Deborah Nagler, 66, pioneered use of technology in Jewish education


NEW YORK (JTA) — Deborah Kantor Nagler’s life as a Jewish educator began when she was just a teenager. At 19, she took a group of 14- and 15-year old students from her synagogue in St. Louis, to Israel for the summer.

She would go on to earn two master’s degrees in education — one from the Jewish Theological Seminary and another, in educational technology, from Full Sail University — and become a creative force in the field of Jewish education.

“She was a great educator, a bit ahead of her time,” said David Bryfman, CEO of the Jewish Education Project in New York.

Nagler, who died April 3 of COVID-19 at 66, contributed to a 2014 book Bryfman edited on experiential education. Her chapter dealt with virtual reality and Jewish education.

“As an Orthodox woman in her 60s, she wasn’t the first person you would think to turn to on the subject,” Bryfman said. “But she got the technology a lot quicker than many of us did.”

Nagler held a series of leadership positions in Jewish education over the course of her career, at the Bergen County and Metrowest Jewish federations in New Jersey and later at Hadassah, were she was national director of education and training. After the Bernie Madoff scandal took a big toll on the organization, she decided to retrain to focus on educational technology, said her husband, Fred Nagler.

She went on to serve as director of a program in educational technology at Gratz College and as director of a project developing immersive 3D environments for education. She taught online educational technology courses for graduate students at New Jersey City University and at Gratz. And she served as an instructional designer for an online graduate program at Hebrew Union College in New York. Nagler also earned an honorary doctorate from the Jewish Theological Seminary and a Ed.D. in educational technology from New Jersey City University.

When she filled in as a substitute teacher at the Moriah School in Englewood, she taught a unit on engineering using as an example the eruv, a symbolic boundary used by observant Jews to carry objects in public on the Sabbath. The school’s principal told Fred Nagler she was the only teacher who could seamlessly integrate Judaism into STEM classes.

“Everybody loved her,” Fred Nagler said.

Nagler is survived by two daughters from her first marriage, Shira Marshall and Chana Rackliff; four stepchildren from her second marriage: Sheryl Solomon, Aviva Mermelstein, Yael Zimerman and Yoni Nagler; two brothers, David Kantor and Mark Kantor; 28 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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