Meet the Senior Educator Learning Fellows – Cohort 2

This exclusive 11-month fellowship is designed to inspire senior congregational school educators with ongoing Jewish learning and equip them with new approaches for engaging with real-world challenges using Jewish texts. Fellowship participants will travel to Israel this summer to be immersed in a cohort-based experience of rich Torah study and professional growth.

Throughout the year, they will gather virtually to continue their learning. Supported by expert mentors, they will also plan and implement exciting and important projects for their congregational schools.

Beata Abraham – Congregation Beth Israel Ner Tamid
Beata Abraham was born in Budapest, Hungary, but grew up primarily in the suburbs of Chicago. She received her bachelor’s degree in education from Arizona State University in Tempe before moving to Jerusalem for six years. There she served in the Israel Defense Forces, after which she attended graduate studies in Jewish History at Bar Ilan University and at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She holds a K-12 teaching certificate. Beata served as a classroom teacher and school principal before deciding to specialize in Jewish education. She has developed Religious and Hebrew School curriculum, created innovative Jewish learning initiatives for learners of all ages, and led workshops both in the U.S. and abroad on Jewish educational practices. Beata is the published author of a Jewish-interest, nonfiction book, From Travail to Triumph, the Story of Abraham Naymark, as well as several articles on navigating parenting through a Jewish lens. Beata believes that Jewish learning and engagement are a lifelong, never-ending pursuit and that being a part of a Jewish community not only strengthens the kehillah, but also its members individually.

Cindy B Citron – Congregation Tifereth Israel of Bucks County
Cindy has been working in Jewish Education for over 30 years! She has worked with children from early childhood through young adult, in many capacities. Cindy was Education Director at a conservative synagogue in the heart of Center City Philadelphia for 12 years, while also serving as the Jewish Programming Coordinator and Music Specialist for their Preschool. Cindy has also led Jewish youth groups and was trained through Moving Traditions. Cindy was a participant in the Shababa Training at the 92nd Street Y in NYC, and was later chosen to mentor other early childhood educators in the “Shababa Approach.” Cindy currently serves as the Educational Director at Congregation Tifereth Israel of Lower Bucks County, leading both the Hebrew School and the Nursery School. Her love and passion for educating children “Jewishly” is evident in everything she does. Cindy’s ability to connect with children is simply magical.

Rachel Barnehama – B’nai Jeshurun
Rachel Barnehama serves as the Associate Director of Family Life and Learning at B’nai Jeshurun in New York City. In her role she oversees Kadima (BJ’s supplementary school), informal programming for K-6th grade, special holiday events for families and more. Over the last 8 years Rachel has enjoyed helping families create a unique path to their own Jewish identities. With a Masters in Jewish Education from Hebrew Union College she works to elevate Jewish learning in the everyday lives of her community. In Rachel’s free time you can find her, photographing the sunset, playing with her adorable nephew and traveling to Israel any chance she gets!


Debra Beland Ackerman – Congregation Olam Tikvah
Debra Beland Ackerman has been the Director of Education and Youth Activities at Congregation Olam Tikvah in Fairfax, VA for 12 years. Over the course of her career, she’s worked in formal and informal synagogue education in Conservative and Reform congregations, the JCC movement, and in both residential and day camping. She currently serves as the chair of the Education Directors Council of Northern Virginia and is a past chair of the Education Directors Council of Greater Washington.


Sara Berk – Temple Beth Shalom, Needham
As the Director of K-12 Inclusion and the Assistant Director of Mayim, Sara collaborates with Jewish Learning Guides (JLGs) and families to ensure that all children can successfully access the curriculum. She also works closely with the JLGs to tailor the curriculum for each group of learners. Sara provides training for the K-12 faculty in order to support all of the children and teens in the Mayim and Etzim learning programs. Sara also serves as the staff liaison to the Inclusion Task Force. Through this role, she provides training to TBS staff and lay leaders regarding inclusive practices for all congregants. In addition, Sara represents TBS outside of the temple as a consultant and mentor for other synagogues who are learning to be more inclusive. She provides tools and resources for other temples to implement programs that meet the needs of all children. Prior to joining the team at TBS in 2013, Sara worked as a special educator in MA and NYC. She is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and has a Masters Degree in Special Education. In January 2021, Sara founded Sara’s Joyful Baking, which allows her to combine her love of teaching with baking.

Ariel Boxman – Temple Shalom of Naples
Rabbi Ariel Boxman is the rabbi educator at Temple Shalom in Naples, FL where she directs and develops all educational programs for the congregation, including Temple Shalom Preschool. In addition to this, Boxman serves as one of the spiritual leaders of the congregation officiating at lifecycle events and leading Shabbat and Holiday worship services. Rabbi Boxman grew up in the Caribbean and is the daughter of Rabbi Bradd Boxman, a Reform rabbi in Parkland, Florida. Boxman was ordained in 2012 from the Hebrew Union College and earned her Masters in Jewish Education in 2013. She is married to Israeli born, Asher Saida and together they have two sons, Jacob (4) and Matan (2).

Mandy Cheskis – Gesher School, Chisuk Emuna Congregation and Beth El Temple, Harrisburg, PA
Mandy, Gesher Director​ of Lifelong Learning, has been teaching Judaism since childhood. She grew up as one of the only Jewish children in her school and always loved teaching others about her religious practices. Mandy has over 13 years of successful experience as an Education Director Chisuk Emuna Congregation, where under her leadership the school earned the United Synagogue Framework for Excellence School Distinction. She has experience as a Gesher teacher and B’nai Mitzvah Tutor for both congregations and experience as a Hebrew High/ Sababa instructor. Mandy also tutors adults and children across the community in Hebrew reading, prayer and how to chant Torah and Haftarah, and enjoys helping families prepare for bar and bat mitzvah. Mandy is someone who embodies a thirst for learning and growing and inspires others to do the same. She brings enthusiasm for learning and a history of trustworthiness, with an earned a reputation for building lasting wonderful relationships and authenticity and accessibility as a member of the community who observes Judaism daily and meets people where they are at. Mandy lives in Harrisburg with her husband, Joel, and her three children: Hallel, Devorah and Rena.

Stacey Declau – Temple De Hirsch Sinai
Since 2016 Stacey has served as the Director of Education at Temple DeHirsch Sinai in Seattle & Bellevue Washington. She received her MA in Jewish Education from HUC-JIR in 2001 and since that time has worked in communities in Denver/Boulder Colorado, Allentown PA, and Cincinnati OH in the areas of interfaith family education, teen engagement, and synagogue education. Stacey has served on the faculty at URJ Camp Harlam and currently is on the faculty commission for URJ Camp Kalsman. Stacey’s favorite thing to do is to travel to far away places with teenagers from her program and see their worlds expand through the lens of Judaism and community. Stacey has also two teenage daughters who keep her very busy!

Alisa Fineman – Congregation Beth Israel
Alisa Fineman graduated from Hebrew Union College- Jewish Institute of Religion-The Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music (CCRT) in May of 2018 as Cantor, after having served as a Cantorial Soloist for over 25 years. Touring and recording as a singer-songwriter since 1988, she began exploring her cantorial path in 1990 when she was invited to sing for a number of congregations in Central Coastal California. The warmth of congregational life, a love of music and deeper learning fueled Alisa’s desire to become a cantor.

Alisa grew up in California’s San Fernando Valley, born to a family rich in musical heritage. Her great-grandfather played first trumpet with the New York Philharmonic under the legendary Toscanini. Her grandmother, a concert pianist, gave Alisa her first piano lessons. At the age of ten Alisa began learning guitar, and a year later she was writing her first songs.

Alisa’s Jewish journey is a unique one, from her San Fernando Valley roots to living in the Rocky Mountain and Big Sur wilderness while continuing her studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz where she graduated in Environmental Studies, writing songs all the while. She has toured diverse communities across the country as a singer and songwriter while evolving her experience and studies in Jewish prayer and music. These ingredients have seasoned this performer, sacred song leader and teacher with a deep connection to the earth, a celebratory spirit of Jewish identity and an expanded sense of humanity.

In her community, Alisa was one of six Monterey County residents named Monterey County “Champions of the Arts” for 2011, and the following spring she invited to perform at Jacob’s Ladder Folk Festival in Israel. Alisa was invited to perform for the annual conference of the Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis, and she was also honored for her original Jewish music at the Shalshelet Jewish Music Festival in New York City. She is also published by Transcontinental Music. Outside her congregational duties, Alisa continues to perform at music festivals, cantorial concerts and other programs with her talented music and life partner Kimball Hurd. She enjoys every opportunity she has to be walking in nature.

Wilhelmina Gottschalk – Alvin Browdy Religious School of Ohr Kodesh Congregation, Chevy Chase MD
Wilhelmina is beginning her eighth year at Ohr Kodesh in Chevy Chase MD, where she currently directs the growing Alvin Browdy Religious School. During her time with the congregation, she has also served as summer director and pedagogical coordinator at the early childhood center, and curricular specialist for the religious school. Wilhelmina has an MA in Jewish education from the Davidson School of the Jewish Theological Seminary, and is inspired by the educational approaches of Reggio Emilia, the Matan Institute, and Torah Godly Play. Wilhelmina’s emerging-pandemic goal is to nurture an inclusive and kind space where deep Jewish learning occurs.


Abra Greenspan – Congregation Etz Chayim
Abra Greenspan has worked in Jewish education since she was a teen, including teaching at congregations in California and Japan. She has also worked in the Jewish camping world, at the Stanford University Hillel, in adult learning at Lehrhaus Judaica and the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center. She also taught English as a Foreign Language. Abra holds a BA in Religious Studies and an MA in Japanese Language from Stanford University, and an MS in Jewish Education from Spertus Institute in Chicago. She completed a course of study through the Institute for Jewish Spirituality and received a Reform Jewish Educator credential from the Association of Reform Jewish Educators. Abra is a 2018 winner of the Helen Diller Family Award for Excellence in Jewish Education which recognizes and honors educators who have made an extraordinary impact on the youth of our community.

Jennifer James – Congregation Rodeph Shalom
Jennifer is the Director of Youth Learning and Engagement at Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia, PA. She earned her Masters of Religious Education from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and previously served as the Director of Education at Congregation B’nai Tikvah, and the Assistant Director of Education at Adath Emanu-el. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Jennifer practiced constitutional and appellate law prior to becoming a Jewish educator.



Cathy Kaplan – Kramer Religious School at Beth Meyer Synagogue
Cathy Kaplan is the Director of the Religious School & Family Programs at Beth Meyer Synagogue in Raleigh NC. After 10 years teaching fourth grade, sixth grade, b-mitzvah students and serving as the Religious School Administrator, she stepped into the role of Director in June of 2020. Since she does not have a formal background in Jewish education, Cathy has become a perpetual learner. She enjoys any educational opportunity that comes her way, including webinars, in-person classes, and conferences of all types. She is a regular NewCAJE attendee and has served on the Shabbat planning committee for the past 5 years. Cathy and her husband Rich are both North Carolina natives and have lived in Raleigh since 1996. They have two children, Andrew, a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill and Eva, a high school junior. In her spare time, Cathy enjoys music, reading, DIY house projects, and spending time with friends.


Beri Kaplan Schwitzer – Congregation Beth Torah
Beri Kaplan Schwitzer is currently the Director of Congregational Learning at Congregation Beth Torah in Richardson, TX and serves as the Chair of the Greater Dallas Jewish Federation’s Education Directors Council. She is a nationally recognized Jewish educator, honored by Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA) and by the former National Association of Temple Educators (NATE). She recently received her Certificate in Jewish Leadership and Jewish Education from Spertus and Northwestern University.


Janis Knight – Congregation Shirat Hayam
Janis Knight has been the Director of the Center for Jewish Education at Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott, MA since 2016. Originally from the North Shore of Boston, she earned both her B.A. in Judaic Studies and her M.A. in Jewish Communal Service from Brandeis University. She is proud of her Jewish educational career working in both Conservative and Reform congregations in Massachusetts, Florida, California, and New Jersey. Janis believes that Jewish life should be relevant, compelling, and fun and she strives to make that happen for her students whether in a classroom or on a hiking trail. She lives in Marblehead with her husband, Tom, and their two cats.

Karen Lewin – Marlboro Jewish Center
An experienced and accomplished Jewish educator, Karen Lewin has spent the past twenty years creating and implementing dynamic educational, religious, social, and cultural programs for Jewish youth of all ages. Over the course of her career, Karen has served as a day-school teacher, preschool director, youth advisor and Hebrew School principal, including sixteen years as the Education Director at Congregation Beth El in Yardley, Pennsylvania. In July 2022, Karen began her tenure as the Education Director of Marlboro Jewish Center in Marlboro, New Jersey. Karen holds a bachelor’s degree in English and Elementary Education from Clark University and a master’s degree in Jewish Education from the Davidson Graduate School of Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Karen met her husband Joe in 2004. They are blessed with one son, Charlie, and a wonderful family cat, Wonder.

Tali Moscowitz – Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County
Tali Moscowitz is the Assistant Education Director at Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County in Bethesda, Maryland. She has held various positions at Beth El over the last 16+ years. Tali holds a MS in Non Profit Management with a Certificate in Jewish Communal Service from Gratz College, a Post Baccalaureate Certificate in Pre Medicine from American University and a BA in Elementary Education from American University. Tali is an active member of the Jewish Educators Assembly (JEA) and previously served on their board for two years. Additionally, she is a Certified Yoga Teacher (RYT-200) registered with Yoga Alliance. Tali and her husband live in Bethesda, Maryland and enjoy doing puzzles, building Legos, or watching documentaries together.

Michele Paskow – Congregation B’nai Emet
Michele Paskow is the Rabbi and co-Director of Religious School at Congregation B’nai Emet in Simi Valley, CA and has served her congregation and community for many years. She also taught Jewish Studies, history, ethics and culture for 25 years at “CSUN” – CA State University Northridge. She participted in the Pardes Winter Learning Seminar this past December and is also studying and working on her character traits with Mussar courses. Michele enjoys the challenge of creating experiential and engaging programs for the children and adults at her shul and building a sense of Yiddishkeit and Jewish-connection for the community, which does not have a large Jewish population, despite being a suburb of Los Angeles! Michele is a graduate of the Hebrew Union College-NY Rabbinical School, holds a Master’s degree in Hebrew Letters and a Bachelors degree in Hebrew Literature and Economics. She has 2 adults sons.

Adam Schaffer – Temple Aliyah, Woodland Hills, CA
Rabbi Adam Schaffer is, since 2011, the Director of the Jewish Learning Cooperative of Temple Aliyah and Shomrei Torah Synagogue in the Woodland Hills/West Hills, California. Prior to that he served as the School Rabbi at Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in Northridge for seven years where he taught Judaic Studies, Cantillation, Tefillah, and Jewish Ethics. He is also the longest-tenured faculty member of the joint Melton Schools in the West San Fernando Valley and Stephen Wise Temple. He holds rabbinic ordination and a Master’s degree in Jewish Education from the Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, and a Bachelor’s degree in Communications from the University of Pennsylvania. His proudest role, however is being the abba to his two children, Ezra and River, and his greatest honor is to be married to the wonderful Melissa Sandler.


Michael Schatz – Har Zion Temple
Michael Schatz serves as Assistant Director of the Religious School of Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley, Pennsylvania. He holds degrees in education and Jewish Studies from Vassar College, Arcadia University, and Gratz College where he was among the first recipients of the Ed.D. Michael is a past president of the Jewish Educators Assembly. He was also bestowed the honorary title Doctor of Pedagogy from the Jewish Theological Seminary. Michael has been a formal and informal Jewish Educator for three decades; teaching, leading institutions and serving as a national consultant and teacher educator. Aside from his work at Har Zion, Michael is the East Coast coordinator of Hebrew Helpers, Inc., and the founder of Philadelphia Jewish History Tours. He resides near Philadelphia with his wife, Elyse, and they are proud parents of two adult children, both day school graduates, a Ramahnik and a USY alumnus.

Rachel Wachtel – Congregation Beth Shalom Religious School
Rachel Wachtel is a creative Jewish Educator who has been committed to lifelong learning and serving as a leader within the Jewish community ever since her summers at Camp Ramah. She honed her teaching skills while completing her Masters in Jewish Education at the Davidson School at JTS and has been working in both formal and informal Jewish educational settings since. She also recently graduated from MTEI, The Mandel Teacher Educator Institute. Before beginning the role as Education and Youth Director at Congregation Beth Shalom in Seattle, Rachel taught 3rd grade Judaic Studies at the Jewish Day School of Metropolitan Seattle where she inspired students to ask questions and strengthen their own connection to Judaism. Rachel’s other passions include Israeli dancing, ballet, cooking, and teaching her dogs, Sadie and Jackson, new tricks.