Balancing the Urgency of Now with Renewed Efforts Towards the Future

Reflections from Rabbi Andrew Ergas, CEO at Hebrew at the Center

Since March, educators and philanthropists alike have rightly been focused on the “pivot,” meeting challenges that social distancing has put on our school administrators, teachers, students, and families. This nimbleness is essential in a crisis, and it appears uncertainty will continue to demand deft adaptations that integrate safety, learning outcomes, social-emotional needs, finances, and government policy. 

Hebrew at the Center (HATC) and other peer organizations have responded quickly and effectively in light of the moment to address the particular requirements of the Hebrew language educator community.  HATC served over one hundred schools with free online workshops and seminars on delivering Hebrew education in the virtual context. Further, in responding to issues raised by teachers, HATC retooled its professional development summer offerings. These efforts, like those of so many in the educational ecosystem, dictated a concerted increase in work, new learning and thinking, and a shift in organizational culture.

But, being nimble enough to productively respond to the present tectonic shifts in education cannot completely consume all efforts or preclude commitments to strategic initiatives. It would be a significant mistake to use all our resources to put out fires, undermining the ability to also support pre-COVID strategic goals and delay executing key initiatives. 

  • At Hebrew at the Center, this balancing act meant providing new tools to the field that matched the needs of the moment while still announcing the selection of the Chicago Jewish Day School (CJDS) as the second Leading in Hebrew school, joining Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School of the Nation’s Capital in our more than $1,000,000 investment to support demonstration schools to become paradigms of excellence in Hebrew education.
  • It meant restructuring our staff so we could continue to support embedded services as part of our core business while building out a long-term direct service approach for professional development. 
  • And it informed our decision to both allocate budget and staff towards continued work in the day school space while launching new efforts to engage the Jewish community in conversations about Hebrew, to create a platform to bring new research on Hebrew education to the field, and to begin efforts to strengthen the Hebrew agenda in informal education settings.


The feedback we are receiving from the field confirms this dynamic thinking and action. The hundreds of Hebrew teachers and leaders that participated in our free online programs responded in almost one voice that we were helping alleviate many of the challenges At the same time, our investment in CJDS led to positive support from the organized community, with Lonnie Nasatir, President of the Jewish United Fund, stating “We could not be more pleased to see this bold initiative come to Chicago, building upon the strong engagement with Hebrew education that has always been a hallmark of our community.”

Even in the midst of these extraordinary days, it is important to step back from the Zoom screen on a regular basis and reflect. In reviewing our activity and my own practice since late March, I have identified at least five principles that are helping us coordinate and prioritize our efforts, allowing us  to navigate these rough seas:

    • Attend to Your Core Purpose: While HATC is no different than many other organizations in that we had neither fully detailed plans nor surplus staff on call to react to the pandemic, we have focused our efforts first and foremost on those activities at the heart of our mission, enabling the revolutionizing of the teaching and learning Hebrew. 
    • Lean into the Work: This is not a time for slow reaction or paralysis through analysis. Our staff quickly jumped into the fray with new online programming, reallocation of staff time, professional development offerings even when we were only a few weeks ahead of our learners in terms of acquiring expertise, accepting that we would get it wrong sometimes. 
    • Unleash New Assets:  All people working in nonprofits typically have a wider range of expertise and skills than defined by their primary operational functions. We have activated talents within our team that have allowed us to do things we hadn’t considered in the past. 
    • Strengthen Connective Tissue: Things are changing too quickly to go it alone. There is tremendous wisdom in thoughtful crowdsourcing and the strengthening of networks provides information, effective correctives, and some sense of personal and professional sanity. 
    • The Moment Demands Boldness: In addition to rapid shifts in our operations and our outputs, we dedicate time each week for big thinking so we can support our major initiatives and generate new opportunities for impact during and after this pandemic. This energizes us and helps remind those we serve and our supporters that Jews have historically triumphed by framing the challenges of the day in the context of a higher purpose.

This multi-pronged approach is also aligning with our supporters. Manette Mayberg of the Mayberg Foundation shared that “The Mayberg Foundation believes now more than ever, that we need to boldly innovate and shift paradigms in the delivery of Jewish education. Those who are already pursuing innovative initiatives know that these take time to build lasting impact. To transmit Jewish wisdom and values for generations to come, we need to maintain our efforts and continue to innovate, even as we respond to the immediate needs that we face.”

I hope very much that we can at some point aggregate our gleanings from these pivots while we continue to assess how big initiatives moved ahead during this difficult time. Our collective sharing and learning can help so many organizations ensure the structures we are rushing to save become bridges to an exciting and meaningful future.


HATC Selects Chicago Jewish Day School for מובילים בעברית Initiative

Hebrew at the Center Announces Selection of Chicago Jewish Day School as Model Demonstration School for מובילים בעברית National Hebrew Language Initiative

Initiative Builds Toward $1,000,000+ Investment in Hebrew

The Board of Directors at Hebrew at the Center (HATC), a leader in Hebrew language teacher professional development and advocacy announces that Chicago Jewish Day School (CJDS) has been selected into the Leading in Hebrew national initiative to become the second model school for Hebrew teaching and learning. 

Chicago Jewish Day School Students Engaging in Hebrew
Chicago Jewish Day School Students Engaging in Hebrew

The Leading in Hebrew initiative, a highly selective three-year plus program, was designed by HATC to create model schools of Hebrew excellence in regions throughout the country. HATC expects to develop truly exemplary Hebrew programs, with cohorts of master teacher leaders, that become national demonstration schools. Coaching teams with expertise in school change, second language pedagogy, leadership development, teacher mentoring, curriculum building, integration of technology, differentiated instruction, and early childhood will work with CJDS over the course of more than three years.

The comprehensive professional learning plan for school faculty and leadership includes on-site and online workshops and seminars; coaching and mentoring from HATC staff, expert teachers, and other field leaders; and faculty participation in prominent professional development opportunities for day-school and language teachers. Throughout the initiative, students’ Hebrew knowledge and skills are measured using tools developed by HATC and Avant Assessment, a leading language proficiency assessment provider. This effort will be led on the ground by Judy Finkelstein-Taff, Head of School, Tamar Cytryn, Director of Jewish Studies and Campus Life, and Penina Berdugo, Director of Hebrew Curriculum, with the HATC leadership of Tal Gale, Chief Program Officer, and Liat Kadosh, Director of Embedded Expertise. Rosov Consulting, a leading firm engaged in program evaluation in the Jewish community, will lead the effort to document and assess this groundbreaking initiative.

“We could not be more pleased to see this bold initiative come to Chicago, building upon the strong engagement with Hebrew education that has always been a hallmark of our community,” said Lonnie Nasatir, President of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Chicago.  “This is a terrific opportunity to leverage both the expertise of Hebrew at the Center and CJDS’s wonderful faculty, leadership and families, and advancing our shared belief in Hebrew’s power to deepen Jewish identity and connection.”

According to the CEO of HATC, Rabbi Andrew Ergas: “We were very impressed by the outstanding commitment of the Chicago community to Hebrew. This played a crucial part in the selection of CJDS as a Leading in Hebrew school. The initiative will build upon existing expertise and embed pedagogic know-how in Chicago, and eventually in communities across North America, with the goal of enhancing the delivery of Hebrew language education and the corresponding student outcomes in Hebrew proficiency. Ultimately, this expertise will raise the quality of Hebrew language learning such that Hebrew becomes an integral and elevated part of Jewish life in a community.”

Given the complexity of the undertaking, HATC employs a highly selective process, choosing a school based on strong school leadership with a demonstrated commitment to the pursuit of excellence in Hebrew programs, a culture and track record of investment in staff professional development, and an expressed desire and intention to contribute to the field of Hebrew teaching and learning. CJDS is the second school to be selected into this national program. The initiative launched in Washington, DC in 2019 with the Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School of the Nation’s Capital. “We are grateful to HATC for the pivotal role it plays in lifting the professionalization of Hebrew instruction in the day school world to the next level. Milton has benefitted from working with HATC for almost a decade to make the school a leader in Hebrew instruction in North America,” says Naomi Reem, outgoing Head of School at Milton.

Judy Finkelstein-Taff, Head of School of CJDS said: “We are honored and thrilled to be selected for the Leading in Hebrew initiative  and look forward to participating in a program which is designed to benefit CJDS and the entire Chicago Jewish Community. Our CJDS Educational Leadership Team  will work with the HATC professionals to enhance and develop our vision of the role of Hebrew in our program throughout the grades, and will engage in an in-depth audit of our  school’s Hebrew  teaching and learning.” “Given our teachers, students, and our community, we are poised to become a center for Hebrew learning in Chicago and nationally.” said Tamar Cytryn, Director of Judaic Studies and Campus Life at CJDS.

“The task of truly transforming Hebrew language education in North America is one that commands us to think big and implement bold new initiatives with lasting and sustainable impact,” said Arnee Winshall, HATC’s Board President.  “HATC’s Leading in Hebrew initiative exemplifies our commitment to revitalizing the teaching and learning of Hebrew and to make it a priority in the diaspora,” she said.


HATC Announces Rabbi Andrew Ergas as Chief Executive Officer

The Board of Directors at Hebrew at the Center (HATC), a leader in Hebrew language advocacy and teacher professional development, today announced that Rabbi Andrew Ergas has been named as Chief Executive Officer.  Arnee Winshall, who has held the CEO position since 2015, will continue as President of the Board and lead thought partner.  

With more than twenty-five years in Jewish leadership and professional experience in both Israel and in North America, Rabbi Ergas brings a deep commitment to the field of Hebrew. For the past three years, he has served as Chair of the Council for Hebrew Language and Culture in North America. He was the Executive Director of the Shames JCC on the Hudson and spent seven years as Head of School at Beit Rabban in New York City. He is currently finishing his doctoral studies in Jewish education, with a focus on Hebrew, identity and pedagogy.

“Having had the pleasure of working with Andrew to elevate the status of Hebrew for the last seven years in connection with the Hebrew Council, I cannot imagine a more fitting candidate,” said Arnee Winshall. “With Andrew’s arrival, HATC is poised for growth as the Jewish community develops an appreciation for the importance of the revitalization of Hebrew in the Diaspora.”

“The task of truly transforming Hebrew language education in North America is one that commands us to think big and implement bold new initiatives with lasting and sustainable impact,” said Andrew Ergas. “I am happy to be joining the volunteer and professional leadership of Hebrew at the Center to expand upon its historic successes and help lead both the organization and the field to bring the Hebrew language to the forefront as a communal priority.”

Arnee Winshall will continue her leadership role in her capacity as President of the Board of Directors of HATC. This change will allow her to focus further upon strengthening and expanding the Board, growing the visibility of HATC in the education field, and increasing philanthropic support.