Promoting a core Jewish value

Education Center provides Rockland with learning opportunities

by Masada Siegel

Rabbi David Berkman of New City Jewish Center teaches about art at the Federation's Night of Learning in 2008.

Rabbi David Berkman of New City Jewish Center teaches about art at the Federation’s Night of Learning in 2008.

A little learning can go a long way, and the Jewish Federation Education Center of Rockland shows that to be true. Created in 1986 by the Jewish Federation of Rockland County, the Education Center, then known as the Jewish Education Resource Center, was to provide Jewish educational planning and services.

The organization’s goals are to keep giving the Jewish community of Rockland County a plethora of ways to continue learning and growing in a positive and warm atmosphere. As its mission evolved, it became the Center for Jewish Education of Rockland, and most recently has been rebranded the Jewish Federation Education Center so that it would be more closely associated with the Federation.

JFEC, which is an important part of the Jewish Federation of Rockland County has grown and expanded over the years fostering a positive learning experience for educators, parents and teens with a large variety of choices. It offers support for local teachers and principals as well as adult education courses and programs for children who learn in the county.

November 12, 2010″The organization was established by the Jewish Federation of Rockland County and is the only umbrella organization representing the interests of synagogue educational programs, Jewish day schools and other formal and informal Jewish educational programs,” said Yisroel Schulman, the chairman of the Education Center. “There are over 100 such programs in Rockland County.”

Since education is the name of the game, the JFEC grew and created awards recognizing excellence in the community. They bestow cash prizes for the recipients and an award for their institution which include: the Phyllis and Herb Schulman Jewish Educator of the Year Award, the Ellen Kahn Froncek Creative Teaching Award and the Grinspoon-Steinhardt Awards for Excellence in Jewish Education.

The organization also provides a venue for Jewish educators across the county and Jewish spectrum to meet, discuss and brainstorm about their field, according to Laurie Hoffman, the center’s executive director.

“At first it was simply a resource center with approximately four teacher workshops for the year,” she said. ” The principals of the schools met monthly to share and to define mutual concerns. Then a day-long professional development conference was added. When FJEC began it was mostly a service to teachers in Jewish schools. Special education grants were given to schools and there were teacher incentive awards.”

Hoffman has been working for the center for the past 20 years. While she enjoys her work, she also takes pleasure in the difference it makes in people’s lives.

“When I see an adult learner come out of class with a big smile on their face, or even a puzzled look on their face, I know that what they have just experienced has had an effect. When I see students greet each other at a County-wide Israel Independence day program, even though they attend different schools, I know that they feel a sense of community.
When I see that a group of adults have become friends after studying in a Melton class for two years, and are still studying together in Midreshet Rockland eight years later, and they share in family simchas, that makes me proud that I have been a small part in that friendship. When I hear from a student who has been helped by a scholarship from Federation to go to Israel, I am overjoyed.”

The center is associated and works with Rockland’s 11 synagogue schools and with two day schools, Reuben Gittelman Hebrew Day School and Adolph Schreiber Hebrew
Academy of Rockland. It works closely with members of the community; from teachers to agencies with the goal to plan the best possible programs such as the Community Night of Jewish Learning.

That program began in 2007, with more than 400 participants taking part at Temple Beth El in Spring Valley in an evening of learning and fun. The participants choose two classes, which are taught by local rabbis and educators, and the evening ends with music and dessert. It has continued since, though it now takes place annually at the Rockland Jewish Community Campus. This year, the night shifted to day as the Rockland Jewish community took part in the Global Day of Jewish learning, uniting with communities around the world to partake in a unique learning experience that involved local classes and simulcast lectures from the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, as Adin Steinsaltz completed the last of his translations of the Talmud.

Another program offered is the Melton School, a two year program developed by Hebrew University in Jerusalem which provides adults an opportunity for continuing their Jewish education. The courses are taught by local educators; however, the curriculum is constantly upgraded at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. More than 100 students have graduated from the Rockland Melton School and many have attended the Melton Israel Seminars.

“It is important because if we don’t educate our next generation of Jews, we won’t be here,” Hoffman said. “We never know what will ignite the fire in a particular person, so if we create experiences that are positive and Jewish, for all ages, we hope that a teacher, a program or a grandparent will light that spark. We need study and experience to back up our love and outer Jewishness. That is why we provide county-wide programs for kids, so they can experience the joy of Judaism, and they go to their schools to get the foundations. The adults have a chance to be part of a community, and can teach their children and grandchildren. The Jewish Federation is able to do things that individual synagogues/temples can’t do on their own, and that is to bring together the entire community to learn, side by side with people they don’t usually see.”

November 12, 2010

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