Los Angeles, CA– Nov. 12, 2017 – Three Jewish educators received The Covenant Foundation’s 2017 Covenant Award this evening, adding their names and stellar achievements to a roster of nationally recognized practitioners making substantive change on the national and local level.
Rabbi Tully Harcsztark, Founding Principal of SAR High School in Riverdale, NY; Meredith Englander Polsky, National Director of Institutes and Training at Matan in New York, and Developmental Support Coordinator at Temple Beth Ami Nursery School in Rockville, MD; and Dr. Jane Sherwin Shapiro, Co-Founder of OROT: Center for New Jewish Learning in Skokie, IL are the recipients of the Award, which is among the highest honors in the field of Jewish education.
“We are so inspired by the work of our 2017 Covenant Award honorees,” said Barbara Goodman Manilow, President of the Covenant Foundation Board of Directors. “Each one is transforming the world of Jewish education with creativity, optimism and dedication to moving the bar forward. It’s a tremendous privilege to support their work and count them amongst an illustrious cohort that has now grown to 78 educators strong.”
The Covenant Foundation is a program of the Crown Family Philanthropies and members of the Crown family—including Steven Crown, Keating Crown, and Steve Robinson, presented the three recipients and bestowed the Award. Each of the 2017 recipients received $36,000 and each of their institutions, $5,000.
Established in 1991 to honor and celebrate those who those who have made an impact on Jewish life through innovative educational practices and models, the Covenant Award is presented to three educators every year after a rigorous selection process. Recipients have distinguished themselves in myriad realms, including classroom teaching, family education, dance, music, visual arts, adult education, tikkun olam, storytelling, inclusion, work on college campuses, curriculum design, leadership, and professional development.
Guided by the leadership of Founding Principal Rabbi Tully Harcsztark, SAR High School in Riverdale, New York has become a national model of Jewish education. At SAR, the integration of general and Judaic Studies reflects Harcsztark’s ideal of education as a “fusion of horizons.” Each activity at SAR, from Israeli dancing to discussions of Midrash mixed with literary theory to exuberant pick up games of field hockey and soccer are imbued with a climate of deep respect where students, faculty and staff are invited to engage in open and honest intellectual exploration.
Upon accepting the Award from Steven Crown, Harcsztark spoke about that integration of theory and practice.
“The Torah that we learn shapes the way we see the world– and the world within which we live shapes the way we understand our Torah,” Harcsztark said. “This is a vibrant and dynamic process that makes all members of our ‘community of learners’ into forgers of Jewish life and culture, responsible for the future of the Jewish people and our own communities.”
Meredith Englander Polsky is the National Director of Institutes and Training at Matan in New York, and Developmental Support Coordinator at Temple Beth Ami Nursery School in Rockville, MD. The Matan Institute has created systemic change by educating over 1,000 school directors and teachers on inclusion practices in various educational settings. At the Temple Beth Ami Nursery School, Polsky ensures that every family and every child, regardless of developmental need, find a place where they are welcomed and educated according to their way.
Polsky accepted the Award from Keating Crown. “I stand on the shoulders of those who paved the way in this field – and my colleagues across the country who further this work everyday,” she said. “Those who say yes when others say no; who push past the zone of comfort and create change – to make the Jewish community a welcoming and inclusive place where everyone is recognized as being created b’tzelem elohim, in the image of God.”
As Co-Founder of OROT: Center for New Jewish Learning in Skokie, IL, Dr. Jane Sherwin Shapiro teaches students of all ages from across the religious spectrum. Founded in 2014, OROT serves over 500 students each year through weekly classes and immersive learning experiences where students learn to integrate serious text study with alternative creative expression, in learning spaces that range from artists’ studios to Yoga studios, and from botanical gardens to kitchens.
Accepting the award from Steve Robinson, Shapiro spoke about how immersive learning experiences can offer sustenance to students in these tumultuous times.
“As Jewish educators, we can help students access deep streams of Judaism in a way that will shape their lives, and in ways that they may then teach to their children and colleagues. This can change one’s way of being in the world. It is my hope that we continue to hone this process of transformative Jewish learning, by encouraging it as best we can.”
To view full biographies of current and past Covenant Award recipients as well as guidelines for nominating an educator for the 2018 Covenant Award, please visit www.covenantfn.org.
The Covenant Foundation is a program of the Crown Family Philanthropies.