Senior Fellows Program

Graphic logoThe Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education Senior Fellows Program brings together Jewish educational practitioners who have completed Ed.D.s and Ph.D.s, and who are currently serving in leadership roles in North American Jewish educational settings and institutions.

Jewish educational leaders with advanced academic training combine scholarly experience with field-based expertise. Given their day-to-day work responsibilities, however, they often lack time and opportunity to write, think, and create as thought leaders. The broader field of Jewish educational scholarship is thus deprived of their wisdom. The Senior Fellows Program gives these leaders an opportunity to cultivate a sense of self as scholar-practitioners and contribute to the advancement of research and scholarship about Jewish education.

The Senior Fellows Program invests in, nurtures, and connects a small group of peers, providing them the opportunity to collaborate and contribute their expertise as scholar-practitioners. Over the course of the program, structured meetings provide collegiality, time, and a rigorous, trusting, and collaborative discourse of peers. Fellows will critically analyze the state of the field of Jewish education, its work, and its potential. Fellows receive ongoing support and mentoring from the program’s coordinator, a senior academic in the field of Jewish studies and Jewish educational research.

By the end of the program, each fellow will have produced original intellectual output that can be disseminated to, accessible to, and valued by the community of Jewish educators and Jewish leaders.

Shaul Kelner, associate professor of Sociology and Jewish Studies, Vanderbilt University, is the coordinator of the 2023-2025 cohort. 

On May 23, 2023, the 2021-23 Senior Fellows and a group of 24 thought partners met to further the Fellow's work. Learn more about the Senior Fellows Convening

Senior Fellows 2023-25

Scott Aaron
Rabbi Scott T. Aaron, PhD

Scott Aaron is the Associate Vice President for JUF Education of the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago where he leads the federation’s communal sustainability investments in congregational education, early childhood education, Israel education, and educational research and evaluation. Aaron is also the Lead Educator for the IsraelNow Education Foundation and an adjunct faculty member at the Spertus Institute for Jewish Life and Learning. He has previously served as adjunct faculty at The Ohio State University School of Law, Loyola University Chicago, the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Aaron received his Ph.D. in the philosophy of education from Loyola University Chicago. Aaron also has rabbinic ordination and a Master of Arts in Hebrew Letters from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, a Juris Doctor from the University of Toledo College of Law, and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Cincinnati. Aaron is a published author of books and academic journal articles, and a recent alumnus of the Mandel Foundation Educational Leadership Program. Aaron is married to Rabbi Donni Aaron, and they are the parents of three great Gen Z-ers: Meitav, Nitzan and Naor.

Sara Smith
Dr. Sara Smith

Dr. Sara Smith is the Jewish Studies Instructional Leader at Milken Community School, where she oversees the Jewish Studies department, curriculum, faculty, and instruction in grades 6-12. Sara has taught elementary school through graduate school in both formal and informal educational settings for over twenty years. Her areas of interest include professional development of educators, curriculum design, and history of Jewish education. She earned her Ph.D. in Education and Jewish Studies at New York University as a Wexner Graduate Fellow and an MAT from Brandeis University. Sara lives in Los Angeles with her family.

Dan Smokler
Rabbi Dr. Daniel Smokler

Rabbi Dr. Daniel Smokler is the founder and CEO of OOI, an innovation laboratory that builds new forms of Jewish life for people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Dan worked at Hillel International for 15 years, ultimately as the inaugural Chief Innovation Officer. He received his rabbinical ordination in 2005 by Rabbi Zalman Nechemia Goldberg z’’tl, of Jerusalem’s highest rabbinic court. He holds a PhD in Education and Jewish Studies at NYU. Dan lives in New York with his wife Dr. Erin Leib Smokler, the director of Spiritual Development at Yeshivat Maharat, and their children, Shalev, Nadiv, and Tair.

Laura Novak Winer
Rabbi Dr. Laura Novak Winer

Rabbi Dr. Laura Novak Winer is director of the Master of Educational Leadership Program at the Rhea Hirsch School of Education at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and a member of the School of Education faculty, based on the Skirball Campus in Los Angeles. Her graduate courses include Leading Change in Jewish Education, Creating Cultures of Learning, Entering Organizations, and Introduction to Jewish Education. Laura has published in a variety of academic and professional journals and popular media. She was the editor of several curricula and is a frequent presenter at academic and professional conferences and on webinars. She has been a regular contributor to Moment Magazine’s “Ask the Rabbis” column since 2010. Laura recently served as co-chair of HUC-JIR’s Teshuvah Working Group, which developed a set of recommendations designed to bring healing to those impacted by historic misconduct and strengthen institutional accountability. She is a graduate of the Mandel Teacher Educator Institute. She earned her doctorate at the William Davidson Graduate School of Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, focusing on how teachers’ connections to and understandings of Israel impact the decisions they make about what to teach and how to teach it. She received an MA in Jewish Education and rabbinical ordination from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.