Fanwood Jewish educator wins top prize in field
Covenant Award recognizes Michelle Shapiro Abraham's "passion, expertise, energy"
MICHELLE SHAPIRO ABRAHAM of Fanwood is one of three 2015 recipients of the Covenant Award for excellence in the field of Jewish education.
The award, presented by the Covenant Foundation, honors educators who “individually and collectively represent the power of inspired Jewish education to transform students, institutions, communities, and the Jewish future.”
Abraham is Director of Program Development for the Campaign for Youth Engagement at the Union for Reform Judaism, as well as a consultant for the Foundation for Jewish Camp. She is a clinical faculty member in the HUC-Jewish Institute of Religion Executive MAJE Program.
In her role at URJ since 2014, and before that as consulting partner there, “Abraham has created educational experiences that have transformed the lives of thousands of Jewish youth, and altered approaches of camp staff and educators,” according to the foundation.
The three recipients join 72 other Jewish educators honored with a Covenant Award since the Foundation established it in 1991. Along with the honor, each will receive $36,000, and each of their institutions will receive $5,000.
Abraham is married to Rabbi Joel Abraham of Temple Sholom in Scotch Plains.
Below is the Covenant Foundation's biography of Abraham:
MICHELLE SHAPIRO ABRAHAM, Director of Program Development for the Campaign for Youth Engagement at the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), has spent nearly two decades as a Jewish educator and has altered the educational landscape in myriad settings and for a cross section of students and colleagues.
“My work as a Jewish educator takes me from synagogues, classrooms and offices, to camps, conferences and preschool programs,” Abraham said. “For the Covenant Foundation to honor me and my diverse work is truly a validation of all of these settings and the many places Jewish educators can make an impact.”
Her roles – and resulting effect – within Jewish education are many and varied, including author of children’s books, writer of curricula, director of a synagogue school, and creator of summer camping programs, among others.
Abraham’s multi-faceted professional career reflects a closely held belief that Jewish education itself must transcend labels, boundaries and silos in order to make the most lasting impression and generate the greatest short- and long-term rewards.
“I have had people look at my resume and ask me what I actually do,” she said. “What is my specialty? They want to know if I am a formal educator or an informal educator; an author of curriculum or an author of prayer books; a teacher of adults or a teacher of children. For me, all of these categories are merely methodology and setting. What I am is a Jewish educator, and what I do is whatever is required. For me, the lines are fluid.”
As Director of Program Development for the Campaign for Youth Engagement at URJ since 2014, and before that as consulting partner there, Abraham has created educational experiences that have transformed the lives of thousands of Jewish youth, and altered approaches of camp staff and educators.
In her role at the Foundation for Jewish Camp, she was instrumental in designing Jewish values-based curricula customized for URJ specialty camps, such as the Six Points Sports Academy and Six Points Sci Tech Academy. As manager of the URJ Service Corps program, she works with college-age camp staff to bring camp-type experiences to synagogues during the off-season, building a continuum of exposures throughout the year and solidifying community. She helped develop the Kivun program, designing a series of professional development opportunities to equip camp specialists with skills and Judaic knowledge to deepen and enhance learning and experiences for campers.
“Michelle’s outstanding work enacts bold, new ideas that represent the URJ’s 2020 Vision, our strategic, ambitious action plan,” said URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs. “On behalf of the entire Reform Movement, I thank Michelle for her dedication to ensuring a strong Jewish future. The URJ congratulates Michelle on receiving the Covenant Award. No one is more deserving.”
For 12 years, Abraham served as Director of Education at Temple Sholom in Fanwood, NJ. There, she designed and oversaw educational approaches and programming for nearly 140 students in the religious school and for the congregation as a whole. She is credited with, among other accomplishments, creating a new and markedly successful approach to family and congregational learning that engages the entire synagogue in the same topics concurrently, fortifying community and cross-generational ties.
“The passion, expertise, energy, and infectious love of Judaism that Michelle has brought to our religious school and our congregation has kept us united in our sense of community and shared learning,” said Sandra Nussenfeld, Past President of Temple Sholom, who nominated Abraham for The Covenant Award.