Chicago Cohort 1 (2016-2017)

Chicago Cohort 1 started at Orientation in February 2016 (see Calendar page for more information).

Jody Benishay

Early Childhood Coordinator

Bernard Horwich JCC



“I was drawn to Jewish Early Childhood education when I first started looking into preschool programs for my own children.  I felt the best fit for my family would be in a Jewish program. Through the years, as my children learned in Jewish preschool and day school, I enjoyed learning with them about the different facets of Judaism. I began teaching young children in a variety of venues, and Early Childhood education became my profession. During JECELI I look forward to learning together with a cohort of peers and sharing our knowledge as educators.”

Zahava Berman

Assistant Director of Early Childhood

Bernard Weinger JCC



“I believe that the foundations of who we become are laid out for us in our early childhood years. The community it creates and its support systems are amazing. I think it is extremely important to instill a connection to Judaism at a young age. The Chicago Jewish Community was there for me when my family truly needed it and I intend to give back through service and helping to develop our future Jewish Community. Through JECELI, I hope to learn techniques to guide young children on their Jewish journey. I also hope to gain the ability to use new and innovated ways to incorporate a Jewish lens in each lesson and activity we put in place in our classrooms.”

Shari Cohen


Moriah E.C. Center



“Joining the education field, I could not see myself in any other setting but a Jewish one. Sharing my passion for Judaic learning and Jewish identity building, where else could I do that? I am excited to hear and share different and new education possibilities that I can bring back to my center. Being together with other Jewish educators in a learning environment will be exciting.”

Allison Crain


B’nai Joshua Beth Elohim, Early Childhood Program at the Chava Center


“I was drawn to Jewish Education because I believe that faith-based education is essential to set children up to be grounded, resilient individuals throughout their lives. From what I have observed over the course of my fifteen years in the field in the North Shore area, Jewish Early Childhood programs consistently outshine their competitors when it comes to quality and best practices in Early Childhood Education. Through JECELI, I hope to continue to hone my leadership qualities. I hope to spend time in personal reflection as I assess my teaching practice. I look forward to making friends and having a positive, transforming experience.”

Susie Holleb-Fisher


Jewish Early Childhood Education



“When I think about why I was drawn to Jewish early childhood education, I have to think back to when I could first bring Jewish values and traditions into the lives of children at the JCC. I am still learning and positioning this learning into my life today. During my JECELI experience, I hope to discover many exciting things that I want to know. Also, I hope to meet many people who are on their own journey of learning and I hope that I have my own experiences and knowledge that will be helpful to others.”

Cindy Friedman

1st/2nd Grade General Studies Teacher

Akiba Schechter Jewish Day School



“I fell in love with Jewish early childhood education – the inquisitive minds, the depths of creativity, and the loving playfulness of the amazing and incredible children who capture my heart each and every day. By being a JECELI Fellow, I look forward to being a part of a Jewish learning community with those who share similar passions and interests. I am excited to expand my knowledge of Jewish early childhood education and share this knowledge with my colleagues.”

Amy Kaufman


Glasser Preschool



“I have always liked teaching and when the opportunity to work at our temple’s preschool became available I took it. I did not know what to expect and I am surprised and delighted daily.  I hope to make connections and widen my community of Jewish educators.  I hope to expand my ability to bring Jewish values into the classroom regardless of the theme and create a list of books for children that support those values.”

Jenny Marx

Early Childhood Educator PreK

Board of Jewish Education Early Childhood Center

B’nai Tikvah Synagogue


“I was drawn to early childhood because I liked the idea of helping young children form a Jewish identity. I find it rewarding to help children gain a solid foundation of skills to prepare them for their school years. At JECELI, I know I will be exposed to new ideas to use in my classroom and introduce to my school. I think it will be a time of reflection and personal growth.”

Marti Meyers

Educator for the 4-5’s

B’nai Joshua Beth Elohim, Early Childhood Program at the Chava Center


“I was inspired to teach early childhood Jewish education because of the traditions of Judaism and the sense of community bonding coming together to inspire young children and their families to learn together. I am excited to learn and grow as an educator, a member of the Jewish community, and as a mother raising a family with a core sense of Jewish values. I look forward to becoming a part of JECELI as a way to connect with people who are as passionate about teaching young children as I am.”

Michele Meyer

Lead Educator

Lake County JCC



“As a child growing up I can recall many of the educators both in my religious school as well as public school experiences. These people made a lasting impression on me and in many ways shaped who I am today. I became an early childhood educator first because of my love for young children, and the hope that I can touch their lives in the same way that my educators touched my life. I look forward to learning new and stimulating ideas which I can then bring back to my classroom and share with my colleagues. I anticipate an exciting journey.”

Sharee Patt

Assistant Director of Early Childhood

Lake County JCC



“What drew me to Jewish early childhood education is the feeling of being at home. I’m able to combine my love of teaching and my deep appreciation for my own Jewish heritage all together in one. Over the next couple years I look forward to making meaningful relationships with other Jewish Educators in the Chicagoland area. In JECELI, I anticipate sharing new ideas with each other and learning new ways of thinking in a Jewish lens in early childhood education.”

Robyn-Lee Rabin


Ginsburg Solomon Schechter Early Childhood Center



“As an educator in early childhood, I am passionate about Jewish learning as we can impact children and their families in their formative years. Children have the power and ability to encourage their parents to follow Jewish values and traditions that they are exposed to at school. I am excited to learn from other educators and leaders in the Jewish Community that are dedicated to the growth and development of education in Early Childhood. I am looking forward to meeting new people and making new connections. I look forward to having support and growing as a leader.”

Erica Riback

Junior Kindergarten Lead Educator

JCC Chicago Early Childhood-Florence G. Heller



“I love teaching in a Jewish preschool! One of the reasons why I love teaching is because it allows me to make an impact on so many young children by helping them to develop core skills (from how to share to how to say the hamotzi), and a love of learning and Judaism that they will use for the rest of their lives. In JECELI, I look forward to meeting like-minded individuals who are passionate about Jewish Early Childhood Education, and learning how to use that passion to facilitate a warm and welcoming Jewish school community. ”

Claudia Rozenberg


JRC Early Childhood Center



“Throughout my experience in different educational positions, I have learned the importance of the roles of family and community in working with young children. I recognize how my personal beliefs are similar to those in a Jewish preschool. As I learn more each day, I understand the connection and desire for a family to choose a Jewish early childhood program. I am excited to learn how to bring more Judaic themes into the program in a meaningful way for the children. I am interested in finding ways to relate and teach these themes to both Jewish and non-Jewish children and educators.”  

Sheryl Seef

Assistant Director/Pedagogista

Moriah E.C. Center



“I was drawn to Jewish early childhood education through my own children’s preschool experience at Beth Emet. I was fortunate to participate in the JECEI program many years ago which ignited my passion and dedication to the work I now do. Through my participation in the JECELI Fellowship I value the unique opportunity to deepen my Jewish learning as I continue my evolution as an educator and leader within the realm of Jewish Early Childhood.”

Heather Weiser

Early Childhood Education Director

West Suburban Temple Har Zion



“Jewish Early Childhood is where everything is good:  you play, explore, learn, feel secure, eat snacks, make challah, and sometimes even take a nap.  You always hear laughing and learning going on!  Specifically, I was drawn to Early Childhood Education, because it’s never like going to work when you love what you do.  I can’t believe what I learn every day from observing the children.  I hope to create a new network of support of other early childhood professionals who can work together to make our programs the best they can be.”

Jennifer Wasserman

Director of Early Childhood

Hillel Torah



“My Judaism is an integral part of my personal life and early childhood education is my passion, so it’s only natural that I work in Jewish early childhood education. In addition to truly valuing Jewish community, values and customs, I love sharing that rich Jewish culture with young children in developmentally appropriate and meaningful ways. I look forward to the opportunities JECELI will provide as I feel that it will encourage and support me to try things outside of my comfort zone and will push me to become even stronger as a Jewish early childhood educator and leader.”