Editors’ Note: Sara Shapiro-Plevan

Many of us are finding that our response to stress or difficulty is to find or gather in small groups of like-minded others to challenge ourselves and confront new ideas from which we can learn. We weave small networks from our larger networks of colleagues, friends and family to read books, to act on political issues of both global and local import, and to generate solutions to problems. That is one of the central purposes of the NRJE.  While our yearly conference in June is an opportunity for us to gather face to face, learn from each other, engage in our own professional learning and explore new research interests, this space gives us a taste of smaller avenues for exploration and opportunities, more importantly, for us to draw closer to each other and forge stronger connections even when we may not be geographically close. I encourage you to use the news and updates below to reach out to your colleagues and strengthen our network, offer a congratulations or inquire about new research, to build those ties between us and to reduce our isolation when we are not together.

If you are interested in submitting a piece for inclusion in our updates, please be in touch.

A Note From Our Chair

As a curriculum historian, I am interested in how and why particular educational ideas, programs, and practices developed in the past; the circumstances in which they emerged; how they evolved over time in light of changing circumstances; and the long term effects of them on the way things are done in schools and society. Occasionally, I am asked by a somewhat exasperated reader what any of this stuff has to do with the real world, here and now—in other words, who cares?

Naturally, this kind of question makes me bristle. My colleagues in medieval Jewish thought, colonial American history, and so forth, are not regularly asked to explain what makes their work relevant. It just needs to be accurate, informative, and eye-opening enough to capture contemporary imaginations and thereby broaden contemporary horizons. But, truth is, when you work in the field of education, the general expectation is that your research needs to have some sort of direct and immediate applicability to educational activities in order to be worthwhile.

There are a number of historical, ideological, and practical reasons why this expectation underlies the field of educational research (see Ellen Lagemann’s An Elusive Science as a good starting point). What got me thinking about these issues is the increased attention I have noticed of late to the notion of “applied” studies, research, and wisdom in Jewish education—see, as but two examples, the emergence of the Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education (CASJE) and the Lippman-Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah’s prizes for Applied Jewish Wisdom.

The emphasis on the value of “applied” knowledge implies that the Jewish professional world presently has too many opinions and not enough facts to support them, or too much prescription without description, prognosis without diagnosis, or theory without practice. What knowledge is of most worth, then, is that which is based on solid evidence and can tangibly move the needle now and into the future.

A project I co-direct with NRJE past-chair Jonathan Krasner, entitled “Jewish Historical Understandings,” builds on the interest in applied research by focusing its sights squarely on what learners actually gain from the study of Jewish history, not just on what they should get out of it, which is where most of the attention focused up till now. Another project I am involved in applies research on what we know about contemporary Jewish youth, their interests, and their proclivities, to a process of developing a new set of principles and frameworks for Jewish education in the 21st century. The book I just completed with my colleagues Barry Chazan and Robert Chazan, titled Cultures and Contexts of Jewish Education (forthcoming in May 2017)—even with its heavy emphasis on history and philosophy—nonetheless concludes with ideas on where the American Jewish education enterprise can go from here.

I would not say that I’ve caught the “applied” bug so much as I would say that I am becoming increasingly conscious of for whom and what I toil, how, and to what effect. It’s been an interesting reflective process for me as a scholar, and it’s also brought me in a variety of new, fun, and exciting directions with my work.

Speaking of applying research, I sincerely hope you will join us for the NRJE/ASSJ Annual Conference, to be held June 5-6, 2017, at Brandeis University. I also encourage eligible Network members to apply for the NRJE/CASJE Emerging Scholars Seminar, to be held immediately before the annual conference, and to apply for the Emerging Scholars and Research Awards. More information on all these opportunities can be found by clicking through our website above.

Let me add now a word of greetings as the (new) chair of the NRJE. I am filling shoes literally smaller than mine but figuratively much larger, as Jonathan Krasner did a superlative job during his tenure as chair growing and strengthening the Network in many ways. On behalf of the Network I thank Jonathan for his service, which continues now in the official role of past-chair on our Executive Board and conference chair for the 2017 NRJE/ASSJ Annual Conference. I want to welcome two newly appointed members to the Executive team—Sara Shapiro-Plevan, who serves as secretary (and is editing this blog/newsletter), and Frayda Gonshar Cohen, who serves as treasurer. I also want to congratulate Ari Kelman and Laura Yares on being elected to the NRJE Board by the membership, and thank Ari for stepping into the role of chair of the Awards committee.

Finally, in an era when our once trusted institutions and sources are now playing fast with the truth (“truthiness” seems so quaint these days), it is incumbent on scholars and scholarly organizations to stand for the value of free inquiry, evidence-based assertions, and warranted conclusions in whatever research, teaching, and service we engage. I welcome suggestions from members on how NRJE can serve as advocates in this endeavor.

May this spring bring only good news and welfare for you and yours, and all of us.

The Sylvia and Moshe Ettenberg Research Grant: Announcing Our Award Winners

The NRJE has been blessed with a wonderful opportunity to make in-depth research in Jewish education more accessible. We all know that unlike our colleagues in general education or Jewish studies, there are almost no
opportunities for substantial research funds. In 2016, Isa Aron and David
Ettenberg established an award with dedicated funds provided by their
parents, Sylvia Ettenberg and Moshe (Morris) Ettenberg, enabling them to
fund larger scale research projects that could make an important contribution to the research literature in our field. Both Sylvia and Moshe Ettenberg were devoted to Jewish education in their own way. Sylvia, through her base at the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Teachers Institute, Camp Ramah, and the Melton Center, was the ultimate Jewish educational professional. An avid reader of Jewish educational research, she regretted not writing more about her work. Moshe was the quintessential Jewish lay leader, serving as shaliah tzibur at the synagogue at JTS and teaching Talmud on a weekly basis, while pursuing his own research agenda in electrical engineering.

The Sylvia and Moshe Ettenberg Research Award Committee in Jewish
Education, consisting of Lisa Grant, Carol Ingall, Shaul Kelner, Jonathan
Krasner, Michael Shire, Miriam Heller Stern, and Ben Jacobs ex officio, is
delighted to announce the first two winners of this prestigious award.

The awardee for 2016-17 is Ziva Reimer Hassenfeld, a post-doctoral student at Brandeis University, for her inquiry into teaching Jewish texts, “Making Sense of Student Sense Making: An Investigation into the Pedagogy of Interpretive Facilitation." The awardee for 2017-18 is Sharon Avni, Associate Professor in Language and Linguistics at BMCC, CUNY. Her project is “In Search of the Knowledge Base of Hebrew Teaching in Jewish Day School Education.”

Mazal tov to both awardees. We look forward to hearing more from Ziva and Sharon as we honor them at the NRJE annual conference at Brandeis, and of course, we eagerly await the publication of their work.

Learn more about the Ettenberg Research Grant award winners and read their abstracts here.

Our NRJE Conference Hosts: The Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education and Brandeis University

The Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education, and Brandeis University look forward to welcoming the 2017 NRJE Conference in June. Brandeis is the only nonsectarian Jewish-sponsored in the United States and is one of the youngest private research universities. Since its founding in 1948, Brandeis has been characterized by academic excellence, commitment to social justice, and service to the Jewish community.

That service includes a constellation of centers, institutes and departments that study and provide learning opportunities in Jewish education. The Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education is the only university-based research center in the country that is exclusively concerned with research in Jewish education. With three faculty members and a network of affiliated scholars, the Mandel Center supports a number of scholarly projects, all focused on the study of learners and learning in Jewish educational contexts and settings. This focus on learning stems from a belief that when Jewish educators articulate ambitious learning outcomes, when we cultivate shared responsibility for learning and assess learning consistently, and when we are relentlessly curious about students’ understandings, we move towards Jewish education that can make a deep and lasting difference in the lives of students and the vibrancy of the Jewish community.

Our current projects include:

Recent and forthcoming books:

  • Learning to Read Talmud: What it Looks Like and How it Happens (Academic Studies Press, 2016), edited by Jane L. Kanarek and Marjorie Lehman, from the Learning to Read Talmud
  • Advancing the Learning Agenda in Jewish Education (Academic Studies Press, 2017), edited by Jon A. Levisohn and Jeffrey Kress, from the Learning Agenda
  • Beyond Jewish Identity: Rethinking Concepts and Imagining Alternatives (Academic Studies Press, 2017), edited by Jon A. Levisohn and Ari Y. Kelman, from the Rethinking Jewish Identity and Education

Brandeis’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies produces social scientific research on contemporary Jewish life, much of it with an education focus. Recent reports include an evaluation of the Israel Fellows program, a study of Jewish engagement among millennial children of intermarried couples, and a directory of Israel Studies programs. The Hadassah-Brandeis Institute and Schusterman Center for Israel Studies also include studies of Jewish education among their research projects.

Opportunities to study Jewish education are plentiful. Brandeis offers two BA programs and a number of options for Master’s degrees in Jewish education, teaching, and Jewish professional leadership and Jewish studies (through the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership program). Practitioners can develop skills essential to becoming an effective teacher leader through the Brandeis Teacher Leadership program, in addition to other professional development opportunities.

Journal of Jewish Education Update: Helena Miller

If you were to survey Jewish education academics and researchers and ask them for their list of favorite authors writing on Jewish education, it wouldn’t surprise me if there would be considerable overlap in everyone’s lists . As with most disciplines, there is an inner circle of highly respected veteran authors who are very active contributors to the Journal of Jewish Education, and have been over a number of years. In the coming months we will be making past Journal issues more accessible through an exciting new relationship between JJE and BJPA. We will be announcing more details in the coming months!

We certainly need our veteran authors, and, in addition, it is important for us to publish newer voices on the Jewish education scene. The Journal is delighted that this year, we will have published first time papers from younger, newer researchers as well as papers from more established researchers.

We have also been grappling with the question of how we enable practitioners to publish through our Journal pages. What makes a practitioner piece suitable for the Journal? To what extent does it need to be grounded in theory? If we are going to publish practitioner papers, how can we support practitioners to enable their writing to make the grade? We, at the Journal, will shortly be publishing guidelines to enable practitioners to find their voices through the pages of the Journal.

We have a responsibility to the Jewish education community to ensure that the next generation is heard, as well as broadening our range of authors. But, not at the expense of quality. Our associate editors and reviewers take every reviewable submission to the Journal and read and comment on it with a thoroughness that I certainly do not see from other Journals. Even when an article is not yet ready for review, I send clear pointers to the author explaining exactly what needs doing to get the paper ready for review. In that way, we are more than just a publisher – we play a small part in supporting and mentoring our authors.

So, veteran authors, you are our role models – don’t stop sending us your articles. And new and aspiring authors, we look forward to hearing from you.

Dr. Helena Miller                     Senior Editor, Journal of Jewish Education


News from around the field

William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education opens an Arts Education Concentration

“The most important artists of our time are visionary in that they continue to challenge us to see our world differently. . . . Artists prepare the mind and spirit for new ideas—new ways of seeing.”

—Mary Anne Staniszewski, Believing Is Seeing: Creating the Culture of Art

The Arts Education Concentration enables students to study and explore the Jewish arts and how to integrate them into a range of artistic disciplines, age levels, and cultural contexts. Students will learn how to incorporate the arts into curriculum in a variety of educational settings and will create aesthetically rich environments for living and learning.


Students will need to take at least two electives in the arts and fulfill a practicum in a museum or in an arts organization. The concentration is integrated into the existing Davidson School curriculum. Students will receive a certificate of completion in addition to their diploma.


  • Visual Thinking
  • Medieval Jerusalem: Constructing a Holy City
  • The Arts as Exegesis in Jewish Education


  • Digital Foundation: Creative Technology
  • Art for Classroom Teachers
  • Museum Education Issues


  • Friday tours at The Jewish Museum accompanied by museum educators
  • Three sessions per semester in the “Focus on One Artist” program at The Jewish Museum
  • Participation in an Artist Beit Midrash

For more information, visit’s-degree-in-jewish-education  or contact the Admissions Office at (212) 678-8022 or


The Graduate Center for Jewish Education at American Jewish University (AJU), which offers both a Master of Arts in Teaching and a Master of Arts in Education, is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Rachel Lerner as Dean, effective January 1, 2017. Most recently, Dr. Lerner served as Assistant Dean and Interim Dean of the Graduate Center for Jewish Education. Dr. Lerner earned her Doctorate in Education from JTS as a Wexner Graduate Fellow/Davidson Scholar, where she studied how vision-guided education is implemented through the socialization of new teachers. Dr. Lerner has taught Masters-level education students at both the American Jewish University and the Jewish Theological Seminary, supervised student teachers in day schools and part-time Jewish schools, and held leadership positions in Jewish overnight camp. She has worked as an administrator and teacher in Jewish day schools—at both the elementary and high school levels.

“I’m extremely excited to continue working with our wonderful Master’s in Education and Master’s in Teaching students, as well as our expert faculty here at American Jewish University,” Dr. Lerner commented. “The Graduate Center for Jewish Education is committed to training visionary educators who can make Judaism come alive for learners and we are looking forward to building our next cohorts of trans-denominational educational leaders.”

In addition, the Teaching Israel Fellowship at AJU welcomed its third cohort of educational leaders from Jewish day schools, supplementary schools, camps, and community organizations. Under the direction of Dr. Sivan Zakai, the fellows have begun a year-long process of learning and reflection, focusing on both the research and practice of Israel education. We are pleased to announce that we have received a Jewish Life Grant from the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation which will allow us to expand the educational opportunities for Teaching Israel Fellowship alumni. This grant will support in-school coaching, a summer curriculum workshop, and a year-long writing workshop aimed at mentoring Teaching Israel Fellowship alumni as they write and publish thought pieces in the field.

Fingerhut Professor of Education Dr. Ron Wolfson was recently the scholar-in-residence at the Union for Progressive Judaism’s Biennial conference in Perth, Australia. His topics included Relational Judaism, Building a Congregation of Congregations, a storytelling presentation based on his recent memoir, and a session with Bar/Bat Mitzvah students on God’s To-Do List at Perth’s Temple David.

CASJE’s Second Hebrew Language Literature Review Explores How Language Learning Influences Identity, Relationships with Community

Washington, DC — CASJE (the Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education) today released the second of three literature reviews that explores what recent research about heritage, second and foreign language learning means for the teaching and learning of Hebrew. The newest review, Contributions of Second/Foreign Language Learning Scholarship to Identity Development and Hebrew Education, looks closely at how second/foreign language acquisition relates to learners’ identity development and their relationships with various cultures, groups and communities. New research focused specifically on Hebrew learning would help Jewish educators understand how their learners both relate to and are influenced by Hebrew.

“Certainly learning Hebrew can have a deep influence on the learner’s identity, relationship to the Jewish community, connection to Israel and Israelis, and any number of related areas,” says Sharon Avni, Associate Professor of ESL and Linguistics at BMCC-City University of New York (CUNY), who conducted this literature review. “However, what we see from previous research is that there is no ‘magic formula’—learning a language does not necessarily shape or determine one’s social or cultural identity or affiliation. For Jewish educators, policymakers, and philanthropists who want to strengthen youth’s connection to Judaism, both the potential of Hebrew language learning and its limitations are important to bear in mind.”

Avni outlines three key themes— Intergroup Relations and Motivation; Context and Culture; and Language Repertoires and Performance—which she notes yield important findings and reveal significant further questions to explore about Hebrew language learning.

Key findings and questions in each theme include:

Intergroup Relations and Motivation       How a learner feels about being a part of “target language” community may determine her or his language learning success. Moreover, successful second language learning is not necessarily about being internally motivated, but about a person’s access (or lack thereof) to social networks in which they can use the language. For learners, investment in the target language is also an investment in their identity, which constantly changes over time and across contexts.

If American Jews are learning modern Hebrew to identify and connect with the target language group (i.e., Israelis), further research could explore 1) how different Hebrew language learning conditions facilitate or hinder this connection? 2) Is Hebrew the only or best way to facilitate this connection? 3) In what ways do some members of Israeli communities accept or marginalize non-native Hebrew language use or facilitate Americans’ attempts to learn and use Modern Hebrew?

Context and Culture      Foreign/second language novices are socialized through language to become familiar with their community’s ways of thinking, feeling, and acting in the world. Through language they learn about a community’s values, beliefs, and ideologies, a process called “second language socialization.”

This research shows that while some learners may achieve “success,” others may experience ambivalence, resistance to or rejection of the target language culture or community. Thus, future research might explore the relationship between language learning and the process of identifying as a member of a particular community: In what ways are Hebrew language learners—whether learning through social media, preschools, day and sleepaway camps—socialized to think about what it means to become a “speaker of [Jewish] culture”? In what way does the teaching of Hebrew as a second language socialize American youth into particular ways of thinking about themselves as Jews?

Language Repertoires and Performance      Language teachers and learners are engaged in a performance with an audience of spectators in the classroom and with a broader global audience that may not be physically present, but who also either reject or affirm the learners’ new knowledge. One study examines how Israeli shlichim families in the United States learn to recognize and mock Americans’ non-Israeli pronunciations of Hebrew, thereby allowing Israelis to reinforce and blur the boundaries between Israeli and American Jews. By doing so, the children of shlichim can claim Israeli authenticity.

“The more we learn about language acquisition, the more we see how much the Jewish education field still needs to learn,” says Sharon Feiman-Nemser, Senior Researcher at the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis and member of the Board of Directors of CASJE, a community of researchers, practitioners, and funders that commissioned the literature review and work to improve the quality of knowledge for the field of Jewish education. “Hebrew language can be a powerful factor in one’s identity and relationships to community and Israel but we need focused and nuanced research to help us understand better under what conditions this does (and does not) happen.”


The Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education, Brandeis University

Learning to Read Talmud: What it Looks Like and How it Happens, edited by Jane L. Kanarek and Marjorie Lehman, and emerging from the work of the Learning to Read Talmud project, has just been published by Academic Studies Press. It contains a series of classroom studies written by Talmud professors in colleges, universities, and seminaries, in which scholars and master pedagogues reveal both how teachers teach their students to read Talmud and how students learn to read it.

This summer, the Hebrew in North American Jewish Camps project released the report “Connection, not Proficiency: Survey of Hebrew at North American Jewish Summer Camps.” The survey found that for most camps, Hebrew is a means to develop affective sensibilities, not language proficiency. There is great diversity among camps’ use of Hebrew; this is affected by staff Hebrew ability, which network the camp belongs to, the degree of Jewish education at camp, and the presence or absence of Israeli staff, among other factors. The survey was part of a larger study, which will result in a book, forthcoming in 2017. Project co-director Sarah Benor (HUC) has spoken about these findings at UC Santa Barbara, Aston University in Birmingham, UK, and Indiana University.

Sivan Zakai (AJU), director of the Children’s Learning About Israel project, recently published “American Jewish Children’s Thoughts and Feelings About the Jewish State: Laying the Groundwork for a Developmental Approach to Jewish Education” in the spring issue of Contemporary Jewry. She spoke on “The Paradox of Israel Education in the 20th Century” at the Leffell Seminar on the Impact of Israel on American Jewry, last August.

How Jewish Day School Teachers Perceive School Conditions,” the latest report from the DeLeT Longitudinal Survey, was released this fall. The report, by Eran Tamir, Nili Pearlmutter, and Sharon Feiman-Nemser, examines day school teachers’ perceptions of the professional culture and working conditions in their schools, looking at the extent to which teachers receive various types of support from the head of school, the administration, colleagues, parents and the school community at large. The report also looks at day school teachers’ satisfaction and dissatisfaction with their working conditions. The survey included graduates of DeLeT at Brandeis and HUC, and Stern College for Women, as well as participants in the Jewish New Teacher Project mentoring program.

In September we welcomed Ziva Hassenfeld as a post-doctoral fellow at the Mandel Center. She received her doctorate from Stanford University, where her research focused on the tools and reading strategies young children employ when reading Biblical texts as well as the pedagogies teachers use to support student textual interpretation. Ziva’s fellowship was made possible with the generous support of the Mandell and Madeleine Berman Foundation.

Elliot Goldberg will be with us as a visiting scholar for 2016-17. He served most recently as head of school at Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston. He will be working on the Students’ Understanding of Rabbinics project and on his own research, on the teaching and learning of rabbinics in Jewish day schools and other settings.


Other Opportunities for Professional Learning: Conferences and Convenings Around the Field

Learning how to engage with the Jewish textual tradition is central to Jewish education. How educators teach students to read Jewish texts, and how those students learn to read, shapes the kinds of Jews students will become. The Mandel Center at Brandeis University’s spring 2017 conference “Learning to Read in Jewish Education” will bring together practitioners and scholars from Jewish education and general education to discuss the teaching and learning of classical Jewish texts in Jewish elementary schools. For more information about this upcoming learning, please click here.

Some teachers see the reading of texts as an opportunity to transmit religious knowledge. This idea finds expression when Rabbi Eliezer is praised for reporting that he “never said anything he did not hear from his teacher” (b. Sukkah 28a). Others hope to help students make sense of these texts on their own whatever that means for their particular community. As R. Ishmael taught, “One biblical verse can convey many teachings” (b. Sanhedrin 34a). Others navigate between these two objectives. Teachers’ choices about how to teach sacred texts stem from their conception of the purposes of religious education as well as their own pedagogical inclinations.

We will grapple with two central questions:

  • What does successful reading of sacred texts look like for elementary school children?
  • How do we help our students develop those capacities?

This is an opportune time to bring together a diverse group of people to consider these questions. The 10th cohort of schools is completing the Jewish Day School Standards and Benchmarks project in Tanakh, and work is proceeding with Standards and Benchmarks in Rabbinics. A variety of new Tanakh and Talmud curricula are now available, along with innovative professional development programs. Educators in general have become much more reflective about their goals and their pedagogies. But we have not created opportunities for Jewish Studies teachers to talk together, across settings and institutions, about what we’ve learned.

Through turning outward to the scholarship on reading in general education and inward to examine a plurality of definitions that Jewish educators work with in their teaching, we will develop new shared language for how we teach students to read sacred texts. We will map definitions of successful reading onto corresponding text pedagogies and articulate together our spectrum of positions on what successful reading of sacred texts can look like in Jewish education.


Considering Factors and Conditions Influencing Parental Choice in Jewish Education:   Research Brief                         Lori Riegel, MJEd

The problem this study will address is that the factors and conditions contributing to parental choice in Jewish education are not fully understood. The problem stems from two key factors. First, a mechanism for collecting data on parental choice in Jewish education, examining how parents choose a Jewish educational program for their children, does not yet exist, nor does a mechanism for data collection mechanism to determine why parents choose to have their children leave one program in favor of another. Without fully understanding the factors and conditions that contribute to how parents decide which Jewish educational option fits the needs of their children, it is difficult to respond to parents, who often claim the school is not meeting the needs of their families. It is worth acknowledging that not all parents are forthcoming with pertinent information about why they are choosing one program or setting over another, or why they are leaving a program.

Choice in Jewish education has evolved to the point that parents have an array of options for their children, ranging from formal and informal settings, day school, supplementary school and family education. While some parents will choose not to pursue a Jewish education for their children, other parents try out a succession of options, pulling their children out of one program to try another as soon as they encounter a challenge. Leaders of Jewish schools do not always know the reasons why parents choose to enroll their children in a school or program, or why they choose to leave. If school leaders had a better understanding of the factors and conditions contributing to parental choice in Jewish education perhaps they could stem the flow of decreasing enrollment and better meet the needs of students and families in their schools.

The study will examine factors and conditions parents report influence their decision to choose a Jewish educational program for their children or change their enrollment. In this ethnographic study, two Jewish day schools and two supplementary schools in the Scottsdale / Phoenix area will be studied. Data will be collected using parent interviews, surveys and case studies. The degree to which the factors and conditions contributing to choice in Jewish education are understood could have the potential to affect student enrollment and retention rates.

Lori Riegel is a PhD candidate in Educational Leadership in a joint program of Lesley University and Hebrew College.