Three outstanding Jewish educators who are taking their visions of deeply engaging Judaism and igniting them into reality – are the 2017 recipients of The Covenant Award.
“These Jewish educators exemplify inspired, courageous and visionary leadership,” said Cheryl Finkel, Chair of the Board of Directors of The Covenant Foundation and a former Covenant Award recipient. “Across the spectrum of educational venues, they are stimulating their students, communities and the field to think and practice in innovative and pioneering ways. Their achievements challenge all of us in Jewish education to make our own work bolder, more ambitious, and more impactful.”
Along with the recognition that accompanies this award, each recipient will receive $36,000, and each of their institutions will receive $5,000.
MEREDITH ENGLANDER POLSKY is National Director of Institutes and Training at Matan in New York, and Developmental Support Coordinator at Temple Beth Ami Nursery School in Rockville, MD. Through advocacy and imaginative pedagogies, she has dramatically advanced Jewish communal dialogue and practices for inclusion of children with special needs and their families in Jewish life and learning.
Polsky founded Matan in 2000 with the realization that children with special needs and their families were living on the margins of Jewish education due to a community severely lacking the vocabulary, approaches and awareness to create paths to engagement and full participation.
Her passion was ignited at the age of 22 when she worked at a Jewish overnight camp where an eight-year-old boy with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and learning challenges was sent home early because the camp could not accommodate his individual needs.
“In an instant, I knew for certain that I needed to devote myself to enabling the Jewish community to be inclusive of children like him and their families,” Polsky said. “I saw clearly that this was a paradigm that had to change.”
With her establishment of Matan, children with special needs and their families had an immediate institutional voice where none had previously existed. Under Polsky’s leadership and design, Matan began working with synagogues, Jewish agencies, and religious and day school administrators and teachers to not only increase awareness of special needs and the obligation of the Jewish community to embrace inclusion, but also to help to create educational programs, curricula and lesson plans for this population.
For the past eight years, she has served as National Director of Institutes and Training at Matan. In this role, she trains groups of education directors and teachers to make systemic changes in their organizations to effectively include and serve children with special needs and give them and their families a welcome place on the Jewish continuum. In the past year, Matan has trained over 2,500 Jewish leaders and educators to fully welcome and support diverse learners in both formal and informal Jewish educational settings.
Since 2013, Polsky has also served as Developmental Support Coordinator at Temple Beth Ami Nursery School in Rockville, MD, where she supports teachers in working with children with special learning needs.
It is here that Polsky describes herself as “working in the trenches,” exercising her vision and pedagogies, and informing her work beyond her own community to the national level – especially in the realm of Early Childhood Jewish Education.
It is Early Childhood Jewish Education, in fact, that Polsky sees as a major focus of her work in coming years, recognizing it as “young families’ most important link into the Jewish community” and one that must be equipped to welcome all learners and families.
“Meredith does whatever is necessary to make an educational setting work for an individual child,” said Dr. Paula Sayag, Director of the Temple Beth Ami Nursery School, who nominated Polsky for The Covenant Award. “She is unabashedly determined and optimistically realistic … and has changed the landscape of Jewish education.”
Looking at that landscape as she considered the honor of receiving The Covenant Award, Polsky expressed her eagerness to keep moving forward and contributing to the field. “Receiving the Covenant Award marks a new beginning for me,” she said, “as I strive to live up to this amazing honor.”
Read about the other award recipients here.