Wash U Hillel leader receives coveted Pomegranate Prize created to empower emerging Jewish educators


Ellen Futterman, Editor-in-Chief

Tony Westbrook Jr., assistant director of Hillel at Washington University, is one of five emerging Jewish educators who received the 2021 Pomegranate Prize Monday at a virtual ceremony hosted by the Covenant Foundation. The 2021 recipients join a cohort of 50 others who represent the most promising rising leaders in Jewish education.

In addition to Westbrook, 34, the other 2021 recipients are: Rabbi Tiferet Berenbaum, rabbi of Congregational Learning and Programming at Temple Beth Zion in Brookline, Mass.; Alana Rifkin Gelnick, associate principal of the Early Learning Center (ELC) at SAR Academy in Riverdale, N.Y.; Aryeh Laufer, head of STEM at the Idea School in Tenafly, N.J.; and Rabbanit Leah Sarna, associate director of education and director of high school programs at the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education in Riverdale, N.Y.

The Pomegranate Prize is designed to honor emerging leaders who have been in the field of Jewish education for up to 10 years. Over a three-year period, each cohort has multiple opportunities to connect with innovation leaders and extraordinary educators from across the spectrum of Jewish life. By encouraging prize recipients in their pursuits and enabling them to accelerate their professional development and amplify their impact on the field, the Covenant Foundation aims to nurture the group and empower them to take risks and make a difference in the field of Jewish education.

The prize stands next to the Covenant Award, which since 1991 has honored three outstanding Jewish educators each year for their impact on the field of Jewish education.


“The Pomegranate Prize will help fund opportunities to help close the gap in my own Jewish education, specifically through rigorous Hebrew language immersion, public speaking courses, coaching, media training and so much more,” said Westbrook, who belongs to both Congregation Bais Abraham and Kol Rinah and is a former member of the St. Louis Jewish Light Board of Trustees. “I will now be tapped into the extensive network of former Pomegranate Prize winners and Covenant Award winners, many of whom are the leading scholars in the innovators in the field of Jewish education. The Pomegranate Prize will help me to hone my craft and lay out a roadmap to achieving my professional goals.”

In addition to the prize ceremony, this year’s event also included a talk by bestselling author Bruce Feiler, a text study with scholar and Director of the Wexner Heritage Program Rabba Yaffa Epstein, and a musical performance by 2012 Pomegranate Prize recipient Maya Bernstein along with internationally acclaimed musician Noah Solomon Chase.

When this prize was inaugurated over a decade ago, our vision was to highlight developing talent in Jewish education, and to give emerging educators a boost of confidence that would benefit both them and the field,” Cheryl R. Finkel, board chair of The Covenant Foundation, said in her presentation of the prizes. “And that vision has indeed come to fruition.”

Added Harlene Appelman, executive director of the Covenant Foundation: “When I consider the myriad settings in which each of these educators spend their days, I am so encouraged. Because it means fresh, creative and exciting Jewish education is reaching Jewish learners in just about every stage of life, across the country. With a wingspan that wide, this cohort, and by extension, this field, can truly soar.”

In addition to his work at Wash U’s Hillel, Westbrook serves as a freelance Jewish life consultant and has facilitated racial justice and equity training sessions for BBYO, Base Hillel, Hillel International, and the Wexner Alumni Racial Justice Beit Midrash. He also produces digital Jewish content on Instagram and TikTok under the username @frumjewishblackboy and is working on a new series entitled “Tiyul with Tony.”

He earned his B.A. in communication studies from Fontbonne University and graduated from the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem with certificates in Judaic Studies and in Experiential Jewish Education.