Isaiah educator calls for lifelong learning

Jewish education, says Debra Cohn-Levin, should be a full-time job.

"Jewish education shouldn't be something one does for a few hours a week," she says.

Cohn-Levine lives that dictum: In July she became the new education director of Temple Isaiah in Lafayette.

The native Californian, who returned home after serving for seven years as director of religious education at Temple Israel in Tulsa, Okla., told the congregation that "any sound program of Jewish education must be lifelong, holistic, create community and involve as many congregants as possible."

Jewish education, she added, "must meet the needs of the `whole Jew' — body, heart, mind and spirit."

Cohn-Levine, who has a master's degree in Jewish education from Los Angeles' Hebrew Union College-Rhea Hirsch School of Education, has instituted a new system at the synagogue in which Hebrew studies mesh with Jewish studies to form a cohesive, multilayered environment.

"We've revamped the Judaic curriculum. We're creating building blocks so that [the students] learn things in a certain sequence," she says.

The synagogue's Rabbi Judy Shanks welcomes the change. Such education is logical and "builds upon a child's knowledge," Shanks says.

"We don't want the children to feel they're learning the same thing every year. So even if the same holidays are discussed annually, the students will continue to learn more and more about them."

The most obvious change in the temple's adult education program is its name: Formerly known as Family School, the program is now called the Academy for Jewish Learning.

"We feel `family' has a lot of different meanings today. We want to include everyone in our education offerings and don't want to exclude anyone," Shanks adds.

"We felt the new name was a more inclusive model."

New offerings at the academy include Early American Jewry: A Popular Cultural History; Opening the Prayerbook: Reading and Translating (in Hebrew); and Finding Our Place in This Land: Short Stories by Jewish American Writers.

Synagogue staffers and congregants are impressed by Cohn-Levine's "creativity and commitment to education for both children and adults," adds Shanks.

Cohn-Levine's "deepening and strengthening of Jewish education is in synch" with the direction in which the congregation is going.