Innovative JCCSF educator wins national award

Rabbi Eve Ben-Ora, a much-loved educator at the JCC of San Francisco, is the recipient of a 2011 Covenant Award.

Presented annually to three U.S. educators by the Covenant Foundation, the award recognizes a commitment to excellence in Jewish education and a track record of innovation and inspiration.

Ben-Ora has been at the helm of educational programming at the JCC for five years. “Rabbi Eve,” as she is known around the center, is responsible for innovative projects such as an interactive digital Omer calendar and the “Sukkot Outside In” project, which transformed the atrium of the JCC into an indoor sukkah. Both projects offered visitors educational and discussion points for the two Jewish rituals.

“I’ve always had a love of education and learning since the time I was very little, and I’ve always loved the Hebrew language,” Ben-Ora said. “When it comes to learning about Judaism, I see it as a lifelong mission for me — and that’s how I think about Judaism itself, that it remains a lifelong, living entity. That’s what keeps me going.”

Ben-Ora was the director of Jewish Education at the Jewish Community Center of Houston for 10 years before making the move to San Francisco in 2006 with her husband, Rabbi Avi Schulman of Congregation Beth Torah in Fremont, and their three children. She said she was immediately happy to call the Bay Area home.

“I love living in the city, the fact that I don’t even have a car!” she said with a laugh. “And it’s been such a wonderful opportunity to be part of this JCC. The dynamism and the creativity that’s possible here with such a diverse community …  it’s incredibly inspiring.”

Barry Finestone, executive director of the JCCSF, said everyone at the center feels lucky to have her.

“We have so much going on here, but in each staff member, in every project out of the hundreds, there’s a little piece of Eve in all of us — whether it’s a preschool teacher who’s planning something and wants advice, or the marketing department wants her help brainstorming how to show off a certain holiday,” he said.

“It takes a very unique type of person to be able to do that. She excels in many different worlds, and it’s an enormous blessing to have someone like that on your staff.”

As for the award itself — which Finestone likened to “the Oscar for best picture” in Jewish education — Ben-Ora said she’s still in a bit of shock about it.

“I’ve known about this award since I started in my career, and I always saw it as something that was unattainable,” she said. “Many of the people who have received it over the years were people I really looked up to as Jewish educators, so it’s truly amazing that I’m now part of that group.”

This year’s other Covenant award winners are Amy Skopp Cooper, the director of Ramah Day Camp in New York, and Rabbi Shai Held, dean and chair in Jewish thought at Mechon Hadar, an educational institute in New York.

Emma Silvers

Emma Silvers is a former J. staff writer.