The Ed-Men: Educational Game Changers Join “820”

Two visionary educators are welcomed to United Synagogue

by Shira Dicker

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As part of its ongoing revitalization effort, United Synagogue recently welcomed two new professionals to “820” – its continental headquarters in New York City – who are charged with furthering the mission and scope of the organization as it heads toward its centennial celebration in October 2013, and beyond.

They are Rabbi Jim Rogozen, the new chief learning officer, and Rabbi David Levy, the director of teen learning.

“The recent acquisition of two stellar and visionary Jewish educators signals the dawning of a new era of strengthened and enhanced leadership,” said United Synagogue CEO Rabbi Steven Wernick. “The sterling reputations of Rabbis Rogozen and Levy precede them.”

United Synagogue President Richard Skolnik characterized the hiring of Rabbis Rogozen and Levy as forward thinking. He said, “The two share a unique ability to strengthen the fabric of Conservative Judaism from the inside out.”

Rabbi Jim Rogozen has been a head of school for 26 years, the last 19 of which at the Gross Schechter Day School in Cleveland. His position at United Synagogue is a newly created one that is critical to its mission and vision. He will create the strategy and the direction for strengthening and transforming the learning experiences of the children and teens of affiliated kehillot, explained Wernick.

As chief learning officer, Rogozen will develop the learning strategy for United Synagogue and lead, inspire and motivate personnel, as well as manage and coordinate the work of the directors of early and middle childhood and teen learning.

“Having grown up in the movement and raised kids in the movement, I believe there are a heck of a lot of things we can do better,” said Rabbi Rogozen. “The Conservative movement is located in the passionate center of Jewish life. Right now we’re playing defense. It’s time to play offense.”

“Instead of sounding a death knell about Conservative Judaism, we must invest in Jewish education now,” added Rogozen. “The money is there; it just needs to be redistributed. No aspect of our Jewish lives is so under the microscope, but the product is measurable. Over the years, I’ve learned what it means to evaluate and deliver that product.”

Rogozen will be responsible for convening, collaborating and creating synergies with other centers of Conservative Judaism to further the goals of strengthening and transforming learning from early childhood through adolescence. He begins his position September 1, 2012.

For Rogozen the job offer arrived at the right time. “I needed a new challenge, something exciting that will have an impact on the next generation.”

Richard Skolnik reiterated the central importance of Rogozen’s role. “As the goal of United Synagogue is to maximize the engagement of children and youth and their families in high quality Jewish learning experiences – planting the seeds for a commitment to life-long learning, Jewish values and to the practice of Conservative Judaism – this position is key,” he explained.

Working alongside Rabbi Rogozen will be Rabbi David Levy, the new director of teen learning. “This is a new position focusing on how United Synagogue strengthens and transforms learning in Conservative kehillot,” said Rabbi Wernick. “Rabbi Levy will create the strategy and the direction of teen learning and drive the daily program of today’s teens that aligns with the vision of United Synagogue.”

“I couldn’t be more excited or honored,” said Levy. “I am a product of the incredible work of Jules Gutin and USY, and I am humbled to lead our teen efforts into the future. The task before us is great, as we enhance the capacity of our kehillot to serve our teens and nurture them as the future leaders of our movement. I am most excited to meet and get to know our teens and dream big with them, charting an exciting future for them and, by extension, for our movement and the world.”

Levy comes to United Synagogue after serving as the director of admissions for the Rabbinical School and H. L. Miller Cantorial School and College of Jewish Music of the Jewish Theological Seminary. In this role, he traveled around the country teaching and encouraging rising Jewish leaders. “We could not have hoped for a better candidate,” said Skolnik. “Rabbi Levy possesses a passion and devotion to teen enrichment, learning and engagement. He is committed to the observances of Conservative Judaism and he has experience working with and in kehillot.”

In addition to his other responsibilities, Levy will lead USY and Kadima. He will create social experiences by tapping into the networking that takes place among teens, especially social networking; create a cadre of outstanding youth professionals, nationally and locally; ensure that professionals have a strong Judaic background; and explore potential partnerships with other organizations and models. Rabbi Levy began his position in early July.

Both Rabbis Levy and Rogozen come to United Synagogue with impressive resumes and their positions are complementary. As Wernick explained, “There is a perfect interface between their tasks and responsibilities. Their positive influence will be felt in a broad and holistic manner.”