Spotlight on: Shana Lewinger Russo, CAJE Early Childhood Education and Engagement Committee Chair

Posted on 08/03/2020 @ 08:00 AM

Born and raised in Rochester, New York, Shana’s family kept the Jewish community close to their hearts. The family affiliated with Congregation Beth Sholom, a Modern Orthodox and Zionist congregation, and she attended Rochester’s Hillel Community Day School. 
After graduating high school, she brought her family’s Jewish values and traditions with her to Washington University in St. Louis , where she majored in political science and history, then to Washington, D.C. , where she had an administrative position on Capitol Hill, to Boston University Law School , and following that to a law firm in Manhattan 
During this time, her parents and two brothers had moved to Miami, and in 2004, Shana knew she wanted to be closer to her family and her newborn niece. As she explains, it took her a few years “to get used to Florida.” 
In Miami, she established a business, the Yarn Shoppe, and started becoming involved through the Greater Miami Jewish Federation.  This was the starting point for meeting like-minded people who shared the value of kehillah/ community and she began actively volunteering in all aspects of Miami’s Jewish community. 
In 2008, Shana married Jacob, from Panama, and they have two boys , one in kindergarten and one in third grade at Scheck Hillel Community Day School.

Why did you decide to become involved in the Miami Jewish community and in the Federation?
My parents were active in Rochester, New York’s Jewish Federation. I remember going to Super Sunday with my brothers.  Wherever I lived, my mother always advised me to get involved with Federation as a way to meet people and to become involved in meaningful volunteer work . Getting involved in Federation was a natural extension of my upbringing.

What roles have you held in the community, at Federation and in CAJE? 
I chaired the Jewish Volunteer Center and was part of the National Young Leadership cabinet. I also participated in the Wexner Heritage Program . More recently, I am serving on the Agency Support committee and chair Agency Support’s MARJCC subcommittee. 
Last year I joined the CAJE board as Chair of the Early Childhood Education and Engagement (ECEE) committee . Because of my boys, I am also very active in the Scheck Hillel Community Day School’s Parent Teacher Association. I like to be very hands on. 

What motivated you to become involved with CAJE?
Jewish education has been very important to my family . Even though there are no educators in my immediate family, I always knew that Jewish education was a priority for my parents.   Now that I am an adult with my own family, it is very important to me as well. 

What is compelling to you about early childhood education (ECE) and specifically Jewish ECE?
Early childhood education is much more than day care. In general, early childhood education is the foundation for a child’s growth and development , not only in the area of academics, but also in the social, emotional, physical and spiritual domains. 
We have to remember that Jewish early childhood education is often a gateway into deeper engagement for children and their parents . As the children learn more about the holidays and values, they transmit their excitement to the parents who then engage in Jewish community hopefully in more intentional ways. 

What are one or two things you would like people to know about Jewish ECE or CAJE’s ECE department? 
What CAJE brings to the Early Childhood programs is so valuable . Orly Dromi, the long-time ECE director of Scheck Hillel Community Day School, has impressed this on me, so I know the ECE directors really appreciate CAJE.   
CAJE convenes a professional network of our county’s ECE directors.   Throughout the year, and especially during the pandemic, the directors have been sharing information and resources in their meetings every two weeks .  CAJE also subsidizes directors’ and teachers’ participation in national professional development opportunities, and so much more. 

What would you like to accomplish during your tenure as CAJE’s ECEE chair?
My primary goal is to advocate for and help our ECE’s move the needle in creating more focused and meaningful opportunities for the engagement of our ECE parents and families . Especially now during the coronavirus pandemic, everyone can benefit from truly feeling connected to community. The financial implications of the pandemic for our ECE parents and for the ECE programs is also an immediate and ongoing concern.