Jody Hirsh, the director of Judaic Education at the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has been chosen to receive the Morton L. Mandel Jewish Educational Leadership Award for his lifelong commitment to Jewish education. The Mandel Award is presented by JCC Association, the leadership network of the JCC Movement, and will be awarded at the JCCs of North America Biennial Convention in San Diego on Sunday, March 30, 2014.
Prior to joining the Samson JCC in 1999, Hirsh taught Jewish studies at the University of California (both the Berkeley and Los Angeles campuses), Mills College, and the University of San Francisco as well as the Los Angeles University of Judaism and Hebrew Union College. In the fall of 1990 through the winter of 1992, he was a Jerusalem Fellow, concentrating on museum education at the Israel Museum and the Citadel Museum, with post-graduate work at the Hebrew University. For three years, he served as programme director of the Hong Kong Jewish Community Centre. Hirsh was honored with the 2005 Covenant Award for Outstanding Jewish Educator.
“Jody’s breadth and depth of knowledge, his creative imagination, and his interest in the learning process make him the ‘Gold Standard’ for JCC Jewish educators. I’m always learning from him; Jody is a JCC Movement treasure,” said David Ackerman, director of JCC Association’s Mandel Center for Jewish Education and staff coordinator for the Mandel Award.
The Mandel Award is given biennially to an individual or an institution that has made a singular contribution to the enhancement of Jewish education in Jewish Community Centers and JCC camps. Morton L. Mandel, JCC Association honorary chair, was the first to receive the award in 1998, in recognition of his efforts to strengthen Jewish education in JCCs throughout North America. In 1981, Mandel chaired the Commission on Maximizing Jewish Educational Effectiveness of JCCs (COMJEE). His leadership helped spur JCCs to strengthen their capacities to deliver effective Jewish educational services. The Award was re-named in his honor in 2000.
In addition to his claim to fame as the world’s only speaker of “Judaeo Cantonese,” Hirsh is an OBIE Award winning playwright who has had productions all over the world. His plays include the award winning Seeing Double, written with the San Francisco Mime Troupe; The Great King Herod Murder Mystery, Israel’s longest running play; The Long Seder, first produced in Houston, Texas, in 1996; and The Case for Matthew Nathan, performed in Hong Kong as part of the Handover festivities in June 1997. Among his publications is the award winning book and holiday guide, Tastes of Jewish Tradition.
In 2010, the Harry & Rose Samson Family JCC was the recipient of a generous grant from the Covenant Foundation for a Jewish Artists’ Laboratory of the Upper Midwest, created by Hirsh. It was a unique idea: three Jewish communities, Milwaukee, Madison and Minneapolis, would create an ongoing artists’ lab that would study together on a common theme and would produce works of art related to it. In 2011, the first of the labs was created in Milwaukee and was the model for the parallel labs, which emerged in 2012 in Madison at Hillel, the Jewish Student Center at UW Madison, and Minneapolis at the Sabes JCC. In April 2013, the first regional artists’ retreat in Madison was held and gave the artists from different cities and in different media a chance to meet, brainstorm, and share their work. The Laboratory has fostered community, supported the participants as artists, created new works, and exposed the public to the power of art within a Jewish context. The Milwaukee Jewish Artists’ Laboratory was the recipient of the 2012 JCC Association Zahav Award for Excellence in Jewish Impact.
“My primary goals are helping adult Jews ﬁnd meaning and strengthening Jewish identity,” Hirsch said. “I feel that JCCs are the major place where Jewish education happens in a truly pluralistic setting. “