Covenant Foundation Names 2010 Awardees For Excellence In Jewish Education

Jan Darsa, Director of Jewish Education at Facing History and Ourselves in Brookline, MA; Beth Huppin, a Judaic Studies teacher at the Seattle Jewish Community School; and Dr. Bernard Steinberg, President and Director of Harvard Hillel are the 2010 awardees.

“The institutions they have enriched, the programs they have initiated, and the influence they have had on their students, their peers, and the community at large is enormous,” said Eli N. Evans, chairman of the board of directors of The Covenant Foundation. “They do not share one denomination, one pedagogical approach, one teaching venue, or one definition of teaching. The one commonality among these uncommon people is their abiding love of Judaism and the Jewish people and their devotion to the perpetuation of the Jewish heritage.”

The three awardees join 57 other Jewish educators honored with a Covenant Award since the Foundation established the citation in 1991. Each will receive $36,000, and each of their institutions will receive $5,000.

The Foundation and the Jewish community will honor the 2010 Covenant Awardees on Nov. 7 at a gala dinner and award ceremony in New Orleans during the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America.

“The Covenant Award gives deserved recognition to those doing extraordinary, innovative and impactful work on the ground,” said Harlene Winnick Appelman, Executive Director of The Covenant Foundation and 1991 Covenant Award recipient. “Their daily work, often uncelebrated, touches Jews of all ages seeking inclusion and fulfillment in Jewish life, immeasurably strengthening Jewish community and continuity. Each of our 2010 awardees has made it his or her life’s work to call students to action and encourage them to live lives of engagement.”

Jan Darsa, Director of Jewish Education at Facing History and Ourselves for the last 15 years, is a trailblazing advocate for – and practitioner of – framing Holocaust education in a modern, actionable and relevant way.

Facing History and Ourselves, based in Brookline, MA, is a leader in developing programs and curricula promoting tolerance and understanding, and utilizes education as a tool to strengthen civil societies of conscience throughout the world. The group aims to move students from being passive bystanders to being active upstanders with the confidence to speak out and act on the Jewish imperative to not stand by idly.

As Director of Jewish Education, she has built an original and dynamic Jewish framework for examining the Holocaust, history and human behavior with curricula, activities and resources that incorporate and explore issues of Jewish history, ethics, and identity.

The impact of her vision and approach has been deeply and widely felt. She has trained more than 1,500 Jewish educators who have reached tens of thousands of Jewish students across denominations. She has published extensive materials for Holocaust educators, most notably co-authoring Facing History and Ourselves: The Jews of Poland, considered a seminal text in Holocaust education curricula.

Jewish educational and communal leaders supporting her nomination for a Covenant Award cited her impact, the unique, expansive and visionary nature of her educational approach, and her ability to engage and commit students to action, both in their own Jewish lives and in the greater community.

“Jan is a pioneer,” said Margot Stern Strom, Executive Director of Facing History and Ourselves, who nominated her for a Covenant Award. “The courses and seminars she has created have become best practice and replicable models in classrooms across the country, around the world and on the Internet. Teachers and scholars often reflect on her incredible energy, compassion and deep understanding of the practice of teaching. Her contribution to the education of children and adults is unique. She is well known as one who strives to engage the next generation of children in the study of their religious history and Jewish identity as they become active, moral and ethical citizens.”

“Education is holy work,” said Darsa, who hold degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Boston University, and was a Mandel Jerusalem Fellow. “Undertaking a career in Jewish education is about a dedication to the hope and the promise that our young people embody. To be honored and recognized for doing what I love is an exciting acknowledgement and an amazing gift for which I am extremely grateful.

“The wonderful work of the Covenant Foundation makes this honor an extraordinary validation of the work of the Jewish Education Program at Facing History and Ourselves. For over three decades, Facing History has worked with teachers and developed resources that reach deeply into the Jewish educational world and this honor makes us all proud that we have been recognized for our commitment to Jewish education.”

Beth Huppin has taught day school Judaic Studies at the Seattle Jewish Community School since 1995 and is currently a fifth-grade teacher there. She is also a middle school and adult education teacher at Congregation Beth Shalom in Seattle.

Huppin is widely recognized by colleagues, students, parents and others in the community as an inspiring teacher and leader who puts her stamp on Jewish education by injecting Jewish values and action – both in and out of the classroom – into curricula and the lives of her students.

Not satisfied with transmitting information, she regularly calls her students to action. Once a month, for example, she takes her fifth-grade students at Seattle Jewish Community School to serve meals to homeless persons, and participants have described the experience as transformative.

“The ultimate goal of Jewish education is tikkun olam,” she said. “The continuation of the Jewish people has meaning only if we fulfill God’s commands to repair this broken world.”

Huppin has had a critical impact on the Seattle Jewish Community School’s educational philosophy, has played a guiding role in the development of the Judaic curriculum, and is a mentor to new teachers. She has taught and inspired teachers from around the country at CAJE (Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education) conferences.

Colleagues said she cherishes and thrives among students and teachers and leads by example with her charitable activities, especially among the homeless in the Seattle area.

“Beth has been asked many times to take on the official title of Jewish Studies Coordinator at SJCS,” said Head of School Debra J. G. Butler, who nominated Huppin for the Covenant Award. “Despite the fact that she virtually performs this role, she has refused the title in order not to separate herself from other teachers. Beth is a teacher among teachers. She inspires her colleagues, our elementary school students, the middle and high school students she teaches in supplementary school programs, and the many adults she has taught.”

“In honoring a classroom teacher, the Covenant Foundation honors not just me, but also all those teachers who are in the classroom day in and day out, guiding children and adults to discover the beauty and richness of Torah learning,” said Huppin, who holds degrees from Brandeis University and the University of Judaism. “It honors all of the classroom teachers who, as Heschel said, strive to respond to the call for ‘text people,’ and not only ‘textbooks,’ and who know that caring for each other is the bedrock of Judaism.”

Dr. Bernard Steinberg has served as President and Director of Harvard Hillel since 1993. He is known across the field of Jewish education for an entrepreneurial and expansive vision that has strengthened institutions and enlightened and empowered new generations of Jewish youth to shape the Jewish people, become leaders and improve the world.

At Harvard Hillel, which serves the cultural, religious, educational, social and political needs of the undergraduate and graduate communities, Steinberg is credited with solidifying it as the central address for Jewish life at the university. He has cultivated pluralistic and interfaith initiatives, emphasized rigorous Israel education, increased student participation, and developed programming integrating Jewish study with leadership development.

A believer in leadership as a calling in Jewish life, he has equipped hundreds of students with the skills and the will to take charge of their personal and communal Jewish lives.

He on is also seen as a visionary, creating programming and initiatives that are forerunners of others that have taken hold in the Jewish community. The Netivot Israel Leadership Initiative, for example, is a yearlong program, including time in Israel, to engage Harvard undergraduates in Jewish identity building and leadership development.

His impact on Jewish education has been long and effective. He was a founding fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute and co-created the organization’s first adult education program. He has also served on the faculty of the Pardes Institute and was director of Wesleyan University’s Jerusalem program. At Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, he co-teaches a general leadership course built around Jewish text.

“Bernie is one of the greatest educators of his generation,” said Daniel Libenson, Executive Director of the Newberger Hillel Center at the University of Chicago. “He deserves to be recognized as the giant that he is.”

“The focus of my commitment is the Jewish future,” said Steinberg, who holds degrees from Wesleyan University, Brandeis University and Hebrew University. “And so, I feel blessed to be able to converse daily with so many, energetic, talented, and idealistic young people, to listen to their personal stories and to explore the relevance of the Jewish story to their lives.

“As I move forward, my challenge is to motivate the next generation to embrace the Jewish story, to enable them to feel its power, to inspire them to write the next chapter. I am grateful to the Covenant Foundation for sharing this aspiration and for recognizing my small role in this epic drama.”

“The scores of worthy educators nominated for an award this year reflect the richness and talent and devotion that is a hallmark of Jewish education and our community,” Appelman said. “Our awardees are educators with energy and vision and passion for teaching, enriching the lives of everyone they touch. We honor them, but they honor us by the work they do.”

For guidelines on nominating an educator for a 2011 Covenant Award, and to view a list and biographies of past recipients, visit

The Covenant Foundation is a program of the Crown Family Foundation and the Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA).