This is sponsored content from the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund and the Helen Diller Family Foundation.
How do you make Judaism meaningful and accessible for learners with different needs and life experiences? For Marin’s Congregation Rodef Shalom teacher and B’nai Mitzvah tutor Lisa Bialkin, it starts by understanding who a learner is as a person: what their interests are, what tools they need to succeed, and what will inspire them to develop their own deep connections with Judaism.
Lisa Bialkin is one of four recipients of the Helen Diller Family Awards for Excellence in Jewish Education. The Awards, an initiative of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund and the Helen Diller Family Foundation, honor outstanding Jewish educators in the Bay Area annually. Educators are nominated by their organizations or community members and reviewed by a volunteer selection committee. Recipients receive a $10,000 prize and their institutions receive $2,500.
“From the day I was born, the joy of being Jewish and the love of Israel has been embedded in my life,” says Lisa. “Shabbat dinners, annual Chanukah parties, and large Passover seders are part of the beautiful memories I cherish from my childhood. I learned the value of loving and supporting Israel and the importance of following the traditions of Judaism and being proud to be Jewish. These experiences and the memories that my parents gave to me made me feel so motivated to share this love with my students.”
Lisa’s work with students young and old, with all kinds of learning abilities, shows how educators can use their passions, talents, and creativity to guide each student along their Jewish journey. In particular, the one-on-one setting of B’nai Mitzvah tutoring offers a space for educators to work closely with students, helping them find their voice and strengthening their Jewish identity and connection to community.
Whether it’s tutoring a young person with Down’s Syndrome or a 78 year-old deaf student, Lisa demonstrates the gifts of a talented educator who helps each learner develop a connection to Jewish texts and history. This educational experience reaches beyond the teacher and learner. When that Bar or Bat Mitzvah reads from the Torah or leads part of the service, it has a profound impact on their family and the community. As Lisa says, when someone with different abilities reaches that moment “there often isn’t a dry eye in the sanctuary.”
This approach to Jewish education exemplifies the Jewish value of B’tzelem Elohim, the concept that people are made in the image of God and it’s the collective responsibility of the community to lift everyone up to be their very best, feel pride in being Jewish, and feel loved and nurtured by someone in their Jewish community.
Beyond being a B’nai Mitzvah tutor, Lisa brings her dedication and creativity to her work as a teacher at Rodef Shalom’s congregational school. While every family might not travel to Israel, every student in her class “flies” there virtually, including passports and security. Throughout the year, Lisa guides her students as they “visit” and learn about different Israeli sites and cities. As all good educators do, Lisa brings rich experiences into the learning—from creating Chagall windows, to shopping in the shuk, to re-enacting the “seashell land lottery” that was part of Tel Aviv’s establishment.
“The knowledge of, love for, and interest in Israel she creates is remarkable. She makes the kids feel incredibly connected to both Israel and their place in it,” one parent shares.
Lisa’s influence on students shows how educators can enable anyone to engage in Judaism as an active participant, finding meaning in Jewish life.
Join us virtually on September 16 at 4:00 pm to honor the outstanding award recipients and learn with keynote speaker Rabbi Ed Feinstein. For event details, and to learn more about the award, visit Jewishfed.org/DillerAwards2020.