Round Of Honors For Educators


With the last day of school on the horizon, some Jewish educators are receiving not just year-end cards and gifts, but prominent awards.

The Covenant Foundation just announced the three recipients for its annual Covenant Award: Zion Ozeri of The Jewish Lens, Howard Blas of Camp Ramah in New England and Judy Finkelstein-Taff of Chicago Jewish Day School.

Meanwhile on June 4, New York’s Jewish Education Project honored five “Young Pioneers,” innovative Jewish educators under age 36. They are: Rabbi Michael Bitton of Magen David Yeshivah High School, Bryna Lieder of Luria Academy, Andrew Fretwell of Young Judaea, Hannah Kass of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, and Shmueli Perkel of Musical IQ. While the Jewish Education Project honorees were announced earlier this spring, they were formally recognized at the organization’s annual dinner at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Each “Young Pioneer” received a $360 professional development stipend, tickets to the Jewish Education Project’s “Jewish Futures Conference,” networking opportunities and a tzedakah box.

The Covenant Award, established in 1991, honors three educators each year. Each receives $36,000, and each of their institutions receives $5,000.

Ozeri is founder and creative director of The Jewish Lens, a program that couples the emotional impact of photography with more traditional, text-based learning, enabling students to express and interpret through their own photographs and commentaries. The program involved thousands of students in hundreds of Jewish schools, camps and other educational settings in the United States. In addition, more than 50 schools use the program in Israel, and a recently announced partnership with The Center for Educational Technology will lead to creation of a new online, interactive platform.

Blas directs Camp Ramah’s Tikvah Program, an eight-week overnight camping program for 60 campers with special needs, fully integrated within a summer camp attracting 800 children and teens. While the program has been in existence 40 years, Blas, who has directed it since 2001, has modified it and expanded it dramatically. An in-cabin inclusion program integrates campers with special needs into typical bunks, and Blas has expanded the camp’s vocational training programs to give campers with special needs a sense of purpose and to equip them with marketable skills to bring to the outside world. Under Blas’s leadership, the Tikvah Guest House opened as a six-unit hotel facility at the camp, and as the main accommodation for visitors, is operated exclusively by young adults with developmental disabilities. Blas has also moved to sustain the community beyond the summer months, creating year-round programming for campers with special needs and their families, including a weekly videoconference for Tikvah campers with special needs, their families and staff.

Finkelstein-Taff has grown Chicago Jewish Day School from seven students when she took the helm in 2004 to more than 180 in pre-K through eighth grade this year. The pluralistic school includes Reform, Conservative and Modern Orthodox rabbis on its board, seeks the active involvement of parents, engages grandparents and the larger community, and builds bridges to other Jewish and secular schools in the Chicago area, according to a Covenant Foundation press release.