In 1994 the Milken Family Foundation (MFF) established the Jewish Educators Award as a way of acknowledging the work of outstanding educators who work in the field of Jewish education. The Award is presented annually to honor these individuals for the high quality of their work, their professional leadership, their community involvement and support of their schools’ families.
MFF, led by co-founder Lowell Milken believes that a Jewish Day School education will nourish a child’s Jewish identity as it guides the student to develop strong Jewish values and remain faithful to his Jewish heritage. To strengthen the Jewish Day School movement, MFF embarked on a project that would publicly honor some of the talented and dedicated educators who work tirelessly to make Jewish education an exciting and engaging experience for the students. The Award is intended to recognize the contributions that superior Jewish educators make to the Jewish community.
Award recipients include teachers, specialists and administers who work in Jewish Day School network. The Milken Foundation’s Jewish Educator’s Award has been presented to professionals representing almost 40 schools nationwide as a way of recognizing the recipients’ scholarship, creativity and compassion in their work.
In naming Award recipients the Milken Foundation considers the educator’s practices in the classroom as well the individual’s relationship with the school’s families and with the community. Educators are expected to demonstrate originality in their educational methods and leadership skills which influence policies that affect the school’s children, their families and the community.
Four educators are named to receive the Milken Educators Award each year. Nominees must teach in a Board of Jewish Education-affiliated school at the K-12 level. A committee of professional educators and lay community members select each year’s recipients who receive $15,000 each, together with the acknowledgement of the Milken Family Foundation and their own communities.
A recent conference held in St Louis Missouri concluded with great concern regarding the future of Jewish education in America, as well the community as a whole. The conference, composed of Jewish educators from all over the U.S.A., came to the conclusion that due to the high price of private Jewish day schools, and lack of direct parental involvement in their children’s Jewish education, it would only be matter of time until this would affect the ability of the Jewish Community as a whole to survive.
The conference, known as the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education, and composed of more than 1,200 educators and administrative professionals noted that the high annual costs of day schools, running an average of $15,000 or more, was preventing all but the most affluent from seeking a Jewish education for their children. Scholarship programs for families in middle class income stratum were often not being accepted by many families simply because they felt uncomfortable in receiving them. As far as Hebrew School programs after regular public school hours, it has reached the point where parents only drop their kids off to them “on the way to the gym” or other secular activities. The parents, for the most part, do not even assist their children with their studies, including homework.
The main problem appears in establish a sense of purpose in providing educational goals in both day schools and afternoon Hebrew schools. Hebrew schools were singled out as having a number of problems including intense competition with extracurricular school activities, particularly sports. Many Jewish children who attend public schools, are involved in either school team sports activities afterwards, which require at lest two or hour hours of practice on a daily basis. Jewish community centers also have many non-educational activities in which children participate, with less time available for attending Hebrew School. In many communities, most Hebrew school attendance drops off considerably once a child has reached Bar or Mat Mitzvah age.
The main focus of the conference was to find ways to attract younger people into Jewish education. Current realities indicate an older group of Jewish educators, coupled with a community in which people are having fewer children and at an older age – usually mid to late thirties. In light of this, the conference made efforts to attract younger participants, and to integrate modern technology, including Blogging and ‘virtual’ means of making Jewish education more interesting for students who are well versed in modern technology, as this may be one of the best ways to ensure the survival of Jewish education in the today’s information technology influence world.