Deborah Fishman

Meet Chana German

 Posted by on February 7, 2019 at 5:02 pm  No Responses »  Categories:
Feb 072019

Congratulations to Chana German on becoming Executive Director of The Lookstein Center for Jewish Education. AVI CHAI Program Officer Galli Aizenman took the opportunity to ask her some questions about herself, her vision, and her passions.

Chana German

Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

I’m from Canada originally, and am the proud graduate of the local day schools. In addition to receiving a stellar education from teachers I will never forget, and the strong work ethic that naturally develops as a result of participating in a dual curriculum, I came away with a very strong sense of Jewish belonging and with it, a sense that I had a responsibility to do my part.  I am also the mother of three little people who keep me on my toes.

During my time at The Lookstein Center I’ve worked on a range of projects—really, everything from professional development to curriculum development. Early on, I became fascinated by the way technology has the potential to enhance learning and teaching, and started running educational technology projects that aim to achieve that potential in Jewish education.

What makes you excited about becoming the new director of Lookstein?

The thing that I have always loved the most about The Lookstein Center is that we have never been satisfied with the status quo: this is the way we do this, or this is the way we do that. We can always do better. So we have a strong culture of experimentation, iteration—and yes, throwing ideas into the trash because they were ill-conceived—in order to improve the quality of Jewish education.  Lookstein has a strong tradition of pioneering in Jewish educational initiatives. I am excited to take the reins and forge forward.

What is your vision for the future of Lookstein? 

We’ll be focusing on keeping Jewish education relevant and meaningful in the twenty-first century. This means supporting the range of schools and educators, making sure that they have the tools and skills they need to ensure a community of engaged and educated Jews. To that end, we will be building out from our core competencies of curriculum development – mainly digital – and professional development.

You had been the director of the Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy since it was founded in 2014.  Tell us more about LVJA and some of its successes over the years you have been involved? 

At its launch in 2014, Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy was not much more than an idea. The essence was that online Jewish studies courses could strengthen schools in a range of ways, with the students ultimately being the beneficiaries. It’s gratifying that we’ve been able to accomplish that.

Our partner schools really do a fantastic job using Lookstein Virtual in strategic ways in their communities. Some expand learning opportunities for their student bodies and enable their students take courses that really interest them, some use our courses to free up faculty time to run special projects, and others identify students who need something different to reach their full potential.  And that’s exactly the point—schools are empowered to achieve their goals, whatever they are.

Whenever I have the chance, I like to look at student feedback and read first-hand accounts of how the courses are impacting our students. Students often get so passionate about whatever it is they are studying—Tanach, Jewish history, etc—that they say things like—“it’s inspired me to”—and you can fill in the blank here: learn more, do more, explore more. Knowing that our work is having a real impact on their Jewish path is what drives us all forward.

What are your passions in Jewish education? Where do you see it going in the future?

Historically, the Jewish community has always been the aggregate of many types—doers, thinkers and scholars, artists of all kinds. Today, the path to an engaged Jewish community is acknowledging, embracing, and acting on this—we’re a diverse bunch and have different aspirations, passions, and learning needs. I am hopeful that there will be a wider acceptance and use of personalization and in constructivism in our schools, so that we are there to support each and every student on their Jewish journeys.

I think we will also see a simultaneous move toward and away from technology. On the one hand, there is a recognition that educational technology—done right—can transform learning from a one-size fits all to a meaningful and hands-on experience. On the other hand, all of us need to step away from our devices more often: to go outside and be awed by nature, to sit down with a group of friends and chat face-to-face. We should be able to find the right balance over time.



Jan 162019

Are you looking for what’s trending in Jewish day school thought leadership? Look no further than eJewishPhilanthropy, where day school leaders have contributed many inspiring articles of late. We recommend you add the following to your reading list.

  1. “Unlocking the Potential of Jewish Day Schools” by Paul Bernstein

Paul Bernstein, CEO of Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools, shares Prizmah’s new five-year strategic plan. The focus is on “unlocking the potential of the inherent link between communities and Jewish day schools to secure a strong Jewish future.”

  1. “The Empowerment of the New Jewish Superhero” by Rabbi David Saiger

How do you teach your students to listen in the Judaic studies classroom – both to the texts, and to their peers? Rabbi David Saiger of Milken Community Schools in Los Angeles participated in the Pedagogy of Partnership (PoP) Day School Educator’s Institute at Hadar and shares thoughts on how “PoP helped me imagine a new reality in which our Torah study changes lives by modeling an essential practice in the world of civil discourse – true, open, listening.”

  1. “College Admissions and ‘Measuring’ Students: A Different Approach for Day Schools” by Alanna Kotler

What do you think about standardized testing, and its role in education and child development? Alanna Kotler argues that it’s time to re-think this role and suggests some innovation in how we define success and learning for our students. As one potential model for Jewish day schools to consider, she talks about the Mastery Transcript Consortium which has been adopted by Gann Academy in Boston.

  1. “In the Face of Tragedy: 10 Lessons Learned by a New Head of School” by Mark Shpall

There have been two mass shootings and a massive forest fire since Mark Shpall, Head of School of de Toledo High School in West Hills, California, assumed the headship at the start of the school year. Mark has helped lead important physical and spiritual services to local families and institutions so that people both within the school and the wider community can start the healing process.

  1. “Re-digging the Wells of the Day School Field” by Deena K. Fuchs

AVI CHAI’s Deena K. Fuchs reflects on the first-ever Day School Investor Summit, convened by Prizmah. Through wisdom from Rabbi Marc Baker of Combined Jewish Philanthropies, Deena shows the power of “re-digging the wells” of the day school field, through which the convening “unearthed innovations in day schools across the country, we unpacked new paradigms for effective lay leadership, we revisited messages on day school impact, and we surfaced new philanthropic models for day school investment.”

Tu B’Shvat and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

 Posted by on January 14, 2019 at 11:14 am  No Responses »  Tagged with:  Categories:
Jan 142019

This year, we have a double celebration – the coinciding of Tu B’shvat, the Jewish New Year of the Trees, and MLK Day, when we commemorate the great civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. In Jewish day schools, this presents a great opportunity to think about ways to integrate your Judaic and general studies curriculum.

Fortunately, there are many resources available to give you ideas for your classroom or even to do at home. Here are some resources that are available:

  1. Jewish Learning Matters provides a lesson plan by JTeach, “Dr. King, Honi, and me,” focusing on the concept of legacy, what kind of impact we want to make on the world, and making sure our values are aligned with our actions. The lesson includes a hands-on art project for students to reflect on and explore these ideas.
  1. Hazon offers a Tu B’Shvat Hagaddah which has a helpful source page on the connection to MLK Day. It compares a source from the Talmud (“Anyone who is capable of protesting injustice in their home and does not, is responsible for the outcomes of their neglect…” -Bablyonian Talmud, Shabbat 54b) to Dr. King’s famous idea “why can’t we wait?” and asks thought-provoking questions such as “When the world and its inhabitants are being attacked, where is our sense of urgency on the environment and to ensure that ecosystems are sustainable?…How do we make this Tu B’shvat a critical encounter with the urgent needs of our planet Earth?”
  1. PJ Library notes that Tu B’Shvat is a great opportunity for tikkun olam, repairing the world, as we think about our environment and how we can better it, such as by doing park cleanup. Likewise, Dr. King dedicated his life to making the world a better place. The site provides service ideas and activities for preschool, elementary, and middle school age students.
  1. Here are some ideas of programming day schools and synagogues are planning in communities across the country:

We would love to hear how you marked this double celebration at your school. Please send us your posts and stories!

Year in Review: The Top Posts of 2018

 Posted by on December 28, 2018 at 10:05 am  No Responses »  Categories:
Dec 282018

As we near the end of 2018, we thought we’d look back at the most popular posts from this past year:

  1. Mem Bernstein: “Passing the Baton”
    Mem Bernstein, Chairman of The AVI CHAI Foundation, delivered this keynote address at the Day School Investor Summit, convened by Prizmah November 11-12 at the Ritz Carlton-Bal Harbour. More than 100 philanthropists dedicated to growing the day school field were in attendance – and many more were reached through this blog post.
  2. A Letter from Rabbi Fred Elias: Grateful that Thorns Have Roses
    In this post, Rabbi Fred Elias, middle school principal and school rabbi at the Solomon Schechter of Bergen County, exhibits the resilience – and vulnerability – we know to be among the core skills leaders must possess to effectively lead their schools.
  3. Parsonage for Female Judaic Studies Teachers – Take 2
    Back in the fall of 2011, Dan Perla wrote a short piece on the issue of parsonage and whether female Judaic studies teachers could treat part of their income as non-taxable parsonage (original article here). The article took off in popularity on the AVI CHAI blog. Seven years later, Dan and Maccabee Avishur posted this popular follow-up.
  4. For a Change, an Area of Growing Political Consensus: Government Funding for Jewish Day School Education
    Yossi Prager, AVI CHAI’s Executive Director – North America, wrote this article about government funding for Jewish day schools, noting that day schools receive “several hundred million dollars annually in government funding for a range of non-religious purposes and in 17 states benefit from incentives created by state tax-credit programs.”
  5. Rosh HaShana, Back-to-School, and Teacher Super Powers
    In this post, AVI CHAI’s Dr. Susan Kardos reflects on the super-powers of Jewish day school teachers who spend their days “giving children second chances, occasions for renewal, and opportunities for creation.”

We hope you find these posts helpful in reflecting on 2018 and looking forward to 2019.

Dec 112018

Over the past three years, Perlman Camp in Pennsylvania has brought their previously seasonal Jewish educator, Candice Goldstein, onto the camp’s year-round team, working with staff to ensure Jewish life is a focus throughout the year. She now plans for and supervises a team of summer staff including Cornerstone Fellows and members of the camp’s Perlman Leadership Council, a new fellowship for veteran staff who are empowered to share ownership for supporting the Jewish life at camp, which also helps with the camp’s staff retention. Through her role, Candice helps staff see themselves as Jewish educators and role models. Two media-savvy fellows created a promotional video focused around the core Jewish values which the camp has recently been working on solidifying and amplifying. In a powerful moment in the video talking about Tikkun Middot – Jewish values and moral compass – a camper who grew up as a competitive athlete talks about the power of camp in shaping his values and personal identity.

“At camp I was able to figure out who I was without wrestling. When I went to [college], I stopped playing sports competitively, and I had to do an identity check. I had to figure out who I was without my sport. I reverted to the kind of person that I was at camp. The person I was at camp was the person I wanted to be throughout my life. Camp has really taught me to be a more accepting person, and to accept myself for what I want and who I want to be.”

This is just one story from one of the eight camps that participated in the Hiddur program of the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC), which is concluding its pilot this year with funding from The AVI CHAI Foundation, Jim Joseph Foundation, and Maimonides Fund. The three-year Hiddur process incorporated coaching from exceptional, seasoned Jewish educators; formed a Hiddur “team” from each camp’s professional and lay leaders to ensure the entire camp community is represented and aligned; created a Community of Practice of all the participating camps to share experiences and amplify impact; and offered ignition grants to fund new Jewish initiatives at each camp as part of the process.

Why all this far-reaching activity, both within and between camp communities? The purpose of Hiddur is to create systemic enhancement of Jewish experiential education at each camp. This was achieved by helping each camp enhance their organization’s ability to transmit Jewish values, culture, and tradition, always in line with their camps’ missions, which reflect different Jewish educational priorities and represent the spectrum of Jewish life. FJC is now engaged in a process of evaluating the outcomes of the Hiddur pilot, and strategizing how to expand the learnings and resources of the first cohort – such as the power of coaching and of convening camps face-to-face – to reach more extensively and into a greater number of camps.

While many of the enhancements enacted by the camps were programmatic and staff-driven, sometimes it included rejuvenating the camp’s physical infrastructure towards this goal. Many alumni of Emma Kaufmann Camp in West Virginia have fond and profound memories of the camp amphitheater, the magical place where Shabbat experiences happen and a lifelong connection to Judaism is formed. Over decades of copious use, the amphitheater became worn.  So Rachael Speck, Associate Director, had an idea. Over 10 days in April, 2018, the camp conducted a “Tush Push,” encouraging alumni to donate to replace the amphitheater benches through a crowdsourced campaign which was driven by the camp’s alumni and staff rather than the administration. In an amazing moment of community engagement, stories and videos poured in about meaningful moments at the amphitheater – and with them, donations. In those ten days, the campaign exceeded the goal of $43,000 with gifts from over 370 donors.

In an article about the campaign, Rachael wrote, “How do we preserve Shabbat at camp? We take care of our sacred spaces.  We preserve them so we can ensure that the Shabbat experience is there for generations to come.  So that the camper who only gets Jewish at camp can have their first Friday night experience in the amphitheater be a defining moment in their Jewish journey.”

Hiddur Mitzvah refers to the concept of beautifying or enhancing a Jewish ritual by appealing to the senses – sounds, smells, tastes, textures, and colors. The Hiddur Initiative has enabled camps to apply all their senses toward reinvigorating Jewish learning and Jewish life, with a wide range of Jewish values as a focus, including spirituality; Hebrew Language; connections to Israel; marking Shabbat as sacred time, Tikkun Olam, personal ethics; Jewish Peoplehood; Nature and Environment, and more.

At Herzl Camp in Minnesota, the process coalesced around an epiphany amongst the staff that the central feature of Herzl’s approach to Judaism is its “culture of curiosity.” This understanding blossomed into a Pluralism Task Force which worked to define what pluralism means and how it shows up at Herzl, exemplifying the penchant for intellectual curiosity and asking “big questions.” New experiential forms of Jewish life and learning now include ways of experiencing Z’man kodesh, highly rated by campers last summer, ranging from traditional service to Torah stories and lessons on leadership and life to hikes and blessings for nature. “Some campers found meaning in learning how to wrap tefillin and appreciated the opportunity to choose and to try this traditional practice. Others appreciated praising nature’s wonders while being outside – listening to the leaves in the wind, smelling the dew-covered landscape, and seeing the natural beauty in which their summer camp is nestled,” wrote Liz Paige, Director of Jewish Education. Other innovative initiatives included introducing Storahtelling, which are skits and discussions about the weekly Torah portion, and a “livebrary,” to which staff contributed books that inspired their Jewish journeys, together with a short written overview. These initiatives further the desire to increase learning amongst camper and staff – all part of the “culture of curiosity,” which is not just a slogan, but also lived out experientially at camp.

We are excited to see the thoughtful ways in which the participating Hiddur camps have charted new paths to holistically express and live their Jewish mission and values. With the pilot concluding shortly, we look forward to seeing how it inspires the campers and the field more broadly.  Kol Hakavod to all the camps and the FJC for their vision and execution of this groundbreaking program.

Dec 102018

Working in a Jewish day school, you are surrounded by modern-day Maccabees whose heroic actions lead to miracles — big and small — all the time. During Chanukah, AVI CHAI and Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools are featuring stories from Jewish day schools of “Maccabee moments” when students, teachers, and leaders made a difference to surmount challenges, beat the odds, and valiantly further Jewish values and actions in our community. Together we will read them and say “Nes Gadol Haya PO!” Chag Urim Sameach!

A Maccabee Moment at Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School

The storm on November 15 brought with it many challenges for countless people in the Livingston community and surrounding areas.  At the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School, the school was presented with the challenge of how to keep their students safe and get their many students home, especially those who commute from further areas like East Brunswick, Springfield, Highland Park and Staten Island, as well as the local students from West Orange and Livingston.

While we initially thought that the students would merely be delayed in the building, they were served dinner and entertained with movies, open gym, and more.  As the night went on, it became clear that it would not be safe to let the buses, which arrived at the school late in the night, out onto the roads. Close to 100 students spent the night at the school.  Many faculty, administration, and staff remained in the building and devoted themselves throughout the night to protect, soothe, care for and engage the students. They applied their skills and common sense to selflessly support every single child’s needs. Older students intuitively came to look out for the younger students, reading them books, playing games with them, and more to ease their time during the impromptu sleepover.  The school caterer prepared dinner, snacks, breakfast and Friday lunch for students who were in the building.

Over 70 commuter high school students were hosted by scores of Livingston school families in the middle of the night on a moment’s notice, who provided the students warm, gracious and supportive hospitality. One host home even made a birthday party for one of the students!

The list of remarkable gestures of kindness and leadership showed that night goes on and on. JKHA and RKYHS were proud to see the way that the entire community came together to support one another during the trying night.

Submitted by Erica Rosenfeld, Alumni Coordinator and Communications Associate, Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School.


Maccabee Moments at RASG Hebrew Academy

 Posted by on December 7, 2018 at 12:33 pm  No Responses »  Tagged with: ,  Categories:
Dec 072018

Working in a Jewish day school, you are surrounded by modern-day Maccabees whose heroic actions lead to miracles — big and small — all the time. During Chanukah, AVI CHAI and Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools are featuring stories from Jewish day schools of “Maccabee moments” when students, teachers, and leaders made a difference to surmount challenges, beat the odds, and valiantly further Jewish values and actions in our community. Together we will read them and say “Nes Gadol Haya PO!” Chag Urim Sameach!

Maccabee Moments at Rabbi Alexander S. Gross Hebrew Academy in Miami, Florida

There are modern-day Maccabees living among us in Miami Beach.  Who are these special people? They are teachers, administrators and security personnel who served in the IDF.

Our school honored these heroes in a special day that we call Yom Tzahal Day. On this day, students and staff wore IDF clothing. We studied about Israel’s powerful and humanitarian army and recognized all who served with special certificates and awards. We shared an amazing PowerPoint that featured these modern-day Maccabees.  The photos included present employees, then soldiers, in their full army uniforms and gear. The students were amazed to see that there was life before school for these brave IDF soldiers.

We are so proud of our modern-day Maccabees and their service in Israel.

Submitted by Debra Hamburg, Elementary School Principal, Hebrew Academy Miami (RASG).


At the Hebrew Academy of Miami Beach, “Maccabee Moments” occur on a daily basis.  With Warriors being our mascot, our students cannot help but persevere through tough challenges.  The Academic Enhancement Program (AEP) supports students who present with mild learning differences, students who speak English as a second language, and students who enter our school after attending public school with little to no Judaic background.  The AEP teachers work every day with students in order to build their resilience and provide them with a solid educational background.

The AEP students oftentimes enter with a fear of failure but leave with a clear vision of the future. Many of our students come speaking a different langue and have little to no ability to speak English.  Most of them leave with an improved ability to communicate and advocate for themselves in English.  The students who come from public school are generally searching for something. We are able to spark the light within them and instill a love of Judaism.

We are so proud of all our Maccabees who have become our heroes!

Submitted by Jackie Smith, Director of Marketing & Communications, Hebrew Academy Miami (RASG).


A Maccabee Moment at The Leo Baeck Day School

 Posted by on December 7, 2018 at 10:10 am  No Responses »  Categories:
Dec 072018

Working in a Jewish day school, you are surrounded by modern-day Maccabees whose heroic actions lead to miracles — big and small — all the time. During Chanukah, AVI CHAI and Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools are featuring stories from Jewish day schools of “Maccabee moments” when students, teachers, and leaders made a difference to surmount challenges, beat the odds, and valiantly further Jewish values and actions in our community. Together we will read them and say “Nes Gadol Haya PO!” Chag Urim Sameach!

A Maccabee Moment at The Leo Baeck Day School in Toronto

The Leo Baeck Tikkun Project aims to inspire and empower students to advocate for positive social change, using specifically designed units that weave together social justice education and Jewish texts. Through this initiative, we hope to find ways, inside and outside of the classroom, for students to feel empowered to make a difference in our community.

Our Grade 1s kicked off their Tikkun project with an exploration of accessibility within our community, delving into the topics of disability, inclusion and acceptance. Students heard from community members like Luke Anderson, the founder of the StopGap Foundation, who shared some of the barriers he faces as a wheelchair user. They carried out audits of a local public library and of our own school, recording and scoring measures of accessibility. They followed up by writing letters to our Head of School and Board President, proposing ways to make our facilities more accessible.

One item they proposed was installing a StopGap ramp at the exterior entrance to our school’s chapel, a place where our students gather on a regular basis for religious services and a hub for our community events. Students noted that making this space more accessible to outside visitors would allow us to include individuals of all abilities and ages, accommodating users of wheelchairs, strollers and walkers. One practically-minded student realized that good ideas are not enough to be a changemaker: funds would be needed to actualize their social justice goals. The student went home and rolled the loose change in his house to donate towards the purchase of a StopGap ramp. This gift was matched by the Head of School and the new ramp was put in place over the summer. Ever since it was installed, we have watched with pride as the ramp has ushered in so many community members to our Chapel, adding to the inclusive atmosphere of our school.

Submitted by Iris Glaser, Director of Marketing and Communications, The Leo Baeck Day School.


Luke Anderson, the founder of StopGap Foundation, shared some of the barriers he faces in a wheelchair in the early stages of this exploration of accessibility.

Students then conducted audits of a local public library and of our school, recording and scoring measures of accessibility.

Students created braille signage for key areas like our washrooms and office to assist visitors with wayfinding.


A Maccabee Moment at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School

 Posted by on December 6, 2018 at 10:49 am  No Responses »  Tagged with: ,  Categories:
Dec 062018

Working in a Jewish day school, you are surrounded by modern-day Maccabees whose heroic actions lead to miracles — big and small — all the time. During Chanukah, AVI CHAI and Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools are featuring stories from Jewish day schools of “Maccabee moments” when students, teachers, and leaders made a difference to surmount challenges, beat the odds, and valiantly further Jewish values and actions in our community. Together we will read them and say “Nes Gadol Haya PO!” Chag Urim Sameach!

A Maccabee Moment at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Maryland

On Monday, November 5, thirteen of CESJDS High School students visited the Shriver Elementary School in Silver Spring, just two miles from the Upper School campus. The School is a Title 1 school in which 85% of the students live below the poverty line of $25,000 for a family of four. Our students worked with the teachers during their visit, played games with the students during recess, and helped some of them write sentences about the Statue of Liberty. Our students were very engaged during their visit, loved working with the little ones and are eager to go back to volunteer.

The Shriver School is holding a Toy Drive to help guarantee that every child in the school (970 students from two years old – 5th grade) will get a holiday gift this year, something their parents cannot generally afford. CESJDS is promoting the toy drive to students, parents, and other community members to help support our low-income neighbors. This initiative supports the school’s value of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, and educating our children about the value of giving to others less fortunate.

Submitted by Laurie Ehrlich, Director, Marketing & Communications, Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School.