Three Jewish educators received The Covenant Foundation’s 2016 Covenant Award on Sunday, November 13, 2016, honored for their creativity, commitment and vigorous work toward inclusion in the Jewish community.
Daniel Henkin, Director of Music at The Ramaz Upper School in New York and at Camp Ramah Nyack, Rabbi Benay Lappe, Founder and Rosh Yeshiva of SVARA: A Traditionally Radical Yeshiva in Chicago and Ilana Ruskay-Kidd, Founder and Head of School at The Shefa School in New York, are the recipients of the award, which is among the highest honors in the field of Jewish education.
First established in 1991 and created to acknowledge and support great teaching, the Covenant Award is presented to three educators every year after a rigorous selection process. To date, 78 Jewish educators have received the Award, nearly 40 of whom were in attendance on Sunday evening at the Foundation’s 25th Anniversary celebration, along with hundreds of Jewish communal leaders, philanthropists, teachers, students, family and friends.
“Twenty-five years after the Foundation first opened its doors, we remain inspired by the audacity to dream,” said Barbara Goodman Manilow, President of the Covenant Foundation Board of Directors. “Tonight, we gather to recognize all those who seek to keep the Covenant every day, giving selflessly and joyfully as they teach, create, nurture and play, round-the-clock and through the seasons.”
The Covenant Foundation is a program of the Crown Family Philanthropies and members of the Crown family – including Sara Crown Star, James Crown and Steven Crown – presented the three recipients and bestowed the Award. Each of the 2016 recipients received $36,000, and each of their institutions, $5,000.
A pioneer of Jewish a capella singing, Daniel Henkin has been dubbed “our beloved Jewish rock star” by those who spend summers with him at Camp Ramah Nyack. There, Henkin produces the annual Ramah musical celebration, a highlight of the season that attracts thousands of parents, alumni and community leaders. At the Ramaz School in New York, Henkin directs the music program and teaches chamber choirs. At Queens College, he directs the Hillel’s Jewish a cappella group, which draws singers from colleges throughout the New York City area and has been a three-time national champion in Jewish collegiate a cappella competitions.
Accepting the Covenant Award from Sara Crown Star, Henkin spoke about how Jewish values inform his teaching of Jewish music. “The rabbis tell us the following with regard to the study of Torah,” he said. “Be the tail of the lion, and not the head of the fox: set high standards for yourself; drink with thirst their teachings: study with passion; attract numerous students: make a difference in the lives of many. I would like to think these teachings apply to my work and the work honored by The Covenant Foundation.”
Rabbi Benay Lappe, founder of Chicago’s SVARA: A Traditionally Radical Yeshiva, accepted the award from James Crown. At SVARA, Rabbi Lappe has established a learning environment where students represent the full spectrum of Jewish life and diversity. Under her leadership, enrollment at SVARA has risen from eight students in its first year, to 600 students studying in SVARA’s Beit Midrash today. Rabbi Lappe is also Senior Fellow and Director of Education at the Institute for the Next Jewish Future in Chicago, where she oversees the faculty and staff Beit Midrash and participates in its Judaism Unbound podcasts.
James Crown presented Rabbi Lappe with The Covenant Award. In her remarks, Rabbi Lappe shared her desire to see “every city and campus in America have a SVARA—where every Jew will discover a Judaism smarter and more sophisticated than anything they ever imagined; with better pedagogy than their favorite and most challenging college courses; and a Jewish community around the table as diverse as the world around them.”
Ilana Ruskay-Kidd is the Founder and Head of School at The Shefa School in New York, a pluralistic Jewish day school that provides a Jewish environment for children with language-based learning challenges. Under her leadership, Shefa has grown exponentially in its short life, enrolling 24 students in grades 2 to 5 in its first academic year and surging to 80 students in grades 1 to 7 in the fall of 2016. With the founding of Shefa, Ruskay-Kidd has emerged as an advocate for Jewish day schools to more effectively recognize and support children with learning challenges. In the last year, she has convened over 150 professionals from more than 40 Jewish day schools in an effort to change the communal conversation on serving this population of students and their families.
Upon receiving the Covenant Award from Steven Crown, Ruskay-Kidd talked about how imperative it is for parents and educators to recognize and support a child’s innate promise. “Our job as parents and educators is to always remember what is possible,” she said. When we believe that children are capable and competent, there is no limit to what can be achieved.”
In addition to the Awards ceremony, the annual dinner also marked the inauguration of a public engagement campaign to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Foundation. A roster of initiatives designed to engage Jewish teachers, students and idea champions across North America and across various mediums will begin this month and last all year.
For more information on The Covenant Foundation’s 25th anniversary events, guidelines on nominating an educator for a 2017 Covenant Award, and to view full biographies of current and past recipients, please visit www.covenantfn.org.
The Covenant Foundation is a program of the Crown Family Philanthropies.