New York, NY, June 6, 2011—The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) is pleased to announce that Rabbi Shai Held, who earned an MA from The Graduate School ('99) and was ordained by The Rabbinical School ('99), and Amy Skopp Cooper, national assistant director of the National Ramah Commission of JTS and director of Ramah Day Camp in Nyack, New York, have each been awarded the prestigious 2011 Covenant Award. The award, one of the chief honors bestowed in the Jewish world, is given annually by the Covenant Foundation to three exceptional educators from across the spectrum of Jewish life for committing to excellence in Jewish education and pursuing innovative approaches that inspire and empower students, colleagues, and community.
"We at JTS salute Rabbi Shai Held and Amy Skopp Cooper on the occasion of this tremendous honor," said Arnold M. Eisen, chancellor of JTS. "The institutions, in addition to JTS, that Shai and Amy have enriched; the programs that they have initiated; and the students, peers, and communities that they have influenced have benefitted enormously from their knowledge and commitment."
Rabbi Shai Held is cofounder, dean, and chair in Jewish Thought at Mechon Hadar, a Torah study and prayer community in New York City. He is widely recognized by colleagues, students, and other Jewish educators as an inspirational and visionary teacher, leader, and thinker who has put a stamp on Jewish education and engagement through an egalitarian model that not only emphasizes dissection and interpretation of classic texts, but instills in students a view of the Torah as a guide to hesed (acts of loving-kindness).
"My first goal as an educator is to convey the reality that Judaism is endlessly interesting, exciting, intellectually and emotionally invigorating; to remind students that to grow as a Jew is to seek to embody the truth that we are, all of us, created in the image of God, and to live our lives accordingly," says Rabbi Held. "But big dreams take shape in seemingly minor details. If we seek to transform the world and ourselves, we can do no better than begin with our immediate environment."
Rabbi Held has been affiliated with Mechon Hadar since 2006. Previously, he served for six years as scholar-in-residence at Kehilat Hadar in New York City, and taught both theology and halakhah at JTS. He also served as director of Education at Hillel Harvard. A renowned lecturer, he has taught for institutions such as the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education, Me'ah, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, and JTS's Rabbinic Training Institute; he is currently on the faculty of the Wexner Heritage Program. Rabbi Held recently completed a doctorate in religious studies at Harvard University, from which he also earned his undergraduate degree.
In addition to being the national assistant director of the National Ramah Commission of JTS for seven years, Amy Skopp Cooper has served as the director of Ramah Day Camp in Nyack for 14 years. Previously, she was the education director for six years at Congregation B'nai Israel in Millburn, New Jersey, and the assistant director of the high school Prozdor program at the Hebrew College in Boston. A graduate of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Ms. Cooper holds degrees in Jewish History and Jewish Education, and received her master's degree from Brandeis University in Jewish Education and Communal Service.
Ms. Cooper's extraordinary commitment to Jewish education empowers her as, each year, she inspires hundreds of young Jewish educators at Ramah Nyack to create a safe, joyful Jewish environment for children that is framed by the highest educational standards and infused with a love of Jewish life. In her role as national assistant director of JTS's National Ramah Commission, Ms. Cooper has most recently spearheaded the development of the Ramah Service Corps, a trailblazing, transformational initiative that aims to bring the magic of Ramah summer camps to year-round settings, creating 12-month opportunities for Ramah staffers to produce programming for synagogues, schools, and other educational environments.
"This award ignites new passion, inspires creative thinking, and reaffirms what has always been a labor of love for me," says Ms. Cooper. "As a Jewish educator, I see my job weaving together a tapestry of learning experiences that resonate with young learners and encourage individuals to craft unique and compelling Jewish narratives of their own. I do this by constructing vibrant and persuasive Jewish learning environments, creating enduring relationships with individual learners, and empowering young people to be bold and innovative community builders. As long as I am a Jewish educator, this will remain my sacred task."
Visit JTS at www.jtsa.edu.