Home August 2013 Versatile Professional

Versatile Professional

Multicultural education is coming to Tustin’s Temple Beth Sholom under the tutelage of its new director of congregational learning, David Cohen.  This Boston native brings a diverse repertoire from his 15 years as Jewish educator, Israel programs director and Jewish agency manager.
His background ranges from theater arts to teaching K to twelfth grade religious school, encompassing Jewish history, including the Holocaust.  He has extensive experience in curriculum design, youth programming, leadership development and strategic planning.  As Israel programs director and Jewish agency manager he ran programs for Midrash, studying Biblical text and intercultural programs to meet diverse people.  His interests include creating numerous interfaith outreach community service projects, bringing in speakers and utilizing technology and video.
Cohen partnered with many teen teams each year in informal educational programs, working with the elderly, teaching students in inner city schools, including those in shelters.  “The teams listened to people living in shelters,” he said, “to hear their stories.”  For more than ten years, he served as youth programming director, nourishing informal educational creative programs with teens to train them to be leaders.
With a particular passion for the current trends in Israel education and advocacy, Cohen regularly speaks on these issues around the country.  He attempts to find new and innovative programs, including informal and experimental expression that fosters service and learning Mitzvah as an important aspect of one’s life.  Currently, he serves on the Teacher Advisory Board for Facing History and Ourselves and is an Israel Education Fellow with the Center.
As regional youth director of the JCC of Boston, he helped organize teen programs to Israel with social justice emphasis.  These involved two three-week summer program sessions promoting social justice for the underprivileged in Israel – both Jews and Arabs.  The second session brought the latter group to the US.  He also was active in bringing IDF (Israel Defense Forces) officers to the Boston area to meet with non-Jewish members of the community.  He would like to bring teens to Israel with this focus in mind.
Cohen describes his Interfaith Outreach ADL (Anti-Defamation League) program thusly: “We need to recognize we are like a fish tank.  We shouldn’t wear goggles or separate ourselves from universal messages.  We should unite with other members of the community – Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Black, Latino – and listen to them as they share their histories.  There are multiple messages and traditions that tie us together.  It is important for Israel politically and educationally.  They need to hear how we feel about Israel.”  He has given talks to interfaith groups about its many perspectives and people.
Cohen enumerated his goals for TBS as: “To focus on re-engaging our young people after they complete their Bar/Bat Mitzvah year through experiential, hands-on learning opportunities that are meaningful for their lives and interests.  To create an inclusive program from the younger years through the adult years and to build a wider sense of community throughout the congregation.  To focus on community service and social justice as a way to engage our community in meaningful projects and learning opportunities.  We will also be focusing on Israel and on new and innovative ways to bring modern Hebrew into our religious school and adult learning.”
Nature and retreats are an important focus for Cohen’s youth programs.  “Exploring and connecting to nature creates a great impact on students.  The easy connection to the outdoors here and to the cultural resources in Los Angeles added to the enticement for my moving to Orange County,” he asserted.
Cohen hopes to promote education for adults who are coming to services and understanding how it connects to traditionalism and building community within the congregation.  “We want to reach out to the community and help save the world,” he stated.  Working with other groups, he would like to fight anti-Semitism on campuses, speaking and encouraging conversations to create understanding.
Rabbi Heidi Cohen of Temple Beth Sholom said that she is is excited that “David is going to bring us a fresh new perspective.  He brings innovative and exciting new ideas for engaging learners of all ages.  We recognize that the work of education, and our world as a whole, is constantly changing and evolving.  And with this new program we too hope to create learning opportunities that will entice and encourage deeper relational connections for all those who pass through the doors of TBS.”
Before moving to the West Coast, this academician worked for the Philadelphia and Greater Boston Jewish Federation directing Israel education and advocacy programs.  Earlier he served as associate director for the Anti-Defamation League in the New England region and as regional youth director for the JCCs of Greater Boston.
Cohen also served on the staff at the Genesis summer high school program at Brandeis University where participants meet students from all over the world with widely different viewpoints.  Established in 1977 with a grant from Steven Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation, it was designed as a “summer program combining academics and Jewish studies, as well as building a diverse, international Jewish community.  The program allows students to do college-level work in multiple areas including technology, society, law, journalism, social entrepreneurship, science and world religions, as well as community service.”
Cohen holds a Master’s Degree in Jewish education and organizational leadership from Hebrew Union College, a Master’s Degree in international political history from Boston University and a bachelor’s degree in history from Brandeis University.  He also studied European politics and international law at King’s College in London during his junior year abroad.
David Cohen may be contacted at Temple Beth Sholom, (714) 628-4620; dcohen@tbsoc.com.

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