Announcing the Winner of the 2017 Grinspoon Award for Excellence in Jewish Education

Yael Raff Peskin

We are pleased to announce that this year’s Bay Area winner of the Grinspoon Award for Excellence in Jewish Education is Yael Raff Peskin. The Grinspoon Award recognizes innovation in Jewish education, something that Yael demonstrates on a daily basis. In 2012, she opened an early childhood care program called KULANU (Hebrew for “all of us”) in Sebastopol, fulfilling her dream of creating a community of Jewish children and families sharing the rhythms of the Hebrew calendar and Jewish festivals in a natural setting. In addition to creating a quality early childhood education program, Yael wanted to offer her home as a safe place where young children could blossom and thrive and where their parents could feel supported and inspired on their parenting journey.

KULANU is based on the principles of Waldorf education, and the children learn through play, tend the organic garden and animals, and, of course, spend time outside in Sebastopol’s beautiful natural surroundings. Basic mindfulness practices are also part of the everyday experience at KULANU, and Yael leads the children on silent walking meditation during their daily nature walks and silent eating meditation during lunch time. All of the Jewish festivals are celebrated outside and deeply rooted in earth-based practices.

In place of a traditional curriculum, Yael teaches by example, showing the children how to be caring and inspired by the things around them. Judaism enters the classroom through stories, songs, prayers, and Hebrew blessings on a daily basis. The families that are a part of KULANU run the gamut in their connection to Judaism, ranging from families where both parents are rabbis to families with no connection to any structured Jewish community. Yael meets each family where they are, providing each child and family with a tailored Jewish experience.

Yael strives to creates a “growing community” of children and families that stay connected over time through continued involvement in KULANU-related activities. Yael’s commitment to Jewish education goes beyond the classroom; she also hosts regular gatherings for parents, covering subjects such as Jewish traditions, Jewish festival celebrations, and Waldorf education. Monthly Shabbat potluck dinners are also a part of the school community tradition, welcoming past, current, and future KULANU families.

"Being in a community is an integral part of my teaching, and it is at the heart of spiritual practice not only in Judaism, but in Zen Buddhism and Waldorf education as well. Connecting with nature, living simply and close to the earth, bringing beauty into the home and into all aspects of life, infusing a feeling of the sacred into the ordinary, working for justice and peace, and respecting all peoples – all of these are of uppermost importance in all three traditions and in my own life. Exploring ways that Zen mindfulness practice and Waldorf education can inform my own connection with Jewish spiritual observance enhances my experience of passing on the richness of Jewish tradition l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation." – Yael Raff Peskin

Yael has been a Jewish educator for almost 20 years, working with Congregation Netivot Shalom, Wilderness Torah, and the Community School for Jewish Learning (a joint program of Congregation Ner Shalom and B'nai Israel Jewish Center) before opening KULANU.

About the Grinspoon Award for Excellence in Jewish Education

The Grinspoon Awards (formerly Grinspoon-Steinhardt Awards) have recognized over 700 outstanding educators in the U.S. and Canada in the past 15 years. Today, the award celebrates successful innovation in Jewish education. Regional awards are made to one recipient in each participating community, or more than one for larger communities by special arrangement.

Categories: Awards


June 26, 2017