Jewish Early Childhood Educators “Blaze New Trails” in Phoenix
Recently, 250 early childhood educators from Reform Jewish congregations across the United States came together for the eleventh annual ECE-RJ conference. This year’s theme was Ani V’atah! You and I Can Change the World. The conference was held January 12-15, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona.
This dynamic conference offered a unique opportunity for those of us who work in Jewish early childhood education to renew our own commitment to learning and to Judaism, while focusing on expanding our knowledge and faith with the same devotion to learning that we aspire to instill in our children and their families throughout the year. A highlight of the conference was an address by Chair of the URJ Board of Trustees Peter Weidhorn. Weidhorn’s presence at the conference underscores the Reform Movement’s commitment to early childhood education.
The conference consisted of three days of workshops, networking and creative worship, bringing together congregational early childhood education directors, teachers, specialists and lay leaders. Mark Horowitz, Director of Early Childhood Education at the JCC Association of North America, set the tone with his insightful key note address at the opening dinner. In addition, attendees participated in a wide variety of workshop offerings and learned about innovative program ideas.
The conference was hosted by two congregations in the Phoenix area, Temple Solel and Temple Chai. Friday afternoon, Tricia Ginis, the early childhood director of The Solel Preschool at Temple Solel and her dedicated staff lead tours of their dynamic classrooms. A wonderful Shabbat dinner was served following the uplifting Shabbat Shira service led by Rabbi John Linder and Cantorial Soloist Todd Herzog and his band. Saturday morning Temple Chai served as the host congregation with Rabbi Evon Yakar engaging us in a beautiful Shacharit worship service. Afterwards Early Childhood Director Debbie Popiel White and her enthusiastic staff made themselves available for tours of their wonderful early childhood facility. We then enjoyed a delicious Shabbat brunch.
Saturday afternoon provided the option to take in the natural beauty of the Desert Botanical Gardens. Showcasing the Arizona desert vegetation and landscape, six trails were open for exploration before we reconvened as a group athe the Gardens’ ampitheater for a breathtaking Havdallah and installation of the 2011 ECE-RJ board, officiated by Rabbi Jan Katzew, Ph.D., Director of Lifelong Learning at the Union for Reform Judaism. Conference attendees enjoyed the chance to socialize with one another over dinner at various Scottsdale restaurants and concluded the conference experience with a special hands-on make and take session with local teacher and artist Karen Bell-Zinn, designer of the 2011 ECE-RJ Conference logo.
Early Childhood Educators of Reform Judaism (ECE-RJ) is the youngest affiliate professional organization of the Union for Reform Judaism. ECE-RJ represents professionals in all fields of Jewish early childhood education, serving as a voice for educators, providing synagogue leadership with current information about the benefits of early childhood education for congregations and young families, as well as useful guidelines for its members and their extended communities about salaries, contracts, and benefits, and cultivating opportunities for lifelong learning and continuing education.