(JTA) — The founding principal of a Modern Orthodox Jewish high school, the national director of an organization that works for the inclusion for children with special needs, and the co-founder of an adult Jewish learning organization are the recipients of the 2017 Covenant Awards for excellence in Jewish education.
The New York-based Covenant Foundation announced the recipients of the awards, among the highest honors in Jewish education, on Tuesday. Each recipient will receive $36,000, and each of their institutions will get $5,000.
The winners are: Rabbi Tully Harcsztark, founding principal of SAR High School in the Riverdale section of Bronx, New York; Meredith Englander Polsky, national director of Institutes and Training at Matan in New York, and Developmental Support Coordinator at Temple Beth Ami Nursery School in Rockville, Maryland; and Dr. Jane Shapiro, co-founder of Orot: Center for New Jewish Learning in Skokie, Illinois.
In a statement announcing the 2017 winners, Harlene Appelman, executive director of The Covenant Foundation, said: “Each of the 2017 Covenant Award recipients is a dreamer, and each brings with them a breath of optimism for the field.”
At SAR high school, Harcsztark introduced a concept he calls the “Grand Conversation” – reflecting his belief that Jews should be deeply rooted in Torah while embracing the broader culture in which they live. The 15-year-old Modern Orthodox high school “has become a national model of Jewish education adapting to and embracing 21st century realities and equipping students and teachers in new, novel and empowering ways,” the statement said.
Prior to becoming SAR High School’s founding principal, Harcsztark served as associate principal of Judaic Studies at SAR Academy, the affiliated lower school; rabbi at Congregation Keter Torah in Teaneck, New Jersey, and a Judaic studies teacher at The Frisch School in Paramus, New Jersey.
Meredith Englander Polsky founded Matan in 2000 with the understanding that children with special needs and their families were living on the margins of Jewish education due to a community severely lacking the vocabulary, approaches and awareness to create paths to engagement and full participation. Under Polsky’s leadership and design, Matan began working with synagogues, Jewish agencies, and religious and day school administrators and teachers not only to increase awareness of special needs and the obligation of the Jewish community to embrace inclusion, but also to help to create educational programs, curricula and lesson plans for this population. At Temple Beth Ami Nursery School in Rockville, Maryland, meanwhile, she supports teachers in working with children with special learning needs.
Covenant’s statement said that Polsky has dramatically advanced Jewish communal dialogue and practices for inclusion of children with special needs and their families in Jewish life and learning.
With Orot, Jane Shapiro is building a new model for engaging Jewish adults in the Chicago area and beyond, according to the statement. When Orot began in the Chicago area in 2014, 70 people attended a half-day of learning to prepare for the High Holidays. It has since grown to serve over 500 students each year through weekly classes and meditation sessions, yoga workshops, immersive learning experiences, weekend retreats, and training of Jewish educators, social service workers, and communal professionals.
Shapiro was previously associate director of the Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning in Northbrook, Illinois, and coordinator of mentoring for students in the Masters of Arts in Professional Jewish Studies program at Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership in Chicago.
The 2017 Covenant recipients will be honored on Nov. 12 in Los Angeles, at an annual awards dinner during the General Assembly of The Jewish Federations of North America.