For Naomi Less, an alumna of the William Davidson School of Jewish Education of The Jewish Theological Seminary, studying at JTS was how she formally brought the musical and Jewish sides of her life together. A student from 1997 to 2000, Naomi graduated with a master’s degree in Jewish Education, but didn’t want to leave JTS and its academic, social, spiritual, and business networks behind, so she eased into alumni activity. Naomi became and continues to be the lead consultant on a unique project managed by The Davidson School’s assistant professor, Dr. Shira Epstein: the Addressing the Evaded Curriculum Project, a groundbreaking program that focuses on developmental issues rarely discussed in Jewish schools.
Raised in the Chicago suburbs, Naomi enjoyed public school, popular music, playing piano, and singing. She discovered she had a knack for classical vocal performance, and gave it serious consideration as it became time to plan her future. But if you looked closely, you could see that Naomi was, in her heart of hearts and, eventually, by her own admission, a “Jewish chick rocker.”
Born to Conservative parents, Naomi and her older siblings spent their after-school time attending a Hebrew education program, and, on weekends, joining their parents at shul. It was the summers at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, however, that gave Naomi a taste of what she describes as “Jewish life lived twenty-four/seven,” and she loved it. After college, when founding executive director of Georgia’s Camp Ramah Darom and JTS-ordained rabbi Loren Sykes invited Naomi to return to Ramah in a leadership/ educational position, she jumped at the opportunity and worked with the National Ramah Commission for three years. Naomi also began to work for the Foundation for Jewish Camp, and spent seven years visiting other children’s camps on the organization’s behalf. The more camp experiences she had, the more she wanted to work with children in informal settings.
Naomi realized that the next logical step would be to formalize her skills. She came to discover that, with direction from the teachers and counselors at The Davidson School, her musical gifts and love of Jewish life were merging to accomplish the professional goal she was aiming for, which was to help “Jewish girls grow up to be more resilient through mentoring and self-esteem development programming.” Naomi says, “I enjoyed all of the deep text study and Midrash, and the experiential learning at Davidson. I had so many wonderful mentors; they taught me how to approach Torah with creative methods.”
Naomi continued to study music and conducting through JTS’s consortium agreement with Columbia University’s Teachers College, and then, each summer, took her new skills back to Camp Ramah Darom. Naomi’s years of performing, working with campers, and training camp counselors—along with her studies at The Davidson School—set the stage for the leadership position she holds today.
As the Director of Education and Training at Storahtelling, an organization that promotes Jewish cultural literacy through original theatrical performances and educational programs, Naomi sings and travels with the company as she trains supplementary educators and education directors. She also consults with organizations such as UJA-Federation–sponsored Jewish camps and various Hillels.
Naomi’s ultimate objective is to deliver, via song and performance, Jewish values in an easily accessible format. Not surprisingly, she has launched Jewish Chicks Rock, a project to place more positive girls’ empowerment messaging in Jewish rock music. To make sure the project and her new recordings take off—and to grow her ties to the education, music, and Jewish communities—Naomi is taking advantage of the lifelong learning connection she has made with JTS, and the ongoing support she and other alumni receive from JTS’s alumni office. She is completely confident that JTS will help her make a success of her project, just as it helped solidify her life, purpose, and education.