Jane Taubenfeld Cohen was in the ninth grade when she was faced with a test harder than any she had yet experienced in school. She was asked to tutor three boys who presented classroom behavior problems and were having trouble learning Hebrew. She was a brought in as a last resort toward keeping them in the afternoon school until they reached their B’nei Mitzvah.
Jane began meeting the three boys in the library of the shul. The threesome, caught up in the games that Jane created for them, forgot not to be interested in Hebrew school. Without knowing it, Jane’s work in differentiated instruction began that day, when she went home and created a workbook for each boy geared towards his individual learning style. She was excited about her new job, and they were excited about their new teacher. That relationship lasted for two years, and, in many ways, it launched her career.
Jane’s career in Jewish education was nurtured and ultimately secured by three incredible mentors. Challenged and guided by these individuals, Jane developed the skills that have made her the superb educator she is: from Rabbi David Molignor z”l, Director of the Mador counselor training program at Camp Ramah, she gained a well-defined personal theology and philosophy; from Mildred Gelbloom, head of a preschool program who guided Jane in her first job after graduate school, she learned how to talk to children with respect and acquired an awareness of their God-like qualities; and from Esther Karten, who worked at the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Boston, she learned that careful planning was a crucial part of making her dreams become reality. Jane is the beneficiary of people who identified her talent, believed in her, and encouraged her to become the best she could be in the field of Jewish education.
In 1990, Jane and her husband joined two other couples in founding a Schechter school in their community. For the past 17 years, as co-founder and Head of the South Area Solomon Schechter Day School, Jane has made a lasting impact on alumni, the student body of kindergarten through eighth graders, a devoted faculty and staff, a loyal parent body, and the Greater Boston community. Jane has also had significant impact on the national Jewish education scene in at least three key areas. She has revolutionized how Jewish day schools engage students who have special learning needs through the creation of a culturally receptive, differentiated teaching model and a supportive, skills-rich environment where these special students are embraced and inspired to achieve their fullest potential. Through her widely emulated L’Chaim Project, she has helped redefine the goals for international Holocaust education in Jewish day schools, creating an educational focus on the triumphant lives of survivors and their connection to day school students and the broader community. Not least, Jane has brought genuine innovation to the task of successfully managing a day school in the arenas of educational leadership, faculty mentoring and coaching, and admissions.
Jane and her husband, David, now live in Sharon, Massachusetts and have two daughters, Sara and Rebecca. She has come a long way from the shul library where she encountered her first real test.
From Jane Taubenfeld Cohen’s Statements of Motivation and Purpose:
“On the fiftieth anniversary of my father, a Holocaust survivor, coming to America, he told his children and grandchildren, ‘when it is cold outside and you are warm in your house, this is not the time to thank God that you are warm. This is the time to make sure that someone else is not cold.’ I was brought up to believe that I have a role in making the world a better place. Throughout my life, I have associated this mission with working with children, parents, and teachers.
“My Hebrew name is Bat Ami, ‘Daughter of My People.’ I believe that this name comes with a responsibility towards our people that goes beyond what any one human being can accomplish. It is my job to continually remind people why we do what we do, and to help them see the direct link between teaching Jewish children and the future of the Jewish people.
“I have seen the difference a day school education can make to a family. I have worked with teachers to define Jewish literacy from a day school perspective and then have had the opportunity to modify that for advanced learners and students with learning disabilities. I wake up each morning knowing that my work is intricately tied to Jewish continuity.
I know that I have had a hand in creating a place where children love to come, to study, to grow, and to pray, and where teachers love to work. “I believe that I will be successful when my students lead Jewish lives as adults. I often tell them that they must learn all that they can learn and experience all that they can experience so that they can make choices when they grow up. With that in mind, I must create a nurturing and supportive culture that helps children feel safe enough to explore and to take risks. I must help teachers facilitate the creation of a learning environment that transcends the day to day. The teachers who work with me need to remember that by choosing to work in our school, they have chosen to go beyond imparting knowledge. “By creating a culture of professional growth, I recognize that faculty members need to be life-long learners. That means that we all need to be reflective practitioners. I, as a role model, have worked with a coach for many years. In this way, I am modeling the core principle of understanding my own work and striving to improve. That is why each teacher at our school has a coach from the administrative team. My practice and their practice are intimately intertwined and all with a common goal, to do the best we can do with our Jewish children attending our school. “I wake up each morning knowing that my work is intricately tied to Jewish continuity. I know that I have had a hand in creating a place where children love to come, to study, to grow, and to pray, and where teachers love to work.”
From her Letters of Nomination and Support:
“Jane Taubenfeld Cohen has created a model environment where excellence and inclusion happily co-exist, and where innovation is the culture of the school. Jane would not accept a situation wherein members of the same family were forced to make the traumatic choice of sending some children to Jewish day schools and others to public or special private schools. She has created an environment where faculty and fellow students welcome children with special needs. Under Jane’s leadership, faculty members become better teachers of all children by learning the theory and application of differentiated instruction combined with rigorous curriculum mapping. Jane’s spirit infuses and guides the uniquely integrated culture and mission of the school each day as we joyfully celebrate learning, our love of Israel, commitment to Tzedakah, and community.”
Director of Institutional Advancement
Director of Admissions
South Area Solomon Schechter Day School
“Jane started the South Area Solomon Schechter Day School from the ground up over sixteen years ago and has created a formidable institution of day school excellence where none existed before. Moreover, Jane has created a culture of Jewish learning that has pervaded the School and the broader Jewish community of the South Area as well. Any Jewish educator in the Greater Boston area will tell you that this little gem of a day school is the finest Jewish educational institution in our entire community. All this grows out of Jane’s wisdom and caring, her beauty of spirit and beauty of soul, her commitment and energy and her skills as a Jewish educator and administrator.”
President, Combined Jewish Philanthropies
“Jane believes that every Jewish child has the right to a Jewish education, and she takes the children into our school, into her heart. Jane knows and understands every single child in the building. She is one of the hardest workers I have ever met. Her efforts in admission, retention, curriculum, teacher training, development and public relations have given our school the foundation necessary for the future. Jane’s L’Chaim program has taught so many of us that what the Holocaust survivors did with their lives after the war should be a beacon of light to us. Jane teaches us that what we do in life is what counts.”
Richard D. Waldman
Vice Head of School, South Area Solomon Schechter Day School
“Jane Taubenfeld Cohen is a visionary leader in the field of Jewish education. She is a focused, strategic thinker. She has enlisted the support of the community to share her vision that a Jewish day school education must be accessible to a wide range of children. Jane shares her experience with professional colleagues at conferences and seminars, reflecting on the conditions that facilitate or impede the accomplishment of these objectives. She communicates with admirable openness, clarity and generosity, so that others can benefit from her experience. At a time when many Jewish day schools are experiencing declining enrollments, the South Area Solomon Schechter Day School is on a path of growth under Jane’s steady and farsighted direction.”
Elaine R. S. Cohen
Associate Director, Department of Education
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism