Announcing the 2015 Diller Education Awards

It is a great honor to announce the 2015 winners of the Helen Diller Family Awards for Excellence in Jewish Education: Ora Gittelson-David (Day School), Ariela Ronay-Jinich (Informal Education), Nur Katz (Early Childhood Education), and Judy Massarano (Congregation/Community School). Please join us in celebrating these four extraordinary educators who have been chosen for $10,000 individual awards, as well as a $2,500 award for the institutions in which they teach. Each of them strives to instill Jewish values in our young people and make learning a dynamic experience.

L to R: Ora Gittelson-David, Ariela Ronay-Jinich, Nur Katz, and Judy Massarano
(Judy's photo courtesy of Roots & Shoots)


Ora Gittelson-David teaches middle school Jewish studies and coordinates the service learning program at Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School in Palo Alto. Rabbi Noam Silverman, Ph.D., principal of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at Gideon Hausner, tells us that Ora is “an educator who teaches from her heart and soul.” Every year, he watches with delight as former students return to the Hausner campus to “seek out Ora, with a jump in their step and a smile on their faces, to share about their social justice work.”

In addition to creating a tutoring program in which Gideon Hausner students tutor at-risk populations at local public schools, Ora has organized two annual school-wide community service days where students engaged in hands-on experiential learning about social issues, and has cultivated an educationally rich Israel experience for students.

“My work around developing our school-wide community service program and the 8th grade Israel Study Tour are my two greatest accomplishments," says Ora. "The path to both these successes stemmed from a deep-seated passion for two important pillars of Jewish life: a commitment to tikkun olam and a deep connection to the State of Israel.”

Rabbi Silverman further praises Ora, saying, “To be a colleague of Ora‘s is to have the distinct and unparalleled pleasure of working with someone whose exemplary commitment to excellence in education is manifest in every aspect of her teaching and in her interactions with students, colleagues, and parents.”

Ariela Ronay-Jinich is currently the director of Youth & Family Programs at Urban Adamah, an urban farm in West Berkeley, where she creates magical Jewish experiences for children, families, and groups of adults. Previously, Ariela founded B’Hootz, a year-round children’s program at Wilderness Torah, and served as education director for Edah, an innovative Jewish experiential after-school program with a focus on Hebrew learning.

Feeling at home at Urban Adamah, Ariela notes that she “finds delight seeing small hands partake in the ancient rhythms of planting, baking, mud-building, and goat-petting.” She also “loves working with adults who love working with children” and offers professional development sessions for teachers in the budding field of nature-based Jewish education. She is a Kevah teaching fellow, a Torah Trek guide, and a presenter for the 2014 Children Learning with Nature conference.

Casey Yurow, associate director of Urban Adamah, calls Ariela “an innovative and visionary educator, who exhibits a powerful, heartfelt and authentic expression of Jewish values and practices that consistently inspire all who meet her.”  He praises her work on the farm, where she guides kids through the process of turning raw grain into baked challah, including harvesting, threshing, winnowing, grinding, kneading, and baking. "Each step of the journey," he says, "is guided by the children’s innate excitement and exploration.”

“Experiential education has the power of integrating different perspectives and ways of life in a way that is intrinsically personal, meaningful, and lasting,” explains Ariela. “I am here to be a culture-builder, to renew and regenerate a healthy and holistic Jewish culture.”

Nur Katz brings eyes of love to every child in the school," explains Ruth Petersen Shorer, director of Early Childhood Education at the JCC East Bay Preschool, where Nur is the lead teacher of the Kitat Alon program for 3-year-olds. "Whether they have challenges that make it hard to enter into play, sit during circle, focus on an art project, Nur will meet them where they are and help them along their path.”

Nur aims to instill a kind and caring culture in her classroom. “Around Rosh Hashanah, I opened a pomegranate (rimon) in front of the children, showing the beautiful seeds. I gave the children some to taste, and told them the rimon is like a treasure box in which ruby-like seeds are hiding. Like the rimon, we too are a treasure box filled with caring and helpful acts. Pulling one seed after another out of the rimon, I related them to specific caring, helpful acts I saw the children doing. We made a poster board pomegranate and whenever we noticed a caring/helpful behavior, glued a paper seed onto it." The children were very proud and loved the positive attention, she reports. The lesson resulted in the children not only recognizing when they and others were helpful, but also in their initiating helpful behavior.

One project in particular to Shorer exemplifies Nur's qualities as a teacher. After getting frog eggs from the creek (with permission from the city), Nur asks parents not to tell the children what they are or what will happen. The school nurtures the eggs and the children watch with wonder the metamorphosis from egg to frog. Then, as a class, the children return them to the creek. Like the frog eggs, says Shorer, "Nur watches and nurtures each little one in her class, with wonder and awe as they grow.”

For over 20 years, Judy Massarano has been sharing her passion and inspiration for Jewish education with fortunate young people in the Bay Area. After many years teaching at Oakland Hebrew Day School, she shifted her focus to becoming a lead educator at Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley. One highlight in her role as a congregational educator is mentoring bar and bat mitzvah students, helping them learn synagogue skills.

Molly Shapiro, director of Youth and Community Connection at the synagogue, notes what a calm and warm-hearted person Judy is, always providing engaging lessons based off of her assessments of student needs and abilities, and making her classroom a safe place that is open and welcoming.  “Judy lives and breathes Jewish values," says Shapiro.  "I have never met a woman so dedicated to living a Jewish life and teaching it as well.”

Judy is also celebrated in the community for her work with Mincha Munchies, a Shabbat afternoon learning group in her home for pre-teens, which she founded 13 years ago. “Three years ago she began running this group through Kevah," explains Sara Bamberger, executive director and founder of Kevah,  "and the program has continued to thrive, now attracting a sold-out crowd of day school, public school, and home schooled children.”

Passionate about teaching, Judy enjoys "seeing students who are otherwise quiet come alive when given the chance to perform dramatic renditions of Torah tales. I love the students who think that anything we cook tastes wonderful…. I love that a young girl now feels at ease in the sanctuary, proudly helping dress the Torah at her sister’s bat mitzvah because of times we spent there in Ketzev!”

“Judy’s commitment to excellence in Jewish education and her dedication to teaching," adds Bamberger, "radiate through her personal and intimate involvement with the texts and cantillation tropes she teaches, as well as her genuine interest in each student and his or her struggles and joys.”

For more information about the Helen Diller Family Awards for Excellence in Jewish Education, please contact Galya Segal or call 415.512.6242.

Categories: Endowment, Community


May 21, 2015