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My Canine Teacher

By Jewish Education Collaborative

The teachers at the Mitzner Family Religious School at Temple Kehillat Chaim have found some new assistants that keep students engaged in class—and their salary is paid in ear scratches.  

Michelle Erste, Director of the Mitzner Family Religious School, and her colleague Caroline Figiel were brainstorming early this year about ways to keep students engaged during their supplemental Jewish learning courses. Caroline’s dog, Molly, went through training with her daughter to be a service dog, but after they discovered Molly had a food allergy, she was adopted by the Figiel family. Molly is excellent with children, calm and very well behaved, and Caroline thought Molly would help the children stay focused during classes.

It was an immediate success. Molly’s presence eased anxiety in the classroom; some children would sit next to her and gently pet Molly throughout class to stay calm. Others read to her in Hebrew. Michelle quickly realized her one year-old puppy, Georgie, could help, too. Michelle brought Georgie to class to learn from Molly, and now the two dogs share duties and alternate visits each week.   

Michelle says, “The connections the kids have to the animals makes them more focused; they participate more. Having Molly and Georgie around is like a reward. It’s made the classes more enjoyable and active for the students.” 

The Mitzner Family Religious School is part of Federation’s Jewish Education Collaborative (JEC), which boldly reimagines Jewish education in our community by strengthening collaboration among organizations, investing in the talent of Jewish educators, and catalyzing new models. This supportive classroom innovation is exactly the kind of solution that JEC seeks. 

Initially, the purpose of the pets was just to be a calming presence in class. But Michelle and Caroline quickly realized there were more benefits to having the dogs around. The children love reading to the dogs and will organize to take turns with their furry friends. One of the rabbis at Temple Kehillat Chaim was inspired to bring his own dogs to his classes with adult b’nei mitzvah and torah study students.  

Michelle says they are looking for more ways to integrate the pets into their lessons in the fall semester and make them an active part of the learning process. “Having the dogs in class gives the students a little something extra to look forward to each week.” Who knows, maybe the dogs will start learning Hebrew, too!  


Our Jewish Community Needs Amazing Teachers Like You

By Jewish Education Collaborative

Are you looking for rewarding part-time work? Or do you know someone who loves spending time with kids and helping them grow? Atlanta’s part-time Jewish education programs need you! The Jewish Education Collaborative at Federation is helping to recruit supplemental Jewish education teachers for our partner organizations. For each new teacher hired that you recruit, you could get a $100 referral stipend.

Rabbi Elana Perry, Director of the Jewish Education Collaborative, says: “Atlanta’s Jewish children are ready to learn in fun and creative ways, and our schools are ready to give teachers the tools to support them in their growth. Now we just need more teachers to bring passion, curiosity, and dedication to help to make that learning come alive for our kids!”

Whether you’re an experienced educator or stepping in front of the classroom for the first time, if you’re passionate about Jewish learning, we want you! Contact Rabbi Elana Perry for details.


Jewish Education Collaborative Names Teachers of the Year 

By Jewish Education Collaborative

Federation’s Jewish Education Collaborative (JEC) is proud to name the winners of the 2023 Sylvia Newman Memorial Teachers of the Year Award. This prize was established in 2021 by Howard Newnan in honor of his late wife, Sylvia. Sylvia’s passion was Jewish education, and she taught in a local religious school for many years.   

The awards, which will be presented at Federation’s Annual Meeting on May 31, honors excellence in teaching at Atlanta’s supplemental religious schools. Excellence includes an ability to excite Jewish learners, creativity to implement innovative educational programs, serving as a role model for students, and demonstrating efforts to grow and improve in one’s teaching practice. The award honors both a veteran religious school teacher, Carey Grucza, and a newer teacher, Lauren Davis.   

Carey Grucza teaches 4th grade at Temple Kehillat Chaim and has been teaching there for 15 years. She is an example of a teacher who always goes above and beyond. During Covid, she revolutionized the teaching strategies for the faculty at TKC, showing her colleagues how to make online learning interactive and fun. Since returning to in-person learning, Carey continues to create engaging, hands-on programs for students, expanding and improving upon existing curricula. Carey fosters a love of Jewish learning among her students and inspires everyone with whom she works, children and adults alike.  

Lauren Davis teaches Judaics for 6th/7th graders and music education for Pre-K through 7th grade at Temple Kol Emeth. This was her third year in the congregation, and in a short time, Lauren transformed the TKE community with her positive energy and love for teaching. Even as a newer teacher herself, Lauren mentored other new teachers and song leaders. She also designed and implemented creative new music curricula for the school.  

JEC and all of Federation salutes the incredible work of these educators. Supplemental Jewish education is a vital part of the fabric of Jewish Atlanta, and it is exceptional teachers like Carey and Lauren who bring Jewish learning to life.   

kids learning

Fellowship Trains Jewish Educators to Teach Israel in New Ways

By Jewish Education Collaborative

Do you ever wonder how educators stay on top of best practices and research in their field? In Atlanta and Chicago, one option is the “Shifting the Paradigm” Israel Education Fellowship. This exciting program is an initiative of the Jewish Education Collaborative (JEC) of Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, in partnership with the Chicago Jewish education community, the iCenter, and the World Zionist Organization.  

The Fellowship was designed specifically for senior educators at supplemental Jewish education programs, and includes 31 individuals (including education directors, rabbis, and community and camp professionals), 13 of whom are from Atlanta. The 18-month fellowship began in January, 2023, and meets online monthly.  

Through the Fellowship, educators are exploring new approaches to teaching and learning about Israel, using the latest research. The Fellows have been participating in a series of engaging online sessions with expert faculty, and the program includes an immersive, 8-day learning seminar in Israel.  

Rabbi Elana Perry, Director of JEC, says, “This program is special because we don’t always have the opportunity to collaborate with other communities. Demand for this training has been high—initially, we aimed to recruit 6 Atlanta educators to the program; we ended up with 13. And the commitment to an 18-month program shows the dedication of these educators.” 

Participants in the Fellowship will use this training to implement new Israel education programs at their home institutions, funded by grants from JEC. Rabbi Elana says, “I’m so excited to see how these educators take this learning and use it to transform the ways in which learners connect and engage with Israel.” 

JEC is Reinventing Supplemental Jewish Education

By Jewish Education Collaborative

Do the words “Hebrew school” conjure less-than-pleasant memories? You’re not alone. Federation’s Jewish Education Collaborative (JEC) wants you to think about supplemental, part-time Jewish learning differently—and they want places of learning to change how they think about it, too.

JEC aims to boldly reimagine Jewish education in our community. Today’s families need new models and fresh teaching methods to engage kids (and families!) in learning that excites them and makes them feel proud to be Jewish.

JEC’s top priorities include:

  • Investing in teaching talent
  • Innovating in and beyond the classroom
  • Strengthening Jewish learning networks
  • Changing how and where kids learn
  • Changing perceptions around Jewish education

Great things are happening in part-time Jewish education in Atlanta. Programs offer personal choice, hands-on learning experiences, and online options for busy families. One parent remarked in a recent survey, “My son absolutely loves religious school and learning Hebrew. He looks forward to every class. We’ve started new traditions and look forward to discussing what he learned!”

JEC partners closely with JumpSpark, Jewish Abilities Atlanta, and PJ Library, as well as a variety of national organizations. And every week, JEC meets with the education directors of partner institutions, including 15 local synagogues, the MJCCA’s Club J, and Jewish Kids Groups (JKG) to discuss implementation and progress of new initiatives.

The funds that JEC receives from Federation’s Partners Fund support our local partner institutions and help them to implement new and innovative strategies. So, when you support JEC, you’re also supporting these vital institutions that shape the next generation of Jewish learners. By donating to Federation, you can be part of a revolution in Jewish education.

To make your contribution, click here.

Online Hebrew Instruction for Unaffiliated Families

By CARING, Jewish Education Collaborative

Atlanta Hebrew Connection is growing! This exciting online program for Hebrew language learning is the product of a partnership between the Jewish Education Collaborative (JEC) and ShalomLearning, a nationally renowned Jewish education organization. What began as a pilot program involving learners from three local synagogues has grown to include six congregations for the upcoming school year. In addition, Atlanta Hebrew Connection will now be open to individual students who are not affiliated with a synagogue or religious school.

Atlanta Hebrew Connection focuses on teaching students to decode Hebrew, learn prayers, and understand their meaning. It offers small classes, flexible scheduling, and excellent instruction right at home. Key components include:

  • Synchronous, small group learning sessions (3-5 students in each)
  • Excellent curriculum and instruction methods
  • Top-quality teachers
  • Social connections among students from different parts of the community
  • Choosing a class time that works best for your family
  • NOT having to battle Atlanta traffic in the middle of the week!

“My son didn’t know Hebrew at all and now when we go to Shabbat services, he shows me all the words he can read. It’s awesome!”

“I love that I don’t have to rush through rush hour traffic. Yay virtual! My son LOVES learning Hebrew, and their teacher is wonderful.”

For more information about Atlanta Hebrew Connection, please contact Rabbi Elana Perry:

A Gift to Honor Religious School Teachers

By Atlanta Jewish Community, Jewish Education Collaborative

Howard Newman had the idea to create a gift in honor of his late wife, Sylvia. He knew that Sylvia’s passion was Jewish education and she taught in the religious school at Temple Kol Emeth for many years. Howard met with Rabbi Elana Perry, who directs the Jewish Education Collaborative, and together they crafted the Sylvia Newman Memorial Teachers of the Year Award, honoring excellence in teaching at Atlanta’s supplemental religious schools. This is the second year that the award will honor a veteran religious school teacher and a new religious school teacher.

Erin Johnson teaches 2nd-4th grade in the Kesher program at Ahavath Achim Synagogue. Throughout her 6 years on the synagogue faculty, she has gone above and beyond in the classroom, developing creative curricula that inspire further learning among her students. Through dynamic storytelling and hands-on project-based learning methods, Erin has engaged both children and parents, and she has served as a leader and role model for fellow teachers, as well.

Josiah Wolff is a 6th-grade teacher at Temple Beth Tikvah. As a new teacher, he has become adept at making learning come alive for his students in “out-of-the-box” ways. Having taken advantage of every opportunity for professional development throughout the year, including an intensive year-long cohort, Josiah is a true role model, not only through the kindness he shows to others, but also as a lifelong learner himself.

Atlanta Leads the Way in Hebrew Language Instruction

By Atlanta Jewish Community, Jewish Education Collaborative

Atlanta innovates again! The Jewish Education Collaborative (JEC) is excited to announce that for the 2021-22 academic year, four Atlanta synagogue schools are piloting The Atlanta Hebrew Connection – an exciting community online program for Hebrew language learning. The Atlanta Hebrew Connection focuses on teaching students to decode Hebrew, learn prayers, and  understand their meaning. It offers small classes, flexible scheduling, and excellent instruction right at home. Ahavath Achim Synagogue, Temple Kol Emeth, Congregation Shearith Israel, and Temple Sinai have all signed on to the program, created by Shalom Learning, a nationally renowned education organization. 

Online Hebrew makes sense for busy families who have had to carpool their kids to Hebrew school in Atlanta traffic. Synagogue school educators have collaborated on the new program with guidance from the Jewish Education Collaborative (JEC). Rabbi Elana Perry, Director of JEC says, “We’ve found that compared to in-person Hebrew instruction, children learn Hebrew just as effectively, if not better, in an online setting.”   

Key components of the Atlanta Hebrew Connection include: 

  • Synchronous, small group learning sessions (3-5 students in each) 
  • Excellent curriculum and instruction methods 
  • Top-quality teachers 
  • Social connections among students from different congregations and/or parts of the community 
  • Choosing a class time that works best for your family 
  • NOT having to battle Atlanta traffic in the middle of the week!

No More “Doing Things the Old Way”

By Jewish Education Collaborative

No More “Doing Things the Old Way”
By Rabbi Elana Perry, Dir. Jewish Education Collaborative

The old narrative of “doing things the way they’ve always been done” is long gone in Atlanta. Watch for new and exciting programs coming to supplemental Jewish education this fall!  

Four synagogue education teams, comprised of educators, clergy, and lay leaders, recently completed the “Leadership, Vision, and Change” cohort experience, which was designed and facilitated by the Jewish Education Collaborative of Greater Atlanta. This eight-month program propelled organizations forward, embracing exciting and compelling Jewish learning, managing change, and strengthening leadership skills. As a result of their work, each team is preparing to launch a new innovative educational program in the fall.  
Connecting families to other families and deepening learning for all ages was elevated throughout the pandemic, and it continues to be a priority for several religious schools.  

Temple Kol Emeth is launching a fresh family engagement strategy, including increased grade-level family education programs, new family Shabbat experiences, a twice-monthly alternative virtual program for family learning with the Rabbi, and a family retreat. Temple Beth Tikvah is expanding their “Sababa” program, weaving joyous, school-wide family learning experiences into the fabric of their year. Temple Sinai has a new alternative family track called “B’Yachad.”  

Rachel Moldovan, Director of Youth Learning and Engagement at Temple Sinai, says, “Our community is craving connection! We are looking forward to building community among our Sinai families – including the entire family – with our new B’Yachad program. Students get the best of both worlds with this alternative program, engaging in peer-to-peer learning on Sundays and participating in family learning and community building experiences on Shabbat.”  

In addition to these exciting opportunities for increased family learning and engagement, Congregation Or Hadash will implement an entirely new B’nai Mitzvah program, which spans grades 4-9 and lengthens the arc of engagement for learners.  

Educational leaders have been listening to the needs of their students and families, and each of them has a different creative response. As a result, religious school families can look forward to fresh new ways for Jewish learning to come alive! 

Jewish Educators Bounce Forward, Not Back

By Atlanta Jewish Community, CARING, Jewish Education Collaborative

What will Jewish education look and feel like when the trauma of this pandemic is finally over? Will religious school simply return to “normal”? And if it does, will it meet the needs of Atlanta’s students and families?

In the field of psychology, there’s a concept known as “Post-Traumatic Growth” (“PTG”) which proves that it’s possible to grow stronger, more driven, and more resilient, because of the trauma we face. Ultimately, it’s not the trauma itself that causes growth, but rather how individuals and organizations interpret and respond to it.

One path after trauma seeks only homeostasis, to restore balance and return to life as it once was. That might sound nice, but it would ignore the lessons we have learned throughout this challenging time and would not lead to progress.

There is also a path after trauma, that, with support and intentionality, can lead to meaningful transformation. PTG holds a very important idea: We don’t bounce back from challenges, we bounce forward.

Jewish educators can plan and strategize for the future we want to build beyond the present reality. But we cannot – and should not – simply bounce back to the ways of the past.

Jewish educators in Atlanta are using the framework of Post-Traumatic Growth to think about how we move ahead in Jewish education.

  • How can we view the current situation as both a trauma with consequences, and an opportunity to “reinvent” or improve on the status quo of Jewish education?
  • How can the pandemic serve as a catalyst for growth and change?

Leaning into creativity and learning from the successes and failures of the past 10 months, Jewish educators are focusing on new ways to meet the needs of Jewish families today. They’re embracing and exploring:

  • Educational Technology
  • Social-Emotional & Values-Based Learning
  • Relationship-Building
  • Family Learning & Engagement
  • New Places, Spaces and Times to Learn

From PTG we learn that individuals and organizations can achieve a higher level of functioning as a result of addressing and learning from trauma. With time, Atlanta’s Jewish learning, and Jewish community, can emerge stronger than ever.

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