Of five young educators recognized nationally by the Covenant Foundation, two hail from Seattle. Robert Beiser, the campus/Jconnect director for the Repair the World social justice organization, based at Hillel at the University of Washington, and Gilah Kletenik, who grew up in Seattle and now serves as congregational scholar at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun and is the first woman to teach Talmud and Judaism at Ramaz Upper School in New York, were given the foundation’s inaugural Pomegranate Prize, which recognizes educators making a difference while still early in their careers.
“Our goal with this new prize is to provide the means for these already remarkable educators to further develop their skills, fulfill a dream or two, and have the chance to get to know others who, like themselves, are bringing fresh new ideas and abundant energy to the field of Jewish education,” said philanthropist Lester Crown, whose Crown Foundation in conjunction with the Jewish Education Service of North America sponsors the Covenant Foundation. The five recipients will each receive $15,000 over the next three years to further their education.
Despite ac-tively working to bring awareness of human rights and environmental issues — to give a couple examples — on campus and in the local Jewish community at large, Beiser said he hadn’t thought of himself as a Jewish educator in the past.
“I’m a community organizer, I’m an advocate for social change, I’m an activist,” he said. “But at the bedrock to all those things and the piece that makes it fundamentally Jewish is the context of education.”
It is not yet clear to Beiser how he plans to use his prize, but he envisions that he will expand his Jewish textual literacy as well as work on building his professional skills. Master’s coursework isn’t out of the question, he said.
Kletenik wasn’t given any specific reasons for being chosen for this prize, but she said she has been “very much involved in furthering women’s leadership within the Orthodox community and building an organization of female Orthodox rabbis.”
Kletenik serves as clergy at the modern Orthodox synagogue, though she is not formally considered a rabbi.
As an educator, she said, “I’m really advocating for a Judaism that is rigorous, sophisticated and open, which has Jewish text standing at its core in bridging both academic and traditional methods of study.”
Kletenik earned a Master’s degree from Yeshiva University in the spring in advanced Talmudic study and is currently working on completing a second Master’s from YU in Jewish philosophy. She hopes to enter a doctoral program in the fall of 2013.