Chicago Cohort 2 (2018-2019)

Chicago Cohort 2 started at Orientation in February 2018 (see Calendar page for more information).


Sarah Abbott

Early Childhood Assistant Director

Heller JCC



“I began working in Early Childhood Education in 2001 and have spent ten years working in Jewish early childhood education at the Heller JCC where I currently serve as assistant director.  One of the things I love most about my job is the opportunity to provide training, support, and professional development for an amazing group of educators. I became licensed as a specialized foster parent in 2016 and have since welcomed a beautiful eight-year-old boy with autism. I have found that my background in Jewish early childhood education has shaped the way I support and advocate for my son. Likewise, my experience as a parent has changed the way I view the role of educators, as well as my understanding of how we as a community can be more inclusive. I am honored to be included in JECELI, and I look forward to this opportunity to grow as a professional and an individual.”

Debbie Applebaum

On Site Director (Director of Early Childhood Education 7/2018)

BJE—Beth Hillel


“I am the onsite director at the Board of Jewish Education (BJE ECC) in Wilmette. BJE has four sites. As of July 2018 I will be the director of all of BJE. I have been with BJE for 18 years. I started out as a three year old teacher and moved into the role of onsite director. BJE ECC at Beth Hillel, Wilmette, is a full day center starting with children ages 15 months to Pre-K. I applied to JECELI because of my upcoming role as director. JECELI is a great way to learn about leadership in the Jewish preschools along with collaborating with peers and working together to better service the young Jewish families. I have been married for 28 years. I have a 24 year old son who played volleyball for Iowa and a 21 year old daughter who is studying construction engineering and management at Purdue. This semester my daughter is studying abroad in New Zealand. I have two puggles. I am looking forward to studying with the JECELI cohort for the next two years.”

Sarah Chupack

Teacher Leader

Paul S. and Sylvia Steinberg Preschool, North Suburban Synagogue Beth El


“I have been a teacher at The Paul and Sylvia Steinberg NSS Beth El Preschool for 6 years. I have taught 4-year-olds, am currently teaching 3-year-olds, and am the co-director of its summer camp. I was raised in Pittsburgh, PA, where our family attended a Reconstructionist congregation. I am married and have three children in high school. I want to participate in JECELI because it encompasses all the learning areas and because it will provide me with the skills to become a community leader. I look forward to in-depth discussions on Jewish texts. JECELI provides the opportunity to put into practice what is learned, celebrate successes and retry those concepts that did not work out as hoped. The program builds community by developing relationships and trust. As we study together, we grow together, and inspire and support each other.”

Heidi Cooper

Director of Early Childhood Education

Gan Shalom Early Childhood Education Program, Temple Sholom


“My current role at Gan Shalom/Temple Sholom is Director of Early Childhood Education. I applied to this program in order to make a difference as a leader in my community and in the world I live in. I am open to meeting new people and learning as much as I can so that I can bring back my teachings to my program and to share this wonderful experience with others.”

Marissa Gray


Michael R. Lutz Family Center—Wicker Park, JCYS


“I am the Director at JCYS (Jewish Council for Youth Services) Wicker Park. I am so excited to join this JECELI cohort! I applied to JECELI because I want to grow with other educators and directors in the hopes of being both professionally and personally fulfilled by the important work that I/we are doing. As a center director, I wear many hats. Although I’m sure this is not a comprehensive or detailed list, overall my role consists of supporting my staff and families, managing our center’s budget, overseeing staff scheduling and ensuring we are meeting (or exceeding!) DCFS requirements and ratios, and managing our center’s registration. Beyond that, my husband’s name is James and we live in Logan Square with our dog, Toby and our 9 month old, Nate.”

Sandy Hill

Teacher Leader

Ginsburg Early Childhood Center, Solomon Schechter Jewish Day School of Metropolitan Chicago


“I am a teacher in the 2-year-old program at Ginsberg Solomon Schechter ECC. Previously, I have taught at the JCC in Northbrook, B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim preschool, and at Glenview and Northbrook Park District preschools. I have a BA from Northeastern Illinois University in Elementary Education and an MA from National-Louis University in Early Childhood Education. I applied to JECELI because I want to be a strong leader and advocate for Jewish early childhood education.”

Stacy Jaffe

Teacher Leader

Beth Emet Early Childhood Program, Beth Emet The Free Synagogue


“Teaching young children in Jewish settings has always felt like home to me. But after almost 15 years as an early childhood educator I realized I was still searching to deepen my own Jewish identity and craved meaningful learning opportunities. That’s when a dear friend shared her experiences of JECELI with me. Her words spoke to my heart and spirit and awakened in me a longing for leadership and deeper Jewish learning within a supportive community. What a wonderful gift and opportunity to be accepted as a JECELI fellow! In addition to early childhood Jewish education, making meaningful connections, sharing the beauty and sacred I see in the world, building supportive communities and working for social justice are just a few of my passions that I hope will meld in ways I can’t yet imagine.”

Meghan Jensen

Teacher Leader

George W. Lutz Family Center–Highland Park, JCYS


“I am the full-day teacher of 2 year-olds at the JCYS George W. Lutz Family Center. I truly love my school, and am always pursuing ways to grow as a teacher for our families and students. I applied to JECELI to develop my leadership skills and to extend my knowledge of the Jewish faith. I hope to use that knowledge to create meaningful learning experiences, based on the morals and values of Judaism, throughout my center.

I live in Grayslake with my husband. I love to read and cook, and I especially love to volunteer for my favorite organization, Destination Imagination, in my spare time.”

Kathy Kaberon

Director of Young Family Programs

Beth Emet The Free Synagogue



“As the Director of Young Family Programs at Beth Emet Synagogue, I also lead the Early Childhood Program and am responsible for all aspects of synagogue programs for families with young children. JECELI will offer me the opportunity to strengthen the integration of Jewish early childhood best practices, and enjoy the benefits of collaborating with great early childhood education leaders.”

Cori Katz

Teacher Leader, Transition Teacher, and Co-Director of NSS Beth El Camp

Paul S. and Sylvia Steinberg Preschool, North Suburban Synagogue Beth El


“I have worked with a range of ages in early childhood education at North Suburban Beth El Synagogue for the past 10 years as a teacher and camp director. Prior to joining this field, I worked as a Special Education teacher in the public schools. From both of these experiences I have discovered that I truly love the role I have inspiring young children and their families. I know that I have a lot more to offer the Jewish community in the field of early education. I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to learn from my peers while participating in the JECELI program. I am looking forward to growing as a Jewish educator, leader, and individual.”

Aileen Landau

Early Childhood Director

West Suburban Temple Har Zion Preschool, West Suburban Temple Har Zion


“I have been working in the field of early childhood education for as long as I can remember. I have taught infants through Kindergarten and loved every age. I also worked in home visiting, supporting parents with children under 3. While I have worked in both Jewish and non-Jewish settings, I have always been most content teaching in a Jewish program. Infusing the curriculum with this essential part of my identity has become part of my dream job as a Director of Early Childhood at my own synagogue. I applied to JECELI because I am always looking for opportunities to learn and grow. I look forward to the chance to learn with and from other Jewish educators from around the country. When I am not at work, I enjoy spending time with my 3 children, my husband, and our cat.”

Breanna Movitz

Teacher Leader

Heller JCC



“I was born and raised in West Bloomfield, Michigan. I attended Wayne State University for a degree in education with a concentration in teaching children with cognitive impairments. I enjoy arts and crafts, have a passion for working with the special needs community and enjoy spending time with the people I love. I am currently a lead teacher in a three-year-old classroom at Heller JCC. I applied to JECELI to further my Jewish education and become a better educator.”

Amy Schaffer

Teacher Leader

Ginsburg Early Childhood Center, Solomon Schechter Jewish Day School of Metropolitan Chicago


“I am in my first year working as a preschool teacher at the Ginsburg Solomon Schechter Early Childhood center. Before coming to the Schechter school, I worked for the last five years at a private early childhood center in the Evanston area. I also teach part time at the Jewish Enrichment Center in Hyde Park, where I can be found each Sunday morning finger painting, challah baking and alef-bet stamping with a classroom full of 0-3-year-olds and their grownups.  I hold an undergraduate degree in costume design from Cornell University, and a masters in Early Childhood Education/ Special Education from University of Illinois at Chicago. I applied to the JECELI program in order to deepen my understanding of teaching in a Jewish setting. When I’m not teaching, I can be found baking, running, and playing with my pet parakeet, Kimchi.”

Rachel Sherman

Assistant Director of Early Childhood Education

Michael R. Lutz Family Center—Wicker Park, JCYS


“I am proud to be the Assistant Director of Early Childhood Education at JCYS Wicker Park.  I began working for JCYS in April of 2017 and continue to be excited every day to help shape the culture and pedagogy of this new family center.  I wanted to be a part of the JECELI Chicago cohort since first hearing about it a few years ago. I want to use the wisdom and knowledge I will gain being a part of this group and bring it back to our school, but also JCYS as a whole. When I am not completely focused on work I love to travel, do trivia with friends, see concerts, take a spin class, among other things.”  

Lakey Silber

Preschool Director

Seymour J. Abrams Cheder, Lubavitch Hebrew Day School


“I have been directing the preschool at Cheder Lubavitch Hebrew Day School in Skokie, Il, since 1999. Since 1983, I’ve taught children ages 3 through 6 years at Cheder Lubavitch, JCC Shalom Sunday Russian program, Chabad Sunday school in Highland Park and in Wilmette. I’ve been a lifelong learner and I’m excited to join JECELI to continue to grow in my field, learn from other early childhood educators, challenge myself and be inspired. I enjoy travelling with my husband, exercising at frumba (Zumba for women only!) and playing with my adorable grandchildren.”

Judy Slivnick

Teacher Leader

Moriah ECC, Moriah Congregation



“As an educator at Moriah ECC, I work in a classroom with 4- and 5-year-old children. I love working with this age, and watching them develop the life skills they need before moving on and starting kindergarten programs. At Moriah, there are three classrooms in this age group. I organize and lead teacher team meetings, field trips, share information, and maintain communication within the team. I represent our team at whole school meetings, involving other team and learning group leaders. I am excited to be a part of JECELI and am looking forward to the opportunity to grow as a leader and Jewish early childhood educator. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to meet and connect with other educators, deepen my Judaic knowledge and be a part of a cohort that is passionate about Jewish early childhood education.”

Anna Volchek

Teacher Leader

Jacob Duman Early Childhood Center, Lake County JCC


“I was born and lived in Ukraine for 20 years. There I began to study Hebrew. Later on, my husband and I moved to Israel, where we lived for 8 years, before settling down in Illinois. I’m an early childhood teacher at the JCC and have 15 years of experience in early childhood education. I have also been teaching at two local religious schools for the past 6 years. I’m fluent in Russian, Ukrainian, English, and Hebrew, and passionate about education in Jewish values and culture. I’m excited to make the most of my time in the JECELI program and apply and share with my community what I learn. ”

Liz Walanka

3 Year old teacher/camp coordinator

George W. Lutz Family Center—Highland Park, JCYS

Moriah ECC, Moriah Congregation

“I am so excited to be a part of the JECELI program. I love to teach young children, and was driven to make it my career early on in life. I have a Bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, and a Masters degree in Curriculum and Instruction, specializing in early childhood education. I teach in the full day 3-year-old classroom at the Lutz Family Center in Highland Park. I applied to JECELI because I wanted to challenge myself as a professional. I want to learn new ideas and diverse viewpoints that I can incorporate into my classroom.”

Sarah Weintraub

Teacher Leader

Sinai Preschool, Chicago Sinai Congregation



“I am a lead preschool teacher for two- and three-year-olds as well in s a Together with Tots program. I applied to the JECELI program because I want to learn more about how to take on leadership roles within my career.”

Rachel Zien

Assistant Director

Moriah ECC, Moriah Congregation



“As an Assistant Director, I plan, organize, and supervise the summer camp program, Camp Shemesh. During the school year, I create meaningful family events for the entire school community, lead a Life Long Learning group for teachers, as well as leading the New Teacher meetings for our new faculty. As a classroom teacher, I enjoy working with students and their parents to find the extraordinary in ordinary moments, and inspire children to live Jewishly and love nature. To me, being a leader means taking on new challenges and pursuing new opportunities to learn and be inspired in the field I am so passionate about. I hope to take the lessons I learn through the work of JECELI and bring them back to my colleagues at Moriah ECC. Inspiring children to live and love being Jewish is the legacy I hope to pass on to the next generation of Jewish early childhood educators, and I know this fellowship will give me the tools to do that. My husband Daniel and I live in Wilmette with our two children.”