The Jewish Family Education Fellowship

Meet the 2023 Fellow: Jonathan Shmidt Chapman

At a time when there is a deep hunger and urgency in the Jewish community for meaningful connection and opportunities for families to grow together, The Covenant Foundation is eager to support members of our community who are creating educational frameworks that not only meet this moment, but go beyond it with innovative, impactful ideas.

With that in mind, we are thrilled to announce the selection of the inaugural Jewish Family Education Fellow: Jonathan Shmidt Chapman.

As a theater artist and educator, Jonathan found himself asking the question, “What would happen if we connected the dots between the worlds of interactive theater and Jewish family education?” The answer has led him to create hundreds of programs that infuse wonder and joy into Jewish family educational experiences across the country.

“Jonathan is a genuine trailblazer in the field of Jewish Family Education. His unique pedagogy combines Jewish wisdom and tradition with the modalities of theater for the very young--including imaginative play and multi-sensory creative exploration-- and promises to transform Jewish family engagement,” said Joni Blinderman, Executive Director of the Covenant Foundation. “It’s thrilling for The Covenant Foundation to be at the start of this year-long journey with Jonathan, and to dream about all of the ways in which we will grow this field, together.”

As the founding project director of Aggadah Adventures at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York, Jonathan is acutely aware of the need for Jewish family education to evolve and be responsive to today’s families.

Jonathan is also the founder of The K'ilu Company and author of the forthcoming book, Let There Be Play: Bringing Bible to Life with Young Children, which will be published by Behrman House in 2024. 

“We need to create bold and unique programming that reflects the diversity of families, identities, and experiences across the Jewish community,” he reflects.

A leader in the field of Jewish Family Education since the beginning, he was part of the inaugural cohort of the Mandel Institute’s Jewish Education Leadership Program, and is a past recipient of the Jewish Education Project’s Young Pioneers Award. He was a Glean Network START Fellow, and an International Asylum Arts Fellow. Jonathan received the Pomegranate Prize Award in 2022.

The Jewish Family Education Fellowship was created in honor of Harlene Winnick Appelman z”l, former Executive Director of the Covenant Foundation, who passed away in 2022. Harlene's journey in family education had deep roots, beginning in Detroit, Michigan, where she developed the renowned Jewish Experiences for Families program (JEFF). She served as executive director of Covenant Foundation from 2005-2021, developing a vast network of Jewish education leaders throughout North America.

The Fellowship will officially begin in August 2023. Over the course of the coming year, Jonathan will spend significant time creating new, scalable approaches to Jewish family education, and training a cohort of educators to implement these approaches in Jewish communities throughout North America. He will share insights from his work through The Covenant Foundation’s digital journal Sight Line and other publications, further expanding the field of Jewish Family Education.

“My vision is that young children and families feel a sense of playful discovery as they explore Jewish tradition and identity,” Jonathan shared. “We can harness the power of play to introduce a generation of families to Jewish life through wonder, curiosity, and joy.”

We invite you to grow the field of Jewish Family Education together with us! Follow Jonathan’s journey by subscribing to Sight Line, and join the conversation about the field of Jewish family education on The Covenant Foundation’s Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn profiles.