2020 Covenant Award Recipient

Amanda Pogany

2020 Covenant Award Recipient

Amanda Pogany

Head of School, Luria Academy of Brooklyn
Brooklyn, New York

Amanda Pogany is the Head of School at Luria Academy of Brooklyn, where she is responsible for all aspects of the day-to-day functioning of the school. For the past eight years, Pogany has supervised the school’s educational and administrative leadership, which includes 60 faculty members, 10 administrators, and 15 Board members, provides the educational mission and vision for the school, and oversees the curriculum. She has also played an integral role in the implementation of Luria’s five-year strategic plan and oversees Luria’s inclusion program for students with special needs.

During Pogany’s tenure, Luria’s student population has tripled, from 97 students to over 300.

At Luria, children play together, develop friendships, and learn to respect their peers regardless of their background or affiliation, learning style, or learning needs. Pogany’s driving philosophy is to teach students that there is not one version of what Judaism looks like, “and that sometimes our greatest personal insights come from people who are completely different from us.”

“Supporting students’ social and emotional growth in tandem with their academic development has always been at the core of my mission as a Jewish educator,” she writes.

Prior to becoming Head of School at Luria, Pogany served as Associate Director at the Pardes Institute for the Pardes Educators Alumni Support Project. There, she mentored and coached new Pardes Educators throughout their first two years of teaching Judaic Studies in day schools across the country. She also planned and implemented professional development sessions for the graduates of the Pardes Educators Program and designed and implemented a four-day annual alumni conference. She also coordinated research projects on the topics of tefillah and chavruta for experienced teachers.

From 2008 to 2010, Pogany served as the Director of Student Projects and Pedagogy Consultant at Mechon Hadar. There, she trained yeshiva students in pedagogy, ran leadership development and facilitation training seminars, supported students during their teaching experiences in day school classrooms, liaised with their schools, and helped them develop and implement a community project following their time at the yeshiva.

Outside of Luria, Pogany is active in the Brooklyn Jewish community. In 2005, she founded Altshul, an independent egalitarian minyan in Park Slope. As co-founder, leader, and Steering Committee Chair, she created a two-tiered leadership structure, coordinated service participants, taught Torah reading workshops, and created and oversaw a number of fundraising campaigns. Pogany continues to serve on the gabbi committee for the minyan.

Pogany earned her B.A. in Political Science (2000) from Barnard College, Columbia University; a Certificate of Advanced Jewish Studies (2003) from the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies; her M.A. in Jewish Education (2003) from Hebrew University; and a Certificate in Facilitation (2009) from the Center for Leadership Initiatives in Vancouver, British Columbia.

From Her Letters of Nomination and Support

“Amanda has truly devoted her entire career to creating passionate, vibrant, and diverse Jewish life. A masterful educator and leader, she understands the full mission of Jewish education: to prepare students to lead rich, full, and confident Jewish lives. She is at the forefront of building a new generation of leaders who will have a deep love of Torah, strong text skills to access their tradition, and a sense of moral character that will nourish the Jewish community for generations.”

Dr. Tamara Tweel
Director of Strategic Development, Hillel International’s Office of Innovation, Board Member and Parent, Luria Academy of Brooklyn

“Amanda is the central person who radiates both movement and serene excitement, inspiring and encouraging students and teachers in their shared project of understanding and truth finding. The sheer excitement and enthusiasm of students in the task is overwhelming. Amanda is creating a wonderful new approach to education: a genuine liberal spirit, empathetic and critical, and a love for Jewish wisdom. She is a teacher for our age.”

Rabbi Daniel Landes
Rabbi and Director, YASHRUT
Former Director, Pardes Institute in Jerusalem

“Luria Academy is arguably one of the most religiously and economically diverse Jewish schools in the country. All families at Luria are stretching in some capacity to be at the school. Amanda is the thread connecting these families to make the school whole. She artfully navigates through many different religious and communal roles. Her Jewish knowledge is deep, and she leads with confidence. She has a great impact on families because she is true to herself and meets everyone where they are without judgement. When you are in Amanda’s presence you feel the power of possibility.”

Julie Tilson Stanley
Chief Development Officer, JewishColumbus

Q&A with Amanda

During her eight years as Head of School at Luria Academy of Brooklyn, Amanda Pogany has worked with her community to build a school that’s rigorously text-based, focused on the “whole child” and inclusive of those with diverse Jewish experiences and practices. Under her leadership, Luria has grown from 97 to more than 300 students, representing a wide range of Jewish backgrounds. With its Montessori-based classrooms and special education inclusion model, Luria is increasingly considered a laboratory for progressive Jewish education.

What inspired you to become a Jewish educator?

My grandparents are all Holocaust survivors, and they encouraged my parents to send us to day school through elementary school. But I first encountered serious Jewish learning only after college, when I went to Pardes for a year of intensive Torah learning (that turned into three years, after I enrolled in the Pardes Educators Program). At Pardes, I was able to interact with the Talmud through my own eyes, and to find joy and comfort and meaning in the page. Suddenly, I felt like I had real access to our tradition. It’s one thing when you’re looking at religion and tradition through someone else’s eyes. When you’re given access to that independently, you get to be the director of your own Jewish journey. I was inspired and wanted to give that to other people.

Why are day schools important to building the Jewish future?

The gift of Jewish day school is you get both the social-emotional experience of lived Jewish community, because you’re celebrating holidays and having positive Jewish experiences, plus the academic component. Also, I believe that we’re a text people, and being able to find yourself in our culture and tradition involves having access to those texts. Day school enables that in a sophisticated way.

Tell me about a challenge you’ve recently faced. How did you overcome it, or how are you currently dealing with it?

Dealing with Covid is the biggest challenge of my career. There are the unknowns, the science piece, keeping people safe. Then not only do you have to be flexible, take new approaches, and flip everything you’ve ever done on its head, but you have to guide a community—staff, children, parents—to come along with you. Building community when you have to be distanced is also a huge challenge. At Luria, the community piece is such an important part of who we are and how we see ourselves.

You’ve played a key role in building some of the Brooklyn Jewish institutions that many others have built their lives around. Based on these experiences, what advice do you have for others?

When we moved to Brooklyn in 2005, we gathered a group of people in a local bar to see if there was interest in creating a traditional egalitarian minyan. There was, and that’s how Altshul was born! We drove around collecting folding chairs, we borrowed a Torah, and we put together a minyan that met in people’s apartments. Fifteen years later we’re still going, and the community has continued to grow up around us. You have to be willing to jump in and try things, and you have to be willing to play all the roles. Part of the reason I’m so passionate about Jewish education is because I want all Jewish humans to have the skill set to do this work. When you move to a place and need a minyan, you need to know how to create it.

What keeps you up at night?

Sustainability. The sustainability of Luria Academy, of Jewish day schools in general, of tuition, of independent minyanim when they’re dependent on lay leadership and human beings. When you and your partner are both people who invest in community, how do you sustain that while also sustaining your own family and your professional roles? You can’t just be a builder. You have to build and then be part of the sustaining, while also making space for other people to come in and make their own mark.

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