The Covenant Foundation honored three educators, including Chicagoland Jewish High School's Dr. Rebecca Schorsch, for excellence in the field of Jewish education.
Along with Schorsch, the two other recipients are Alison Kur, executive director of Jewish Living at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, Mass., and Rabbi Yisroel Boruch Sufrin, Head of School at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Dr. Rebecca Schorsch, director of Jewish Studies at Chicagoland Jewish High School (CJHS) in Deerfield, has made an impact on students, fellow educators, and the greater community in the Chicago area and beyond with singular dedication and leadership.
At CJHS since 2003, she oversaw the merger of the school's Bible, Talmud, and Jewish Thought departments under a greater Jewish Studies department and has led it for the past three years.
More broadly, she has created a culture of Torah Lismah—learning for its own sake—and has developed a voluntary learning program to engage various levels of students, her colleagues included, in Jewish study. For example, a series of lunch-and-learns by faculty and for faculty has created a new learning space for educators in which the categories of teacher and learner are fluid.
"What is compelling and even stirring both in Rebecca's teaching and in her more personal interactions is how she pushes people to challenge their beliefs and engage in difficult reflection about the things that matter most," said Tony Frank, CJHS Head of School, who nominated her for The Covenant Award. "Ultimately, this is the way in which Rebecca's influence is so often experienced not merely as profound, but as transformative."
Although based at CJHS—which enrolls 166 students in grades 9 to 12—her reputation and influence as a Jewish educator has traveled far beyond the school's walls. Dr. Schorsch has served as Scholar-in-Residence at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin since 2001, teaching campers, staff, visitors, and families, and working with counselors and unit heads to craft educational programming.
"Reaching kids of any age can be a challenge for an educator," said Benjy Forester, a 2012 graduate of CJHS who studied with Dr. Schorsch and continues to do so as a counselor at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. "Empowering the next generation of Jews and helping them cultivate Jewish identities that make them proud, however, is an imperative on which Jewish continuity depends. The skills Rebecca teaches and the conversations she begins leave students with important challenges and lessons that resurface as they continue their lives as independent young Jewish adults."
She frequently teaches in private study groups, university and academic settings, local and regional synagogues, and Jewish institutions and organizations nationally, describing herself as an "educator at large" and a "community educator" with the stated purpose of helping each student individually on his or her Jewish journey.
"Every day I feel blessed to do what I love, something at once meaningful and critical to building the world that we wish to inhabit," Schorsch said. "I am grateful to Covenant for honoring my work and, more importantly, for valuing the significance of Jewish education.
"This award depends upon the deep support of family and friends, students, colleagues and community, who nourish me, encourage me, challenge me, and work devotedly to teach and embody Torah. I am excited to join a national cohort of committed and excellent Jewish educators who will further stimulate my thinking and support my work in the field."
For guidelines on nominating an educator for a 2015 Covenant Award, and to view a list and biographies of past recipients, visit www.covenantfn.org/awards. The Covenant Foundation is a program of the Crown Family Philanthropies.