We are rabbis and educators whose careers are dedicated to building creative, dynamic and engaging Jewish communities. Each of us has a distinct skill set that we bring to our work in Jewish education, but we are united by our passion for maximizing Jewish engagement and our commitment to creating and promoting high-quality Jewish programming and experiences.
Rabbi Erin Hirshis a warm, insightful and talented Jewish educator. Rabbi Erin believes all Jewish education should and can be engaging, relevant and meaningful for everyone involved and she is never satisfied with anything less. She brings a wide-range of talents and experiences to her work and loves to bring them all to bear on the work she does under the auspices of JEWEL. Rabbi Erin was honored to be a finalist for a Covenant Award for Excellence in Jewish Education 2016 - 2018.
Rabbi Erin’s lifelong passion is congregational education, but her Jewish educational work has also encompassed Jewish preschools, day schools, day camps and overnight camps, youth groups, experiential and academic teen programs, adult education and professional development programs, conferences and conventions, and Jewish undergraduate and graduate programs.
Rabbi Erin’s rabbinate is grounded in her love of Reconstructionist Judaism, but she has also worked extensively in Reform, Conservative, Secular and pluralistic settings. Rabbi Erin has particular expertise in congregational education, program design, online learning, professional development, organizational collaboration, assessment, grant-writing as well as inclusion and diversity in Jewish educational communities.
Rabbi Erin sees herself first and foremost as a teacher, and she has taught children, teens, and adults in formal and experiential learning environments. Her career expanded quite organically from teaching to directing two congregational schools and several teen programs in Philadelphia. From there, Rabbi Erin transitioned to directing programs under the auspices of two national (and international) organizations.
Rabbi Erin served as the Director of Congregational Education for the Reconstructionist Movement from 2006 - 2012. In this role, she provided consultative and curricular support to more than sixty congregational schools and approximately 100 congregations. Rabbi Erin created TEL: Teens, Experience & Learning, a camp-based experiential program for teens from ten congregations on the east coast and supervised the formal curricular component of Camp Havaya (formerly Camp JRF) for several years. Rabbi Erin has coached and mentored dozens of rabbis and Jewish educators. In 2012, Reconstructionist Educators of North America (RENA) awarded Rabbi Erin the eponymous Rabbi Erin Hirsh Award for Excellence in Jewish Education.
From 2012 - 2018, Rabbi Erin was a Program Director and Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies at Gratz College. Her time at Gratz culminated with her service as Interim President from 2017 – 2018. Rabbi Erin’s primary work at Gratz involved strengthening the field of congregational and supplementary education. Rabbi Erin’s signature program at Gratz is NEXT, which provides online professional development for congregational education directors and teachers throughout North America. Rabbi Erin also refined and directed multiple teen programs at Gratz, including JOLT: Jewish Online Learning for Teens, the Jewish Community High School of Greater Philadelphia and Gratz Academy, which provides college credit to teens for on campus and online courses.
On behalf of Gratz, Rabbi Erin also spearheaded several communal education programs. Rabbi Erin co-directed a community-wide 18 month planning process to create dynamic initiatives in congregational education in Philadelphia with colleagues from Jewish Learning Venture. That process featured an innovative Youth Summit on congregational education to which 50% of the congregational schools in Philadelphia sent delegates. As a result of the collaboration, Gratz Advance and Jewish Learning Venture launched Havayah: A Jewish Communal Experience, which is a project-based learning curriculum that began with the fifth grade classes of eight congregations. Rabbi Erin also designed the Sunday Jewish Program for children of Russian Jewish immigrants at KleinLife in Philadelphia which is now being replicated nationally. Rabbi Erin writes both formal and experiential curriculum for elementary age children, teens, families and adults. Etz Hayim We, a Reconstructionist text study curriculum for adults and teens, was used by over forty congregations in just its first year. A series of project-based teen curricula that Rabbi Erin co-wrote from the TEL teen program are still available through Reconstructing Judaism. Rabbi Erin is particularly proud of the pluralistic Passover curriculum she developed with Rabbi Debra Orenstein concerning Jewish Responses to Modern Slavery, which remains available from Free The Slaves. Rabbi Erin has secured funding for many of her projects through grant-writing and donor cultivation.
Rabbi Jeffrey Eisenstat is the Founding Director of Camp JRF and Noar Hadash. In over 36 years as a rabbi, he has served congregations in Plantation, FL, Philadelphia and State College, PA, directed Hillel at Penn State and has also run summer camps, youth programs, family retreats and family trips to Israel. He received his Masters in Education from Temple University and is a graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.
While at RRC he created an alternative Jewish high school program which was the genesis of experiential learning which guided his work with youth and camping and was featured at the very first CAJE Conference in 1976.
At RRC Rabbi Jeff has taught courses for Rabbi as Educator, Merging Formal and Informal Jewish Learning and at present is facilitating Transformative Text Experiences. Among his writings are studies in creating family davening experiences, teaching the Civilization Approach and The Values of Spiritual Peoplehood. Jeff has also made some musical recordings. Jeff is a recipient of the Ira Eisenstein Lifetime Achievement Award from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association. Jeff is married to Rabbi Sarah Messinger where together they have founded Congregation Shireinu where they use their experiential skills in creative prayer. They have three children; Ari, Miriam and Rachel.
Rabbi Sarah Messinger received her ordination from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1987. Sarah has served congregations in Wilmington DE, Plantation FL and Lock Haven PA. She received her Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy from Nova Southeastern University in 1997. Rabbi Sarah and her husband Rabbi Jeffrey Eisenstat have created Congregation Shireinu, outside of Philadelphia, which embodies the philosophy of "learning with laughter." Sarah’s professional identity is defined by creative programming for families, camps and community programs. Her programs are multi generational, interactive and educational with a focus towards Tikkun Olam (repairing the world).
Rabbi Sarah has served as the Director of Education in both Reform and Reconstructionist congregations. She has developed family education programs and workshops in a number of community settings. Sarah helped to create the educational program at Camp JRF (the National Reconstructionist Camp) and she served on the faulty at Eisner Camp (URJ camp) for many years.
In addition to programing for children, Sarah has had extensive experience in presenting and creating adult education courses, teacher trainings and interactive adult programs. Currently, Rabbi Sarah is team teaching a course at RRC in "Creating Transformative Text Experiences." As a rabbi, a systemic family therapist, and as an educator, Sarah brings a unique focus to all educational opportunities.