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  • 21 Dec 2020 by Tricia Ginis

    It’s the story behind the story...

    I had the privilege of participating in the National Association of Temple Administrators (NATA) annual conference in December. The schedule was filled with amazing speakers, breakout sessions, social gatherings, and opportunities to connect in small groups or one-on-one. To be honest, I was worried about the amount of time I’d be on Zoom over a period of 4 days. Fortunately, I did not let that concern keep me from attending a workshop that has stuck with me.

    Abby Fifer-Mandell, the Executive Director of the Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab at USC Marshall School of Business, lead a 3-part session on Human Centered Design, which I have to say was amazing. At the core of human centered design is relationship building and listening, extreme empathy and learning from the act of listening. And by listening, I mean really listening, paying attention to what is said AND what is not said and focusing on the why behind it.

    As I watched and listened to Abby share information on how congregations can think about applying human centered design, I was also aware of how she navigated leading a webinar, responding to the chat, and keeping her audience engaged while also juggling a young son who very much wanted her attention. She was dealing with the same factors that most of us are encountering during this pandemic – the blurred lines between our professional and personal lives. She had to navigate her own space, privacy and family, all while on Zoom!

    This pandemic has made us all pivot, change, and adapt, and we are all doing the best that we can with what we have. Perhaps using human centered design, which places the user and extreme empathy at its core, is exactly what we all need right now.  And this empathy should extend past our professional lives and into our personal lives, and past what we can see to what is going on “behind the screen,” literally and figuratively.

    Let’s make extreme empathy a priority. Let’s make it a part of how we interact with one another. Let’s take a look at the story behind the story. Let’s commit to looking past the surface so we can appreciate and truly understand where people are coming from. Let’s remember to consider not only what we see on the Zoom screen, but also what we don’t see in the rest of the room.




  • 21 Dec 2020 by Fern Katz

    Dear Friends,

    In 2012, when I began as Director of Early Childhood Education at a URJ congregation, I had never heard of Early Childhood Educators of Reform Judaism. I had been a director at a JCC and knew JCCA, a director at a University and knew NAEYC and Head Start, and I had taught religious school at both Reform and Conservative Congregations and was very familiar with the National Association of Temple Educators (now Association of Reform Jewish Educators – ARJE), the URJ, USCJ, and CCAR. Nevertheless, I did not know that there was such a thing as ECE-RJ.

    I had not been on the job long when I received a phone call from Cathy Rolland. (I imagine right now there are ECE-RJ members around the country saying, “I did too!”).  I do not remember much of the conversation except for thinking “What is ECE-RJ? Who is this person? How did she know about me? and, “When can I meet her because she sounds amazing?” Cathy convinced a very skeptical me to join ECE-RJ and register for the next conference. I signed up, not knowing what I was getting myself into, yet knowing I wanted to meet Cathy. I was not disappointed. Everyone at the Morristown conference knew Cathy and Cathy knew everyone. How could one person know so much about early childhood Jewish education in the Reform movement across North America? How is one person able to have such a positive impact, directly and indirectly, on so many educators, families, and young children?

    I quickly learned that Cathy, along with a few other directors of early childhood centers in Reform congregations, had created ECE-RJ as a way to bring together early education professionals to collaborate in new ways in the field of early childhood Jewish education. Cathy and her cohort designed an organization in which early childhood Jewish education as a profession would be recognized and elevated. An organization where ideas could be shared, support would be provided, important issues could be discussed, and high-quality professional development would be offered. We, ECE-RJ, are Cathy’s baby.

    A very fast eight and half years later, Cathy has continued to have an incredible impact on me, on ECE-RJ, on our members, and the centers, congregations, and schools in which we work. This, in turn, affects our educators, children, and families, and the future of early childhood Jewish education and Jewish life. Each family and each child that walks through our programs leaves with a little bit of Cathy in them. Cathy has pushed me, guided me, co-constructed with me, taught me, laughed with me, and cried with me. She has become a dear friend.

    The URJ, in their good sense, has moved Cathy to a new position (Senior Director, Emerging Networks/Families with Young Children) where her reach will be even broader and her influence will go beyond ECE-RJ and families with young children. Cathy has done an amazing job raising her baby, ECE-RJ, and we will continue to grow with our new liaison, Rachel Margolis (more on Rachel in January). However, I am not letting Cathy off the hook so easily. She is still my friend and teacher, and a friend and teacher to all of ECE-RJ. And I have her phone number!

    On behalf of all of ECE-RJ, I want to thank Cathy Rolland for all that she has done for us and for early childhood Jewish education. Cathy, your work has been immeasurable. Hazak hazak v’nitchazek, be strong, be strong and we will be strengthened.



    • See 2 more comments...
    • Edye Disner I remember welcoming you, Fern, to our newcomers' breakfast and saying - we have to get her involved, she's amazing! Cathy Rolland is one of a kind - a true professional who makes dear friends... see more I remember welcoming you, Fern, to our newcomers' breakfast and saying - we have to get her involved, she's amazing! Cathy Rolland is one of a kind - a true professional who makes dear friends across the nation. We are a fortunate bunch!
      3 years ago
    • Dale Cooperman like you fern, i am part of ece-rj because of Cathy,. How fortunate i feel to have basked in the glow of her leadership and friendship for the past 12 years! Cathy's ability to mentor so many of... see more like you fern, i am part of ece-rj because of Cathy,. How fortunate i feel to have basked in the glow of her leadership and friendship for the past 12 years! Cathy's ability to mentor so many of us has led to a strong early childhood "arm" of URJ, and her continued support of early childhood will continue to strengthen all of us. may you go from strength to strength, dear cathy!
      3 years ago
    • Jennie Rubin Cathy has been a trusted colleague, mentor and friend since I started in my position 16 years ago. Her vision and tenacity had lifted this organization and our field to incredible heights. Wishing... see more Cathy has been a trusted colleague, mentor and friend since I started in my position 16 years ago. Her vision and tenacity had lifted this organization and our field to incredible heights. Wishing you lots of love and luck as you blaze new pathways of engagement for a larger part of our community, Cathy! You are truly the best. xoxo
      3 years ago
  • 18 Nov 2020 by Fern Katz

    Dear Friends,

    I am writing this four days after the 2020 Presidential Election. After four days, or for some of us four years, of waiting, wondering and hoping who the next president would be, we have an answer. It has just been announced that Joe Biden is the President-Elect. The news shows have been talking about being a country divided and how Biden will need to bring us together. In Biden’s speeches he has spoken about healing and uniting, of being the president for all Americans. This is not going to be an easy task.

    In recent years we have seen some of our leaders behave in ways we would not allow in our classrooms. How did we get to a place where adults publicly humiliate others, deliberately hurt others because of the color of their skin or who they love? What are we going to do to create a world where all are treated equally and with respect?

    If President-Elect Biden and the leaders of our country (or any country) want to learn how to do this all they have to do is spend some time in our centers and classrooms. Every day early childhood Jewish educators guide children to learn to listen to each other, to look at things from other viewpoints, to respect each other’s thoughts and ideas and to express themselves in a clear and kind manner. Every day we listen to every child because we believe every child and their thoughts and ideas should be cherished.

    President-Elect Biden and Vice President Elect Harris cannot heal and unite the country on their own. They will need our help.

    Teaching children to advocate for themselves and others; teaching about diversity, equity, and inclusion; teaching that taking care of each other-even those we have not met; being kind, caring, and compassionate; helping those who need a hand or a meal or a safe place; these are Jewish values we can instill in our young children and their families. We can work together and we will make this world a better place. A better place today, tomorrow, and far into the future.

    I am hopeful. I am confident. ECE-RJ, we’ve got this.  



  • 18 Nov 2020 by Tricia Ginis

    For the first time ever, a member of ECE-RJ participated in a Reform Pension Board (RPB) meeting. Jill Cimafonte, Director of Early Childhood Education at Temple Emanu-El in Westfield, NJ attended the October session.

    The RPB provides services to eligible employees of reform movement congregations and professional organizations.  As one of the reform movement’s cornerstone institutions, RPB works to enhance the financial security of our professionals and help you plan for and achieve the lifestyle you want throughout your lives.  

    RPB benefits have recently been expanded to include not only ECE-RJ director and assistant members, but also ECE-RJ teacher members who work a minimum of 25 hours per week.  

    Here are Jill’s thoughts after attending:

    I was graciously welcomed to the quarterly RPB Board meeting in October, and I very proudly represented ECE-RJ with our own “seat” on the board.  

    While it was a bit intimidating, it was also reassuring to learn that there are many participants (just like me!) who have very little understanding of how investing with RPB works and what we should be doing to maximize the benefits of participating in RPB.

    The RPB is in the process of developing a simplified educational component for those of us that need help. Their website has resources that you may find helpful

    I will keep you informed as more educational information and resources become available.

    If you are an ECE-RJ member and would like more information about participating in RPB, please feel free to contact me.


  • 26 Oct 2020 by Fern Katz

    Dear Friends,

    We are being heard and we are having an impact!

    ECE-RJ members are making a difference.  Lisa Samick, First Vice President of ECE-RJ, and I were honored to participate in the planning and implementation of the URJ webinar “Navigating the Unknown: How Congregations with Early Childhood Centers Must Collaborate for a Sustainable Future.” 

    The webinar was attended by about 400 lay and professional leaders that included senior rabbis, executive directors, board presidents, and many of our ECE-RJ Director members.

     If you participated, I hope you will agree with me that it was meaningful and just might make a difference for some of our centers and for our field.

    In small groups and with guests from across the Reform movement, many challenges of early childhood Jewish education were discussed including budget impact, the additional requirements of operating an in-person center in the midst of a global pandemic, and the time and emotional strain we and our teachers face every single day. It was a thought provoking 90 minutes, very well spent.

    The highlights for me were when Rabbi Rick Jacobs spoke about our centers and programs as the “beating heart” of the congregation and Rabbi David Stern, immediate past president of CCAR, spoke about how we are all responsible for “all of it,” meaning all leadership is responsible for the budget and the needs and value of early childhood Jewish education.

     The outcome of the webinar was the creation of an accelerated network supported and facilitated by the URJ. It is my hope that many ECE-RJ members and their congregational leadership teams will participate in this network and work together towards finding solutions for shared problems and concerns related to the current challenges facing our field.

    I really believe we were heard, and our work is valued. Become involved in ECE-RJ and help us keep it going!


  • 26 Oct 2020 by Tricia Ginis

    It is easy to take something you have done repeatedly for granted. For example, planning a staff meeting, providing professional development opportunities for teachers, or connecting families with congregational leadership. It does not take much each time you do it. Maybe a few tweaks here or there, but that is it. We almost never reinvent the wheel when it comes to such tasks.

    This year is different. Every interaction, every activity, every step along the way has been uncharted territory. We are reinventing everything from welcoming families into the temple community to coordinating drop-off and pick-up.  The way directors have had to work to engage and connect their staff in a virtual world, and how teachers have adapted to a new normal either in the classroom or in a virtual learning situation, is incredible.

    There are no blueprints or instructions to refer to when needed. We are relying on each other to share what works and what doesn’t. ECE-RJ continues to play a vital role in figuring it all out.

    We have worked to provide resources and support for members through:

    • Publishing a monthly newsletter chock-full of ideas and information. 
    • Producing the annual conference
    • Holding bi-weekly virtual professional development opportunities for teachers and directors, featuring the top experts in related fields
    • Engaging in advocacy efforts to raise the pay and benefits of people in our field
    • Providing online forums to network, share information, and ideas
    • Providing consultative services for congregations going through a leadership staffing search and those needing guidance and support with their early childhood center. This includes re-evaluating a program, staffing, curriculum, COVID-19 processes & procedures.
    • Hosting a national job board

    ECE-RJ continues to be committed to building vibrant, contemporary, and inclusive educational communities whether we are in a pandemic or not. Our membership works to bring people together in our institutions and to ensure the radiant and sustainable future of Jewish Early Childhood Education. Please feel free to reach out for more information about what ECE-RJ has to offer and let us know how we can support the early childhood professionals in your congregation.

  • 29 Sep 2020 by Tricia Ginis

    ECE-RJ Now Has A Seat ON RPB Board

    I am pleased to announce that for the first time, ECE-RJ has a seat on the Reform Pension Board (RPB), the  organization that provides clergy, professionals, educators, and other staff of Reform Movement congregations and other qualified organizations with retirement plans and programs. This includes all ECE-RJ members.

    After a thorough review of applications, a founding ECE-RJ member, Jill Cimafonte of Temple Emanu-El in Westfield, New Jersey will represent us on the Board. Jill will serve a two-and-a-half-year term.  

    I want to thank Marc Newman. He has served as the ex officio member of ECE-RJ, serving as the liaison between our organization and RPB.  Marc has spent many years advocating and representing our organization and has brought early childhood professionals into the conversation. Marc’s dedication and volunteerism have helped our organization grow tremendously. He most recently helped in getting ECE-RJ teachers access to RFB services. In the past, only directors and assistant directors could participate.


    Thank you Marc for all your hard work. 

    • April Schafer Thank you Jill for filling this role! What an honor to be on the board and helping us move into the future for all early childhood Jewish educators!
      3 years ago
    • Edye Disner absolutely FANTASTIC! Thank you Marc for YEARS of efforts to accomplish this! and Thank You Jill for taking this position.
      3 years ago
    • Jill Cimafonte It is a privilege and an honor to fill the seat! I look forward to representing our amazing organization!
      3 years ago
  • 29 Sep 2020 by Fern Katz

    Watch Out 5781, As Early Childhood Educators, We Can Do Anything

    Dear Friends,

     One year ago at this time, we were in the midst of the 5780 High Holy Days. My early childhood education center was ready for Rosh Hashanah, and my house and life were almost ready. The biggest unknown was how many people were actually going to show up for dinner—you never know with my family.

    Home and work were filled with people, apples, challah, honey, and shofars. We sang songs, prayed, ate, and celebrated. It seemed that every day there was at least one communal experience to be shared with family and friends. Both work and home were joyous and fun.

     As I write this we are about to begin 5781 and it is nothing like 5780.  This year there are many unknowns. I don’t know if our classes will continue on-site or if we will return to online learning. I don’t know if everything we are doing to keep the center healthy and safe will be enough. I don’t know if I will feel like an observer or a participant at virtual services. And I absolutely do not know how to cook a holiday meal for less than 20.  

     We are preparing and celebrating much differently than other years. Many of us are not having school-wide celebrations and are not attending services in a sanctuary with a community. Some of us will not hear the shofar blasts in person, and if we do it might be from sitting in a car. Could you ever have imagined a “drive-by shofar blowing?” 

     What I do know, have always known but really came to light in 5780, is that early childhood educators can do anything. We create amazing experiences with toilet paper tubes and masking tape, spur imagination with a mere facial expression, and inspire exploration with a bucket of water and a slotted spoon. And we build and maintain relationships and community no matter where we are.

     To my ECE-RJ community, I wish you a year of more knowns than unknowns and a healthy and happy 5781.

    • April Schafer Thank you for leading us through this crazy time queen superhero! Love you and wishing you a happy and healthy 5781!
      3 years ago
  • 21 Aug 2020 by Tricia Ginis

     ECE-RJ’s Work During the COVID Crisis, Working with Members on Dues, and Pension Benefits for Teachers

    Our world has been turned upside down and inside out over the past few months. We have been agile, pivoting, and adjusting at every turn. I’ve spent a lot of time listening and talking with congregations and directors about a variety of topics including re-opening of schools, staffing changes, furloughs, and the general strain Covid-19 has put on the congregations and the early childhood centers.

    The weight of these topics has been overwhelming. ECE-RJ is working to support the congregations, directors, assistant directors, and teachers in a variety of ways. The organization spent the summer working on three main areas of focus: membership accessibility, pension access for teachers, and professional development. We will continue to listen to our members and help to facilitate topics that resonate as we move through this pivotal time.

    Working with current and new members on dues
    ECE-RJ is committed, without risking the sustainability of the organization, to do everything we can to allow members to join or renew. The first round of dues adjustments is completed. The second round of applications will be reviewed by mid-September. Please use this link to apply for round 2 of the 2020-2021 dues adjustment.

    Now, Pension Benefits For Teachers
    We are pleased to announce that not only do Early Childhood Directors and Assistant Directors, who are members of ECE-RJ, have the benefit of utilizing The Reform Pension Board when working at a Reform Congregation, but Teacher members now have the benefit as well. Please look at this document to see if you and your staff qualify.

  • 21 Aug 2020 by Fern Katz

    Time For Personal Reflection

    While Early Childhood Educators around the country are gearing up for a new school year, the month of Elul, in which we gear up for the New Year, is upon us. Directors, teachers, and consultants are giving enormous time and thought to develop policies that are warm and welcoming, and yet safe and sanitized. I believe we are all thinking about our coworkers, the children, their families, and the staff at our congregations and organizations. It is a heavy load to carry, the health, safety, and comfort of others.  And, we are probably not thinking about our own health and comfort. We aren’t supposed to be thinking about ourselves, right? Well, Elul tells us differently.

    Elul is a month when it is suggested we set aside time to think about our lives over the past year. It is a time for personal reflection.  To me, it feels like most of the past year was consumed by the pandemic. And it was. But now I am asking myself, who was I during the whole year?

    If you are like me, you have spent a lot of time thinking about others, planning for others, taking care of others, and little time on yourself. Reflection is hard. Finding a few minutes during the day is hard. But I am willing to give it a try.

    As Elul approaches, I will begin to set aside a few minutes a day to reflect on what has happened over the year and who I was.  Was I kind (at least most of the time)? Was I considerate? Did I help others? Was I the person I wanted to be? I find self-reflection very difficult and I know I will come up short, very short. And I know I would be a better person if I put in a little time and energy to work on myself, even if it is just for 5 minutes a day.

    Elul begins (began) August 21. Who is with me?

  • 30 Jul 2020 by Fern Katz

    A few months ago, as we began to learn more about COVID-19, and many of us began to shelter in place, it felt to some like the world stopped. When in fact, it kept spinning.

    As educators, professional, and lay leaders—who are committed to early childhood Jewish education—we had to find new ways to connect with our children, their families, and each other. And boy, did we!

    We saw creative and innovative remote classes, drive-bys and Face-Time get-togethers, resources and curricula-in-a-box, and much more. As a professional community, we shared, supported each other, and gave each other a shoulder to lean on. Not surprisingly, ECE-RJ members came through for one another.

    As the world spun into June, the new ECE-RJ Board members met (on Zoom) for the annual summer board meeting. As we began to think about and plan, we focused on how we might support our members in this rapidly changing world. After much discussion, we identified two organizational priorities for the coming year: Adaptive leadership and Nurturing our membership through compassion.

    On behalf of the ECE-RJ Board, I wish you a smooth transition into whatever the next few months brings your way. Be it in-place, remote, or hybrid learning; new rules and regulations; fears and confidence, Your ECE-RJ colleagues are here for you.

    The Director/Assistant Director and Teacher forums on the ECE-RJ website are available 24 hours a day to ask questions and let us know what works for you. If we have learned anything over the past few months, it is that our relationships are deep, no matter the physical distance. By helping each other, we all become stronger.


    Good luck, and wear your mask!

    Fern Katz
     ECE-RJ President

  • 26 Feb 2020 by Tricia Ginis

    We are at an interesting time when current societal and religious trends offer our Jewish communities across North America urgent and unprecedented opportunities to reimagine their way into the future.

    As leaders in the Families with Young Children and early childhood education space, we look forward to engaging in conversations and exploring what these five key shifts and other trends mean for the future of our communities.


  • 26 Feb 2020 by Lori Kowit

    Valentine’s Day in a Jewish Setting

    As the Director of Early Childhood Education for a Reform Synagogue, I struggle every year with the question I receive from families asking if we celebrate Valentine’s Day at school. As I sit down to write my monthly article for Unite, I start searching on the internet. This year, I polled the ECE-RJ Directors on our Forums, and I spoke to a few Reform Jewish Professionals.

    The overwhelming information that I learned is that, while parents and Jewish educational professionals may not be thrilled about the notion of celebrating St. Valentine’s Day in a Jewish setting, there may not be the same concerns about it as there used to be. 

    My personal opinion is that in 2020, Valentine’s Day does not have the same religious or pagan connections that it did at its origin. I also feel because it is now more of an “American Holiday/Secular Tradition,” we can always connect Jewish values and focus on love/acceptance.

    There is always a way to find the Jewish value in everything. Valentine’s Day is a fun way to show someone that you are thinking of them; it could be a wonderful way to enhance the home-school connecting by infusing Jewish values in something that our children may celebrate with their families.

    And, since we are talking about holidays…, did you know that Tu’ B'av was a holiday devoted to singles and love? In earlier times, the young single women would go out to the fields dressed in white. Each woman would wear a borrowed dress. Borrowing a dress would ensure that those who were not able to afford a dress of their own would not be shamed. The men would come down to the fields and pick a bride. Tu B'av is known to be a great day for weddings, similar to the tradition of Valentine's Day.

    So next year, along with doing the traditional secular giving of Valentine's day cards on February 14, also do something about love on Tu' B'av.


  • 29 Jan 2020 by Tricia Ginis

    Opportunity for Congregations to Work Collaboratively With ECE Centers


    ECE-RJ is pleased to partner with the URJ on the first cohort of the Project Excellence for Early Childhood Congregational Education (PEECCE). The Project provides an opportunity for congregations to work collaboratively with their early childhood centers as they strive to vision and move forward in a thoughtful manner.

    We live in times of constant change. Congregations and their early childhood education centers (ECECs) that are striving towards excellence need to intentionally examine their work based on 21st-century measures of success.

    To address this need, the URJ and ECE-RJ are offering congregations with ECECs the opportunity to participate in Project Excellence for Early Childhood Congregational Education (PEECCE).

    Through this project, participants engage in a self-reflection process of their congregation and ECEC using a customizable tool and guided by a URJ-trained coach. Topics for self-reflection include family satisfaction and retention, marketing, seamless integration of Judaism, and partnerships throughout the congregational community.

    Together, congregational leadership teams and their coaches discover how the congregation and ECEC function in relation to these topics, identify and prioritize areas for growth, and create an action plan to move their community forward. 

    In light of the enthusiastic interest in this project, the application deadline has been extended to February 17, 2020.   Click here for more information.

  • 27 Jan 2020 by Lori Kowit

    Dear Friends,

    I cannot believe that it is the Year 2020! I hope that everyone had a wonderful and bright Hanukkah and New Year’s.

    Biennial was incredible this year with its huge focus on Early Childhood Education and Engagement! In addition to several outstanding learning tracks, lead by our colleagues and thought partners, there were two groundbreaking experiences for early childhood and engagement professionals and the leaders who support them.

    On Wednesday, December 11th, there was a Symposium hosted in partnership with URJ, HUC-JIR, ARJE, and ECE-RJ, and it was available for anyone serving in roles that intersect with education and engagement.  The Symposium’s Keynote Conversation, “Striving Toward Creativity and Collaboration: New Ideas in Jewish Education and Engagement,” led by Lisa Langer, RJE and Miriam Heller Stern, PhD, RJE, was truly incredible. After the Keynote, participants broke up into smaller groups to discuss the topic:“How might Jewish education and engagement be a catalyst for a more whole, just and compassionate world?” These smaller discussions focused on the WHY, the WHO and the WHAT of Jewish education. 


    On Thursday, December 12th, URJ hosted an invitation-only Summit, “Sparking Jewish Engagement Summit: Mapping an Extraordinary Jewish Future". This program brought together funders, researchers, thought leaders, and practitioners to explore critical and timely issues in early childhood education and family engagement.  One of the main topics addressed was the low wages for early childhood and engagement professionals; “Leadership pointed out, this is not just an issue of educational quality and the Jewish future; it is an issue of justice and righteousness, and valuing the people we need the most (Dr. Miriam Heller-Stern.)”  Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President, Union for Reform Judaism and Doron Krakow, President and CEO of JCC Association of North America, launched a historic effort to advance the field of early childhood education and family engagement. The Summit ended with Rabbi Jacobs and Doron Krakow raising their arms together, which was a true sign of “Hineni”, a partnership that will change the future for our field.

    These two groundbreaking events would not have been possible without the vision and hard work of Cathy M. Rolland, RJE, Director of Emerging Networks/Families with Young Children Strengthening Congregations, Cathy’s team, and the amazing collaborative partnership she has with Mark Horowitz, Vice President, Director, Sheva Center for Innovation in Early Childhood Jewish Education & Engagement.