Five Rising Jewish Educators Honored at 2022 Pomegranate Prize Event in Chicago

2022 Pomegranate Prize recipients with Covenant Board member Deborah S. Meyer. From left: Rabbi Tzvi Hametz, Lisa Sheps, Liana Wertman, Yoshi Silverstein, Jonathan Shmidt Chapman, and Deborah S. Meyer.

Chicago, IL – October 31, 2022 – Five emerging Jewish educators received the 2022 Pomegranate Prize today at a ceremony hosted by The Covenant Foundation in Chicago. The recipients join a cohort of 55 outstanding future leaders in the field of Jewish education.

The 2022 recipients are: Jonathan Shmidt Chapman, Founder and Theater Artist, The K’ilu Company, Northbrook, IL; Rabbi Tzvi Hametz, Director of Educational Technology and STEAM Innovation at Melville J. Berman Hebrew Academy, Rockville, MD; Lisa Sheps, Curriculum Innovation and Mentorship Lead of the Teacher Performance and Learning Studio at The Toronto Heschel School, Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Yoshi Silverstein, Founder and Executive Director of Mitsui Collective, Shaker Heights, OH; and Liana Wertman, Founder and Executive Director of The Torah Studio, Los Angeles, CA.

The Pomegranate Prize is designed to honor emerging leaders who have been in the field of Jewish education for up to 10 years. Over a three-year period, each cohort has multiple opportunities to connect with thought leaders and extraordinary educators from across the spectrum of Jewish life. The Covenant Foundation aims to nurture Pomegranate Prize recipients in an intentional way, and empower them to take risks and make a difference in the field of Jewish education.

The Prize stands next to the Covenant Award, which since 1991 has honored three outstanding Jewish educators each year for their impact on the field of Jewish education.

In addition to the Prize ceremony, this year’s event also included music by Rabbi Jessica Kate Meyer and Oren Neiman, and a panel discussion about creativity, education, and inspiration, featuring Rabba Yaffa Epstein, senior scholar and educator in residence at The Jewish Education Project; Liana Finck, graphic novelist, cartoonist, and author of the recently published Let There Be Light: The Real Story of Her Creation; and Alicia Jo Rabins, musician, writer, and Jewish scholar. The panel was moderated by historian and CEO of the Jewish Women’s Archive, Dr. Judith Rosenbaum.

“Our Pomegranate Prize recipients represent the future of Jewish Education,” said Cheryl R. Finkel, Board Chair of The Covenant Foundation. “As we learn about their work, we simultaneously learn about what this field needs in order to grow and remain relevant in the lives of Jewish students across the globe. They are implementing new pedagogies that weave Jewish education together with inclusion, social justice, heart-centered learning, integrated arts, theater, STEAM practices, and so much more. It is thrilling to follow their burgeoning careers and cheer them on every step of the way.”

“I am truly amazed year after year when I learn about the cutting-edge work of our Pomegrante Prize recipients,” said Joni Blinderman, Executive Director of The Covenant Foundation.

“Though still relatively new to the field, these educators approach institutional challenges and questions of engagement with confidence, creativity, and boundless energy. With their collective finger on the pulse of Jewish education today, we can be assured that the field will continue to evolve and transform in hugely beneficial ways.”

Biographical snapshots of the 2022 Pomegranate Prize recipients:

Jonathan Shmidt Chapman is a theater artist and the founder of The K’ilu Company, creating projects that activate Jewish early childhood education through theater and imaginative play. He is the creator of K’ilu Kits (interactive audio adventures that bring Jewish holiday stories to life) and Play-Along Parsha (a resource for 3 to 6-year-olds and their families to engage creatively with the weekly Torah portion). He is also the founding project director of Aggadah Adventures at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah. Jonathan was part of the inaugural cohort of the Mandel Institute’s Jewish Education Leadership Program, and is a recipient of The Jewish Education Project’s Young Pioneers Award, a Glean Network START Fellow, and an International Asylum Arts Fellow. He currently serves on the theater faculty at Northwestern University.

Rabbi Tzvi Hametz is Director of Educational Technology and STEAM Innovation at Melville J. Berman Hebrew Academy. He is also the founder and CEO of Bottled Lighting Labs. Prior to assuming his role at Berman Hebrew Academy, he served as Director of Innovation and Creativity at Gindi Maimonides Academy, where he received the Innovative Teacher Award in 2018. Tzvi has spent the last 10 years working in schools and educational institutions trying to push the needle on educational innovation. He has also served as faculty at American Jewish University, where he taught a course in classroom innovation and creativity.

Lisa Sheps is an innovative, creative, and empathetic educator with a focus on art integration across curricula. Building from the knowledge gained through participation in the Legacy Heritage Foundation Teacher Leadership Institute at Brandeis University, Lisa’s current role is the Curriculum and Mentorship Lead of the Teacher Performance and Learning Studio at The Toronto Heschel School. In addition, Lisa serves as the THiNK Magazine Staff Editor for the school’s Lola Stein Institute, a curriculum development incubator. Prior to this new role, Lisa taught visual art, where she focused on developing meaningful projects that encouraged students to learn and express complex, cross-curricular ideas through the arts. Lisa previously taught general studies, math, and science in grades 5, 6, and 7.

Yoshi Silverstein is the founder and Executive Director of Mitsui Collective, which builds resilient community through embodied Jewish practice and somatic antiracism. Selected as a 2021 “Grist 50 Fixer” building a more just and equitable future, Yoshi’s work seeks to nourish body and soul through meaning-making, purposeful connection, and creative expression. A Chinese Ashkenazi American Jew, Yoshi is also an active advocate and educator in the Jews of Color community. Formerly Director of the JOFEE Fellowship at Hazon, he is a Senior Schusterman Fellow, sits on the Board of Directors for Repair the World, and is an alumnus of Selah, the Dorot Fellowship, and the Jewish Pedagogies Fellowship with M²: The Institute for Experiential Jewish Education.

Liana Wertman is the founder and Executive Director of The Torah Studio, a radically accessible and inclusive Jewish learning space that offers learners the tools they need to build a Torah study practice that nourishes them spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally. Previously, she worked as the Youth Director of Temple Israel of Hollywood for two years, as Director of the Counselor in Training Program at Gindling Hilltop Camp from 2016 to 2018, and was a Beit Midrash Educator at the Brandeis Collegiate Institute in 2022. Liana completed the Year Program at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, spent two summers in the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Beit Midrash, and participated in the inaugural SVARA Pedagogy Chaburah.

The Covenant Foundation is a program of the Crown Family Philanthropies.