Spotlight on Dr. Susan Jay, CAJE's Congregational Education Chair

Posted on 09/11/2020 @ 08:00 AM

Tags: Jewish Schools & Educational Services

Dr. Susan Jay grew up in Brookline, MA in a family that was very active at their large Conservative congregation. Her mother served as sisterhood president; they observed Shabbat, and most of all, she loved attending religious school. How fitting that Susan is the chairperson of the Congregational Education Committee!
Starting in 9th grade, Susan attended the well-regarded Hebrew College high school program known as Prozdor. It is here where she met many Jewish teens from all over metropolitan Boston, took classes all in Hebrew, and even learned Talmud. In the summers, she attended Camp Yavneh, a Hebrew speaking camp at which they even put on plays in Hebrew. She then attended Brandeis University and taught in a nearby religious school. 
In 1971, Susan graduated with a degree in History, got married, subsequently received her Master’s in Library Science and moved to Miami two years later. She went to work for CAJE in the library where she soon became the Director of the Educational Resource Center. She also worked part-time teaching college credit courses in CAJE’s Judaica High School. This was the start of Susan’s very active involvement in the Miami Jewish community, CAJE and the Greater Miami Jewish Federation.  
Along the way, Susan earned her Doctorate in Education from Florida International University. She was the co-coordinator of the FIU Gratz College of Judaic Studies and Jewish Education and later became the first Director of the FIU OLLI Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Then her professional career steered her towards development, and she became AVP for Development of the Wertheim College of Medicine followed by Executive Director of Development for the College of Engineering and Computing.
She enjoys spending time with her husband Larry, her son Joseph and his two daughters. She is now enjoying weekly Parashat haShavuah sessions with Rabbi Herman at Bet Shira Congregation and chanting haftarah portions at the congregation.

Why did you decide to become involved in the Miami Jewish community?
It was the most natural thing for me to do. When I moved to Miami not knowing a soul, I found the central address for Jewish education and became involved. CAJE took me in and enabled me to use my skills, starting my professional and personal involvement in a growing Jewish community. 
What roles have you held in the community, at Federation and in CAJE?
When my son was born, it afforded me the time to get involved with the South Dade Women’s Division. After going on the first adult March of the Living, I was inspired to become more involved in CAJE and was invited to join the CAJE Board of Directors.   
What motivated you to become so involved?
I have always had a connection to CAJE starting from my time working there. My motivation also comes from my own personal experience. I truly loved being a part of the Jewish learning scene in Boston, from childhood through college. Jewish education had a huge impact on my identity development. I want to be involved in CAJE in order to help children and teens enjoy the kinds of positive connections to Jewish learning and living that I had.
What is compelling to you about Congregational Education?
Joy Schandler [CAJE Director of Early Childhood Education and Congregational Education] regularly states that even though there are so many challenges in providing high-quality religious school education-- i.e., competition from numerous extra-curricular activities, the timing of late afternoon and weekend learning sessions, the paucity of Jewishly knowledgeable teachers, to name a just few, there are things congregations and our community can do with CAJE’s help to enhance and uplift these programs. I loved my religious school experience. I want to help our children enjoy their Jewish learning.  
What are one or two things you would like people to know about Congregational Education or CAJE’s CE department?
This summer under CAJE’s auspices, our congregational education directors responded collectively to the coronavirus pandemic by creating CHAI Fi, a virtual summer experience for children in K – 8th grade. Religious School teachers led creative and fun activities, and they found a way to stay connected to their students during this very unusual summer. CHAI Fi shows the resiliency and creativity of our religious school directors. There is so much potential and possibility inherent in our congregational education programs. I want people to know that Miami’s congregational education programs are stretching and transforming into places of active, engaging experiential learning.  
What would you like to accomplish during your tenure as CAJE’s CE chair?
I want to help support the work of our dedicated Congregational Education directors. I also want to make sure that Miami’s Jewish community leadership continue their support of the work being done in our congregational education programs. It truly is “essential” work.