More than 200 attend Jewish education fair


There were more than 200 registered participants for the recent Jewish Education Fair 2007 on Nov. 4 sponsored by the Central Agency for Jewish Education in cooperation with the St. Louis Educators’ Council. The annual program for synagogue teachers and teen assistants was held at Congregation Shaare Emeth.

The education fair committee included: Liessa Alperin, Evie Bernstein, Zeena Goldenberg, Cynthia Kramer, Ellyn Polsky, Linda Rosenblatt, Lisa Satanovsky, Rabbi Ari Vernon and CAJE director of school services Michelle Brooks.

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The new format of the education fair was well received. Sixteen community rabbis and other educators led workshops in a variety of topics including: Israel, lesson planning, cooking, ethics and values, social justice, Hebrew and midrash. During lunch teachers were able to choose from 14 facilitated networking sessions by classroom grade or a topic of interest including: art, music, Bible, prophets, Hebrew and holidays.

Brooks opened the fair by presenting the teacher awards. The CAJE teacher certification program (TCP) has enrolled 476 teachers and presented 83 awards since it started five years ago. This year awards were given to Allison Collins, Jay Englander, Natalie Goldman, Jodi Liese, Adele Lewis, Jerri Livingston, Ofira Melnick, Jennifer Patchin, Robert Schnurman, Debbie Schultz and Amy Worth.

Two additional awards were also presented. The Rabbi Howard M. Graber Creative Teacher Award was given to Temple Israel third grade teacher Debbie Schultz for her Ten Commandments curriculum. The Nancy Elbaum Makovsky Hebrew Teacher Award was presented to Jewish Community Hebrew School teacher Lisa Cohen. Cohen has been teaching the Bet class for 14 years.

Brooks also gave an update on the Jewish Educator Recruitment and Retention Initiative (JERRI). St. Louis is one of four communities participating in the advocacy project and has focused its efforts on congregational teachers. Brooks met with most congregations over the spring and summer to share the findings. In addition, she made presentations at executive board and full congregation meetings.

The key messages of the study can be grouped into three main topics: community knowledge and perceptions; recruitment and retention; and congregational culture, said Brooks. The first message revealed that interviewees further removed from the congregational schooling experience are less knowledgeable and less positive about its programs and teachers. The second message is there are people who are willing to teach if they know they are going to be supported. The third message is the congregational culture has the power to influence the perceptions of their teachers and their schools.

The third and final year of the project starts in January. Phone interviews will be conducted with congregational leaders and teachers with some of the questions looking at the effects of the data on the attitudes, behaviors and expectations about congregational schools and teachers.

“In light of the future changes that will take place at the Central Agency for Jewish Education in St. Louis, we will use the results from this project to better inform how we serve congregational schools,” Brooks said. “With 77% of St. Louis Jewish students in grades K – 12 participating in congregational schools, the strength of these schools is important to the strength of the entire St. Louis Jewish community.”