07 February 2023
As we celebrate the new year of the trees on Tu B’Shevat, the 15th of the month of Shevat, we are excited to announce the first Award recipient of the Avi West Jewish Educator Award. This Award is sponsored by the Avi West Endowment Fund, a partnership between Federation, Avi West’s family, and the community.
The West family and the review committee, comprised of local and national Jewish educators and lay leaders, thoughtfully reviewed and deliberated on each nominee. It was a really tough decision.
MollyBeth Jacobs Rushfield was selected as the inaugural recipient of the Avi West Jewish Education Award, honoring the memory of our beloved community educator. MollyBeth has had a substantial impact on her students, campers, community, and organizations. Molly Beth embodies Avi’s enthusiasm, warmth, inclusivity, values, joy, and compassion for everyone and models the inspirational, creative, accessible, and imaginative Jewish learning experiences he created. MollyBeth has taught children of all ages in the classroom, led Junior Congregation, and run camp programs in Greater Washington for more than 30 years. As described by one of her nominators, “MollyBeth is a unicorn, truly unique and singularly gifted in being able to meet diverse learning needs of children through her creativity, empathy, and dedication. MollyBeth meets every child where they are and supports their growth, offering a ‘perfect fit’ education for students who otherwise likely would not be able to attend a Jewish day school.”
In announcing this first award, the West family is thrilled and honored that a local, anonymous donor has come forward to honor two of Avi’s beloved Jewish education colleagues and collaborators – Barry Krasner and Shulamith Reich Elster – by recognizing two additional outstanding Jewish community educators from the initial group of nominees. These two individuals also initiated vibrant and innovative Jewish educational experiences in the Greater DC Jewish community.
Debra Beland Ackerman is being recognized in memory of Barry Krasner z”l, who committed his career to elevating excellence in congregational education and educators. Blending formal and informal Jewish educational experiences for over 50 years, Barry’s talent inspired countless campers, educators, and students. Debra has worked in Jewish education locally for 24 years. One of her nominators said “everything Debra does is done with seichel (intelligence), thoughtfulness, selflessness, and deep commitment. Her commitment to keeping the youth of our community connected, educated, and respected is unparalleled.” Another nominator noted that Debra “has open ears, an open heart, and a love of teaching Jewish kids. She knows how to make religious school a special experience for learners of all ages and has created an environment for students to be lifelong Jewish learners.”
Sharon Freundel is being recognized in memory of Dr. Shulamith Reich Elster z”l, a mentor of mentors and educational leader in, and founder of, many Jewish institutions in our community. Shulamith was considered a dean of Jewish education, serving the Jewish community in multiple capacities for over 57 years. Sharon has been teaching learners of all ages – with an emphasis on children and teens – in our local community for 30 of the 45 years she has served as a Jewish educator. One of her nominators called her “the quintessential Jewish educator of educators,” highlighting her talent for developing creative Jewish learning experiences for students, faculty, and families, emphasizing how everyone found meaning in the Jewish experiences she facilitated. Another nominator pointed out that Sharon’s “extraordinary talent, presence, and self-awareness make her an incredible teacher.”
Jewish education is a cornerstone of building strong Jewish identity, and Jewish educators are at the core of this work. We look forward to celebrating all three educators at an award recognition event in the coming months. Details are forthcoming.
We thank you for your ongoing commitment to Jewish education in the Greater Washington Jewish community.
The Family of Avi West and the Avi West Jewish Educator Award Committee