Alumni Profiles

Rabbi Dov Lerea

William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education and The Rabbinical School

Bronx, New York

JTS Degree Programs: Doctor of Education, Jewish Education, 2012; Rabbinic Ordination and Master of Arts, Jewish Studies, 1983

Current Position: Dean and mashgiach ruchani, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, Bronx, New York 

What were you doing in the two or three years before you began your studies at JTS? I was faculty and dean of Judaic Studies at the Abraham Joshua Heschel School in New York City from 1983 to 2010. During that time, I received rabbinic ordination and an MA in Jewish Studies from JTS, as well as rabbinic ordination from Yeshivat Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University. From 2010 to 2013, I worked from Jerusalem and was the director of KIVUNIM: New Directions, a post-high school program dedicated to academic and experiential learning of Jewish history and Jewish identity. 

Why did you choose to attend The Davidson School? I completed most of my doctoral studies in education at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. My research topic is pedagogy of rabbinic texts, and Dr. Barry Holtz was on my reading committee. After completing my course work at Harvard and my qualifying pilot study, I transferred to The Davidson School to work more closely with the esteemed JTS faculty.  

What is your current title, what role(s) do you serve, and where? I am currently the mashgiach ruchani and director of educational training at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT). I will become the dean of YCT in September 2014. I am also on the Talmud faculty of SAR High School in the Bronx.

Who is the JTS professor or mentor that was formative for you? Please share an anecdote or insight. Dr. Barry Holtz and Dr. Aryeh Davidson mentored me most closely, with love and dedication. During the years I was in Israel, they facilitated lengthy telephone meetings in which they both, simultaneously, guided me through the writing of my dissertation. They believed in my research and in me as a Jewish educator, and conveyed their loving support and dedication throughout my process as a student. I taught their children at the Heschel School, and therefore have benefited from them as mentors with whom I have been engaged in educational conversations for decades. Is there any other way to cultivate an apprenticeship as an educator? 

How did your Davidson School education help prepare you for the work you now do? Writing the dissertation challenged me and afforded me research skills-thinking clearly, having a sense of method, being able to frame a good question, knowing how to facilitate a process of searching for answers-that I use daily.

Why should a prospective student consider The Davidson School and JTS? A student should consider The Davidson School for the intellectually open and challenging environment, the forward-thinking sensibilities of the faculty, and the great need the Jewish people have for creative, dynamic, knowledgeable educators.

Rachel Silton

William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education

Houston, Texas

JTS Degree Program: Master of Arts, Jewish Education, Day School Teaching Concentration, 2013

Current Position: Seventh-Grade Judaics Teacher, Emery/Weiner School, Houston, Texas

What were you doing in the two or three years before you began your studies at JTS? After graduation from Vassar, where I studied Anthropology and Jewish Studies, I became an OTZMA fellow. Through OTZMA, I was able to expand my Hebrew knowledge in an absorption center ulpan, volunteer full-time in a peripheral Israeli community, and intern at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem.

Why did you choose to attend The Davidson School? Students studying at The Davidson School have the unique opportunity to learn with a variety of people from many backgrounds-including fellow education, rabbinical, cantorial, and undergraduate students-which cannot be found at any other professional Jewish institution. This, along with the impressive faculty and strong academic focus of the program, greatly influenced my decision to attend.

What is your current title, what role(s) do you serve, and where? I have had the amazing privilege to teach Tanakh to 65 seventh graders at the Emery/Weiner School in Houston, Texas, as a Judaics teacher, and learn with them during the pivotal b'nai mitzvah year.

Who is the JTS professor or mentor that was formative for you? Please share an anecdote or insight. Dr. Sarah Tauber was able to present elusive and difficult-to-teach material, such as theology and prayer, in such a way that we could explore personal meaning and create innovative ways to teach the subjects in the classroom. A particularly meaningful moment I shared with her was the final exam of Teaching Prayer. Instead of giving a standard exam or research paper, Dr. Tauber allowed her students to plan and facilitate a havdalah learning experience for the entire JTS community that allowed participants to deepen their connection to the havdalah traditions and create strong bonds in our community.

How did your Davidson School education help prepare you for the work you now do? It helps me every day in my work as a Jewish day school educator. The content knowledge that I explored in the Bible, Talmud, and Modern Jewish Studies courses informs every lesson plan I create. The skills I acquired allowed me to jump into my first teaching position confident in my lesson-planning skills, teaching philosophy, and classroom-management capability.

What professional successes have you had? At the end of the second semester, I facilitated a self-designed project for my seventh graders called "The Living Tanakh." My students were assigned specific topics related to Shofetim, Samuel, and Melakhim, and they brought the text and topic to life through a research paper, newspaper, and live presentation. This project was a great success for me in that I was able to see the culmination of my students' learning and know that I was able to facilitate the project effectively and meaningfully.

What is one of your favorite memories from your time at JTS? Participating in the Visions and Voices of Israel Seminar. Having the opportunity to participate in a Freedom Ride, visit the innovative Jewish educational learning at TALI schools, and celebrate Shabbat as a cohort has had long-lasting effects on my personal Jewish identity and my teaching philosophy.

Why should a prospective student consider The Davidson School and JTS? Attending The Davidson School will absolutely prepare them for their future work in the Jewish community. It provides both the skills and the knowledge needed for students to achieve their dreams in the world of Jewish education

Allison Gutman

William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education

Southfield, Michigan
JTS Degree Program: Master of Arts, Jewish Education, Educational Leadership in Synagogues and Communal Settings Concentration, 2011

Current Position: Assistant Director of Education and Youth at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield, Michigan


What were you doing in the two or three years before you began your studies at JTS? I completed my undergraduate degree in Comparative Religion at Western Michigan University, and studied Hebrew at the University of Haifa. I also taught in several religious schools, and was the Israel education director of JCC of Chicago's Camp Chi.

Why did you choose to attend The Davidson School? The Davidson School presented a unique opportunity to study Jewish education at a pluralistic school, and I knew I wanted to learn about the most innovative models of Jewish learning from a highly accomplished and expert faculty.  

Who is the JTS professor or mentor that was formative for you? Please share an anecdote or insight. It's hard to pick just one professor. Dr. Carol Ingall is such a wonderful educator. She really helped each of us grow personally and academically. Throughout my time at The Davidson School, Dr. Ingall was invested in my future success, and helped to direct me professionally.

How did your Davidson School education help prepare you for the work you now do? The Davidson School introduced me to the major educational theorists and really helped me craft my own personal philosophy of education. After exploring thought on Jewish learning and establishing my own education philosophy, I was prepared to pick an organization with which to share a mission and vision. The Davidson School also places senior students in a yearlong practicum that gives them opportunities to apply theories and techniques in a real-world setting. My practicum placement and mentor were a highlight of my Davidson School experience.


What is one of your favorite memories from your time at JTS? Hands down, my favorite time at JTS was always Sukkot. There is simply nothing quite like the entire community-students, faculty, and staff-joining together to celebrate our tradition, delicious food, and fall in New York City. It's unlike any other experience.

Why should a prospective student consider The Davidson School and JTS?

The Davidson School offers many wonderful opportunities. The professors are absolute experts in their fields, your peers come from a range of fields and professions, and you get to enjoy the Jewish and cultural experience of a very special institution in a very special city. The JTS administration is also deeply committed to supporting students and graduates, and fostering long-term success.

How is JTS a part of your life today? JTS is still very much a part of my life. Congregation Shaarey Zedek is a participant in ReFrame, an initiative of The Davidson School and JTS that explores how to bring experiential education into the congregational setting. I am one of the educators involved in the project, and I get to see research produced by JTS faculty. I also have the opportunity to learn and work with JTS professors. Dr. Meredith Katz was one of my professors at The Davidson School; three years later, she is one of our ReFrame project consultants. It's wonderful to work with her in a professional capacity.

Dori Wolgel

William Davidson Graduate School of Education

Orlando, Florida

JTS Degree Program: Online Master of Arts, Jewish Education, 2013 

Current Position: Teacher at the Jewish Academy of Orlando in Orlando, Florida 

Why did you choose to attend The Davidson School? The summer before I entered The Davidson School, I participated in its Ivriyon Hebrew Immersion Institute for Day School Educators to strengthen my Hebrew language skills. I enjoyed that experience so much that I became interested in continuing my studies. I knew that JTS was an excellent institution with outstanding educators, so the decision was easy.

What is your current title, what role(s) do you serve, and where? At the community day school (K-8) of the Jewish Academy of Orlando, I teach Hebrew and Judaic Studies to the kindergarten students, and Judaic Studies, including trope, to fifth-grade students. I also coordinate three communal tefillot. At Congregation Ohev Shalom, a Conservative synagogue, I teach third-grade students Hebrew and Judaic Studies.

Who is the JTS professor or mentor that was formative for you? Please share an anecdote or insight. It is hard to name just one, but Dr. Alex Sinclair was my professor for the first graduate class I took as a returning student. I was grateful for his patience and also impressed by the quality of the course. One assignment that particularly awed me challenged us to create a Talmud-like page where a paragraph from one author was the mishnah, and we had to find appropriate paragraphs from other authors that commented on that mishnah, in addition to adding our own commentary. Another professor who served more as a mentor was Dr. Meredith Katz. In her Skills for Teaching class, I was feeling overwhelmed by the demands and the lessons that I needed to plan for my classes. Dr. Katz coached me on integrating her assignments with my lesson plans, which eased my anxiety and nurtured the creativity needed to solve the challenges she put forth. 

How did your Davidson School education help prepare you for the work you now do? In many ways, the education reinforced some of my ideas and practices and challenged me to rethink and develop others. The Davidson School education also gave me the language and vocabulary to become a more effective educator.

What is one of your favorite memories from your time at JTS? I enjoyed being in New York City during the summers, walking through the park on Shabbat, and enjoying JTS Dining Hall meals. In the distance-learning experience, I enjoyed our Google Hangout session, where we presented material to each other and could see and talk to each other about it. 

Why should a prospective student consider The Davidson School and JTS? The education is first-rate, the professors are excellent, and the work is challenging and meaningful. You will have access to excellent resources both at JTS and in New York City. Also, if you take part in the online MA program, you create a network of colleagues throughout the United States.

How is JTS a part of your life today? I frequently reference experiences that I had in classes or with other students, refer to my thesis work, or reference specific materials I learned about while in class. Last semester, I had the honor of serving as a mancha to a new student in the program, and I had the pleasure of participating in havruta study with a colleague who was still in school this year.

Eli Bass

William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education

Rochester, New York

JTS Degree Program: Master of Arts, Jewish Education, Experiential Education Concentration, 2013

Current Position: Hillel Program Director at Rochester Institute of Technology and SUNY Geneseo

What were you doing in the two or three years before you began your studies at JTS? I was a wilderness guide for Eden Village summer camp and a guide for at-risk youth in New Hampshire.

Why did you choose to attend The Davidson School? I didn't have the opportunity for Jewish engagement in my outdoor-education world, and I felt divided between it and my passion for Judaism. At The Davidson School, I knew I would be able to grow my spiritual and cultural Jewish identity. 

Who is the JTS professor or mentor that was formative for you? Please share an anecdote or insight. Dr. Sarah Tauber demonstrated a clear love for Jewish learning and solid pedagogy. Her classes were highly engaging, and she took a strong interest in each of her students. Near the end of the course, I was placed in a group for an eight-minute final lesson plan on the blessing over wine in havdalah. With four creative extroverts, my group struggled to reach consensus. But after several hours of planning, our lesson turned out great. It taught me a lot about compromise, relationship building, and letting go. 

How did your Davidson School education help prepare you for the work you now do? The Davidson School education consistently exposes you to many of the questions and challenges that educators face, which has given me greater confidence as I lead an organization. Working to build a successful work environment and learning environment is difficult. I know The Davidson School provided me with the tools to do this. 

What professional successes have you had? When I interviewed at Geneseo Hillel, I asked the students, "How do you want to grow your Judaism?" My students tried to answer that question over the course of this year, transforming Hillel from a social club of shared heritage to something far greater. Today, I know Geneseo Hillel leadership cares about Jewish growth through social justice learning. I'm proud to have this clarity, which drives our vision for the upcoming year. 

What is one of your favorite memories from your time at JTS? During Kesher Hadash, The Davidson School's Semester-in-Israel Program, Dr. Alex Sinclair shared with us his passion for Israeli rock star Kobi Oz, who soon became a passion of our entire group. His music focuses on his journey to define his Jewish identity. In Tel Aviv, our group was able to sit with Oz as he talked about his journey. It was inspiring.

Why should a prospective student consider The Davidson School and JTS? JTS provides a well-rounded education. The faculty at JTS care deeply about their students' holistic journey. They teach us so much about education, nonprofit management, Israel, and Judaism. As a first-year professional, I have also found both my cohort and faculty accessible for my continued growth.

Rachel Wallach

Jewish Early Childhood Education Leadership Institute, William Davidson Graduate School of Education

Houston, Texas

JTS Field Program: Jewish Early Childhood Education Leadership Institute, 2013 (Cohort 1)

Current Position: Site Preschool Director for the Evelyn Rubenstein JCC Ellen Boniuk Early Child Center in Houston, Texas

What were you doing in the two or three years before you began the Jewish Early Childhood Education Leadership Institute (JECELI)? I was just beginning my new profession as a preschool director.  

Why did you choose to attend JECELI? Not a difficult choice at all. The quality of the educators and mentors involved in the program were impressive, and collectively they form an amazing and inspirational team. The JECELI program's timing was b'sheret as I was in need of an educational experience that combined the art of early childhood education with the ruah and spirit of Judaism.  

What is your current title, what role(s) do you serve, and where? I am still in the same preschool and with the same title, however I feel as though I am an entirely new and improved director, administrator, and person after completing JECELI.  

How did JECELI help prepare you for the work you now do? The JECELI program was a life-changing experience that provided me with the knowledge, confidence, and tools necessary to run a successful, rich early childhood program. During the two years of JECELI, I was constantly challenged by the staff and leadership of the program to grow into the best professional that I could be. It opened my eyes to see the potential of our smallest learners, my soul to embrace Judaism, my ears to remind me of the powers of speech, and my heart to wanting to build a lifelong career in the early childhood field and really create a Jewish foundation. The quote from the Talmud, "When you teach your children, you are teaching your children's children" was never clearer to me than at the conclusion of JECELI; to be an early childhood education director is such a privilege, and yet it carries an enormous responsibility that has lasting effects. Lyndall Miller and her team of sensitive and brilliant mentors shaped my existence today, and I shall carry their words of wisdom for years to come. 

What is one of your favorite memories from your time doing JECELI? How can I choose just one favorite memory from such an amazing journey, filled with such life-changing experiences as attending a seminar in Israel, learning from esteemed professors, experiencing everything happening at JTS, engaging in Jewish and cultural experiences all over New York City, enjoying Shabbat, and learning and growing together with a close group of people?