike Friedman is a Learning and Development Specialist and Jewish educational consultant in Mountain View, CA.

Emily Halpern is the Assistant Director of Youth and Family Engagement at Temple Emanu-El in Westfield, NJ.

Holly Krakow is the Executive Director of Makom Solel Lakeside in Highland Park, IL.

Brett Lubarsky is Director of the Jewish Teen Initiative at Combined Jewish Philanthropies in Boston, MA.

Ilana Mansharov is the School and Camp Program Coordinator in Temple Sinai Congregation of Toronto, Canada.

Jen Zak is the Executive VP of Education and Bnei Mitzvah teacher at Temple Beth Sholom of the East Valley, a conservative temple in Phoenix, AZ.

Margie Zeskind is the Head of School at Temple Beth Sholom Innovative School in Miami Beach, FL.

The Executive M.A. Program has graduated over 100 educators since its inception in 2013. Our graduates lead schools, camps, Hillels, early childhood centers, national organizations, youth engagement, and lifelong learning.

To learn more about the Executive M.A. Program, or to register to “test drive” our Introduction to Jewish Educational Leadership course beginning in January 2022, click here or contact Dr. Katherine Schwartz, Associate Program Director, at