Meet Board President Lois Kohn-Claar
Lois Kohn-Claar, the new Board President of The Jewish Education Project, is a passionate Jewish communal leader and a longtime board member, who has been instrumental in the evolution of The Jewish Education Project. She’s also an educator, a Wexner Heritage graduate, a yoga enthusiast, a mom of three, and can go toe-to-toe on the best recipe for challah. Lois shares her story in this Q&A.
Q: You have a long history with The Jewish Education Project. How did you get involved, and what are you most excited about in your role now as Board President?
My first interaction with The Jewish Education Project occurred when I worked in the Educational Resources Department at Thirteen/WNET and was asked to conduct a professional development workshop on using instructional television in the classroom. I joined the board not long after, and 18 years later I’m still here. I’ve watched this organization evolve from a New York-based agency to a growing national leader, accelerated by Covid to meet the explosive demand for digital resources. I am excited to continue to build that national footprint and serve a broader audience of Jewish practitioners and families. I am also excited about the agency’s expanding role as a “think/action” tank…developing ideas and testing out new models to keep Jewish education relevant to meet the times, which is what we do best. I’m consistently impressed by the extraordinarily talented professionals at this agency and their ability to innovate and inspire.
Q: How has your personal journey influenced your work in Jewish philanthropy and at The Jewish Education Project?
I was raised in Louisville, Kentucky, in a smaller but mighty Jewish community. My parents were role models as leaders of various organizations, and prioritized my Jewish education, from participation in Hebrew School, after-school activities at the JCC, BBYO and senior year when I spent a semester at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel. Jewish summer camp was a pivotal experience. It’s where I discovered spirituality and joyful Judaism and met like-minded people who inspired a lifelong connection to Judaism. When I moved to New York after college, I saw the amazing opportunities to get involved in Jewish communal work. As soon as I had the chance, I dove right in, including participation in the Wexner Heritage program to expand my leadership skills, which I have tried to put to good use at various Jewish organizations.
Q: Why is the subject of Jewish education so important to you? What role does Jewish education play in society today?
Jewish education is about teaching us how to navigate the world, a world today that is extraordinarily complex. Judaism gives us a toolbox for how to live our best lives. I want to ignite excitement in Jewish youth for discovering that toolbox. As Jews, we are lucky to have so many rich texts and resources to help guide us in our journey. Understanding who you are as a person is key to becoming a thriving citizen. What makes Judaism so unique is that our ancient texts are adaptable to the times we live in and can help us make meaning of our place in the world. Rabbi David Wolpe said “Living a Jewish life means joining a cause greater than ourselves.” A foundational Jewish education can inspire the next generation to move in that direction.
Q: The Jewish Education Project plays a fundamental role in many areas of Jewish education. Do you have certain passion points?
Every area of our work is crucial, whether it’s Israel education, early childhood, day schools, digital innovation or rethinking supplementary education. But as a former high school social studies teacher, I have experience in the teen arena. I’ve been a strong advocate to shift resources and focus on Jewish teens, who too often become disengaged after Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Bar/Bat Mitzvah isn’t an end but a beginning to think about how Judaism will play a role in your life. In 2021 we launched RootOne, a comprehensive Israel engagement program for American high schoolers, in partnership with The Marcus Foundation. In just two summers over 9,000 teens have traveled to Israel and participated in the pre and post-programming! This is just one example of the great work we are doing with teens and an important continued area of focus.
Q: Do you have a favorite Jewish tradition or ritual?
I love to cook. To me, food brings back memories and makes new ones as well. I enjoy making festive Shabbat dinners for family and friends. I’ve always loved the different food connected to each holiday throughout the year and how it binds us to our ancestors and tradition, whether it’s challah weekly or hamantaschen and matzah brei yearly. I love how the entire house permeates with the smell of latkes at Hannukah. I’ve spent hours on the phone with my mom discussing the right ingredients for a perfect matzah ball. Food creates a visceral connection to Judaism, and cooking these foods brings me so much joy.
Q: When your tenure as Board President is complete in three years, how might you hope to finish this sentence:
I am most proud of ______________.
I am most proud of the way the Board served as passionate ambassadors for this agency, moving it from the best-kept-secret to a national organization, and shifting the way Jewish education is largely perceived in the Jewish community, from a box to be checked to a lifelong, inspirational journey.
To see a full list of Board Members of The Jewish Education Project, click here.