Maya Blank, Consultant
In conjunction with Rabbi Ilyse Glickman, Director of Congregational Learning, Scarsdale Synagogue has hired a consultant, Maya Blank, whose role has been to launch the Kulanu program and making recommendations based on her expertise. Maya recently received the Jewish Education Project Young Pioneers Award 2015 for her work in the area of disabilities inclusion at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in NYC. Maya has also completed the Advanced Teaching-Artist Training Program at the Lincoln Center and holds a Master's degree in Special Education from Columbia University's Teachers College.
For the past eight years, Maya spearheaded an innovative Jewish tradition program for children ages 8-16 with autism at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue. She served as a supervisor to special education classes for mild to moderate disabilities with MATAN at the Park Avenue Synagogue, and has worked as consultant for the groundbreaking B'nei Arazim Center for children with behavioral disorders in Israel. Maya also delivers dynamic presentations on the use of storytelling and other creative arts in working with children of varying needs at professional development seminars and conferences for teachers and administrators. Maya is the artistic director of Play Me a Story, an interactive musical storytelling performance and workshop program for children.
Maya was raised in a largely traditional Israeli home, surrounded by a warm extended family of observant Jews and she grew up loving her Jewish heritage and traditions. As an immigrant yearning for the tight-knit family and community she left behind in Israel, she became all the more appreciative of Judaism’s life-loving wisdom, its deep compassion and mindfulness as it relates to spiritual and community life. She understood that she was given a gift as a child in the form of the Jewish rituals, the lively intellectual discussions around the Shabbat table over Jewish ideas, the humorous and hearty spirit of our exchanges, which all inspired her to pursue a path of compassion, and to transmit the gift of Judaism, as she experienced it, to others.
As an educator, Maya was strongly influenced by the first seven years of her childhood which were spent on a Kibbutz in Israel where she enjoyed magical times of barefoot freedom. From a young age she was also fortunate to have some of the best teachers available helping her develop her skills and deepen her interest in creative arts. These early experiences taught her that felt, physical experience often provides a much deeper level of learning than classroom-based theory does and thus, later on she became passionate about creating for her students and their families that same sense of life and multi-sensory wonder that she experienced as a child utilizing creative arts and engagement with nature. This sensibility complemented the highly experiential and action-oriented structure of Jewish practice and became very instrumental in helping her students and their families deepen their involvement in Jewish community life and learning.
Chaya Itzkowitz, Dedicated Special Ed Teacher
Chaya Itzkowitz is a dedicated, trained teacher for Kulanu, who has a Master's degree in General Education and Special Education and has been teaching Special Education for seven years. She is primarily focused on reaching, helping and engaging our students who may have a difficult time learning in a regular classroom environment and makes modifications so that all the students can gain the most from our program.
Chaya is the oldest of seven siblings and therefore has a love for being around children and watching them grow and learn. She loves interacting with her students and seeing their successes and growth over the years. Chaya also works in Moshav Bair, NJ during the summers, where she is the head of the specialties and runs the arts and crafts program for children entering kindergarten through sixth grade.
Chaya sees her role in Religious School as igniting the spark of interest in Torah for our students and helping them connect it to themselves and their community. She strives to inspire them to see themselves as a functional, important and special part of the Jewish people and to help them discover how they see themselves connected to Judaism.