Celebrating the Graduation of the Second IGNITE Cohort

The Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Phoenix is thrilled to announce the graduation of the second cohort of IGNITE: Engaging Jewish Educators. This year-long program, facilitated by Rabbi Aviva Funke, the BJE’s Associate Director and Hebrew High Principal, featuring monthly learning sessions led by the Valley’s esteemed clergy, has once again succeeded in strengthening Jewish education within our community.

Participants and Partners

This year’s dedicated group of religious school teachers hailed from synagogues across the Valley, including Beth El of Phoenix, Temple Chai, Solel, and Kol Ami. Congregation Or Tzion, Temple Emanuel, and Congregation Beth Israel continue to be supportive partners and collaborators for the program.

Deep Dive into the Siddur

Each month, a different rabbi or cantor from partnering synagogues guided the cohort through various aspects of the Siddur, enhancing their understanding of Jewish prayer’s history and structure. This deep dive not only enriched their personal knowledge and connection to tefillah, but also expanded their ability to teach and engage their students and communities effectively.  The BJE extends a hardy todah rabbah to:

  • Cantor Dannah Rubenstein, Or Tzion: History of the Siddur and Development of Tefillah 
  • Rabbi Emily Segal, Temple Chai: Arch of the Prayer Service & Why it Matters
  • Rabbi Schneider, Kol Ami: Preliminary Prayers of the Siddur 
  • Rabbi Nitzan Stein Kokin, Beth El Congregation: Shema & its Blessings
  • Cantor Noa Shaashua, Kol Ami: Amidah
  • Rabbi Sara Mason-Barkin, Congregation Beth Israel: The Torah Service
  • Rabbi Steil, Solel: Concluding Prayers

Hevrutah Study on Pirkei Avot

A key component of the program was the year-long hevrutah (partnered learning) initiative, where educators delved into the book of Pirkei Avot through the lens of the CASEL 5 framework. This innovative approach broadened their understanding of rabbinic insight and provided practical wisdom for character and relationship building, enhancing social skills, and fostering self-awareness. The texts were specifically designed to help educators better teach their students and meet their needs, while also offering a catalogue of accessible materials that reinforce various areas of Jewish learning throughout the year. This dual benefit enriched the educators’ personal growth and equipped them with valuable resources to strengthen Jewish literacy within their communities. As a gift in celebration of their continued learning, each participant received a copy of “The Illustrated Pirkei Avot” by Jessica Tamar Deutsch.

Educator’s Showcase and Shabbaton

The culmination of the program was the Educator’s Showcase, where each teacher created lesson units for their religious schools, inspired by their IGNITE studies. Directors of education attended the siyyum, and the presentations showcased a deep commitment to learning and profound program takeaways.

A notable highlight was the Shabbaton, a special Shabbat program that deepened participants’ experience and understanding of the power of Shabbat. This year’s Shabbat experience was during a Rosh Hodesh, which allowed additional learning on the liturgy and rituals of welcoming the new moon. We had a fabulous experience for Kabbalat Shabbat with Temple Chai’s Prayer Lab and special learning with Rabbi Bonnie Koppell and songs with Cantor Wolman.  Saturday morning was led by Rabbi Funke for Or Tzion’s Soulful Shabbat alternative service and Torah study on Rosh Hodesh with Rabbi Green.  IGNITE Shabbaton completed with a special Havdalah learning and event with Rabbi Funke.


Impact and Future Plans

Nine graduates, including two spouses who joined their partners along the way, completed the program. IGNITE is designed to deepen the Jewish confidence of our teachers, serving as a touchstone for questions and exploration. It allows educators to ‘walk the walk’—learning for the sake of learning and engaging in Jewish literacy from a fresh perspective. We are proud to see the energy and passion from these educators and are thrilled for the impact it will have on their students, families, and the community.

The BJE is grateful for the synagogues’ partnership and shared vision for this program. Next fall will see the first IGNITE Conference for Religious School Teachers, offering inspiration and support for the year ahead. This project is made possible in part by the Center for Jewish Philanthropy.

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