Educators and lay leaders at area synagogues were recognized for excellence nationally and locally by the Conservative movement.
At this year’s centennial convention of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism — held in October in Baltimore — the religious school at the Jewish Center in Princeton was the only school nationwide to be granted a “Framework for Excellence Synagogue School” certificate of recognition.
The award was based largely on the school’s innovative model of Jewish education, now in its third year, which, said school director Gila Levin, “gives kids and parents a lot of choices to strengthen their Jewish identity in many different ways. The students can do all their extracurricular activities and still come to religious school and enjoy it because they have so many choices.”
The school offers three pillars of education — Jewish history, Israel, and text learning — and students can either go deeply into one area or take classes in all three.
The seventh-grade curriculum, “Jews in America,” was also honored, winning the only Schechter Centennial Boneh (Builder) Award at the convention. Youngsters study American-Jewish history through their own families and their journeys to America, making the subject their own, said Levin.
The goal of the new curriculum, developed and taught by Cyndi Kleinbart with the help of Wilma Solomon, is to build a kehilla, a community, for the students and their families in their b’nei mitzva years. “Our goal is to show how each student’s story has a place in the tapestry of the American story,” said Levin.
Two local synagogues were also cited at the USCJ convention, receiving Centennial Schechter Commendations. Adath Israel Congregation in Lawrenceville earned the recognition for “A Symposium on Aging and Spirituality,” Beth El Synagogue in East Windsor for “Building a Sacred Community for Beth El’s Next Century.”
Adath Israel and Beth El leaders and educators were also honored at a dinner for the Mid-Atlantic Region of the Conservative movement’s Jewish Educators Assembly.
Honorees at the Nov. 14 event at Temple Sinai, in Dresher, Pa., included lay leader Brian Rothstein and teacher Linda Gelfand from Beth El and lay leader Beverly Rubman and teacher Stephen Weiner from Adath Israel.
Larry I. Brandspiegel, Beth El’s cantor and education director, spoke about the two honorees from his synagogue. He said Rothstein grew up in the synagogue and became a teacher’s aide “as soon as he could, [and] continued to work for the religious school and the synagogue while in college and through the present. He is my right hand.”
For a number of years Rothstein was cochair of the adult education committee, and he is coleader of the Junior Congregation. “The synagogue is truly his second home,” said Brandspiegel.
Gelfand has been teaching sixth and seventh grade at Beth El for close to eight years. Her virtual trip to Israel allows students to “explore” Israel using electronic resources and then create giant postcards to “send back” to the United States. “She has a wonderful rapport with the kids,” said Brandspiegel. “The kids really respect her and love her, and she’s never sitting down.”
Hedda Morton, director of congregational learning at Adath Israel and chair of the dinner committee, said Rubman was honored for her intensive and formative involvement in Adath Israel’s adult education program.
She “was the spirit behind getting it formalized,” said Morton. Serving as cochair of the committee for 10 years, she initiated, developed, and has taught a class called “Traditions on Tuesdays,” which covers topics ranging from contemporary Jewish issues to text study. She also initiated a Sunday morning speaker series.
“She is very tuned to the interests of the congregants,” said Morton. Rubman also serves as chaplain for the Jewish Family & Children’s Service’s Secure@Home program.
Weiner is teacher of Adath Israel’s sixth- and seventh-grade religious school students. In his five years teaching at Adath Israel, he has developed hands-on, highly interactive classes, like the unit that has students building their own shtetl and sharing what they learn. “Every age requires a different skill set, and he has it for this group,” said Morton. “He is a dynamic, caring individual; kids can’t wait to be in his class, and parents can’t wait for them to have him.”