NEXT Coaches & Mentors

Study online or on campus. Learn more and apply online

Meet Our Coaches & Mentors:

Next Program Director

Rabbi Erin Hirsh

Erin Hirsh picture

Rabbi Erin Hirsh has worked with Reform, Conservative, Renewal and Reconstructionist communities throughout North America. A graduate of Vassar College and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Rabbi Hirsh has dedicated her rabbinate to ensuring that Jewish education is engaging, relevant and meaningful for everyone involved.

Rabbi Hirsh directed two congregational schools in the greater Philadelphia area over a period of eleven years. In addition to school and congregational environments, she has taught and worked in informal Jewish settings such as overnight camps and youth groups. Most recently, she served as Director of Education for the Reconstructionist Movement. In that capacity, she trained and mentored dozens of rabbis, Jewish educators, and communal leaders. Rabbi Hirsh also writes both formal and experiential curricula for elementary age children, teens, families and adults.

Program Coaches & Mentors

Mindy Blechman

Mindy blechman picture

Mindy Escourt Blechman is Coordinator of the Gratz College Holocaust and Genocide Studies program. She has worked at Gratz since 1999 and has also held the positions of Coordinator of Adult Jewish Studies and Coordinator of Continuing Legal Education. Ms. Blechman earned her MA in Jewish Studies at Gratz College in 2010, and holds a B.A. in psychology from Temple University (1985). She attended the Young Judaea Year Course-Jerusalem Institute program in Israel from 1981-1982. A graduate of the Gratz College Hebrew High School division (1981), Ms. Blechman earned a Sunday School teaching certificate and participated in the Gratz Summer Ulpan trip to Israel in 1979. Ms. Blechman has worked in formal and informal Jewish education for many years in both the Philadelphia and Northern California (1989-1999) Jewish communities. Previous appointments in Jewish Education include: Jewish family pre-school program director; B’nai Mitzvah tutor, teacher, teaching supervisor, and family program director; Confirmation teacher (10th grade); supplementary school 6th-7th grade teacher and curriculum advisor; Jewish day school aide (1st grade) and general substitute; overnight camp counselor, educator; unit head and education director; family camp director and camp accreditation coordinator.  While Ms. Blechman currently spends most of her time working with adult students at Gratz College, she occasionally subs in the Jewish Community High School (JCHS) of Gratz College to get a teaching “fix.”  She especially enjoys working with the senior education students on developing their teaching skills.

Rabbi Richard S. Fagan

Rabbi Richard Fagan

Rabbi Richard S. Fagan, MAHL, is an Education Consultant specializing in creative practices in Jewish teaching and curriculum development, and in the uses of technology to benefit learning. He was a National Consultant for PELIE, working with the CIJC change initiative and developing webinars on using digital media in the classroom.

From 1996-2010 “Rabbi Richie” served as a consultant at the Auerbach Central Agency for Jewish Education, in the areas of curriculum, teacher training, moral education, adolescent learning, and as the agency Jewish content specialist.  As part of Philadelphia’s NESS initiative, he led the team which created the Professional Development for Teachers and the Curriculum programs, and was a primary facilitator for teachers and lay leaders both in Philadelphia PA and in San Francisco CA.

Growing up in the Reform movement, ordained a Conservative rabbi, now in the Orthodox world, he has a deep personal appreciation for Jewish diversity.

Rabbi Richie has led congregations in Georgia, Florida, and New Jersey and is the author of  the original “Take the MTV Challenge” curriculum, combining classic Judaic texts and popular media.   He continues to be a mentor to students and teachers, and a regular speaker, Scholar-in Residence, facilitator, online presence, and storyteller for religious and educational groups.

Ray Leven

Ray Leven

Ray Leven’s career in education includes extensive and diverse roles in Jewish education. He served as a teacher and administrator in public and private schools for 42 years, including the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr. Mr. Leven also directed Ner Tzedek and Shaare Shayom supplementary schools for two decades. Mr. Leven currently teaches at the Temple Sinai branch of Gratz College’s Jewish Community High School.

Mr. Leven earned a BHL and an MHL from Gratz College High School. He then earned a BS in Hebrew and a MA in Education from Temple University. Ray was also a Rockefeller Fellow.

Mr. Leven is married, with two children and two grandchildren. He is a rabid Philly sports fan who is active in his synagogue. In October 2013, Mr. Leven will visit Israel for the seventh time.

Dina Maiben

Dina Maiben

Dina Maiben has worked extensively in the field of Jewish Education, in both formal and informal settings.  She has served as a Hebrew School director, classroom teacher, youth director, camp counselor, program director, and consultant.  She was the founding chair of Monmouth County’s Commission on Jewish Education.  Dina has authored nineteen books and more than two dozen journal articles and stories.  Nationally recognized for her work in the area of Hebrew reading instruction, her Hebrew primer, Alef Bet Quest, won the Association of Educational Publishers’ Distinguished Achievement Award for World Language in 2010.  Her most recent book, Ready, Set…Go Alef Bet!, is the first fully integrated multi-media Hebrew pre-primer.

Dina holds an M.A. in Jewish Studies and an Advanced Certificate in Jewish Education from Gratz College, and a B.A. in Middle East Studies: Hebrew from the University of Utah.  She also studied at the University of Haifa in Haifa, Israel.  Dina is currently a doctoral candidate at Gratz College.

Dina Maiben has worked extensively in the field of Jewish Education, in both formal and informal settings.  She has served as a Hebrew School director, classroom teacher, youth director, camp counselor, program director, and consultant.  She was the founding chair of Monmouth County’s Commission on Jewish Education.  Dina has authored nineteen books and more than two dozen journal articles and stories.  Nationally recognized for her work in the area of Hebrew reading instruction, her Hebrew primer, Alef Bet Quest, won the Association of Educational Publishers’ Distinguished Achievement Award for World Language in 2010.  Her most recent book, Ready, Set . . . Go Alef Bet!, is the first fully integrated multi-media Hebrew pre-primer.

Dina holds an M.A. in Jewish Studies and an Advanced Certificate in Jewish Education from Gratz College, and a B.A. in Middle East Studies: Hebrew from the University of Utah.  She also studied at the University of Haifa in Haifa, Israel.  Dina is currently a doctoral candidate at Gratz College.

Rabbi Sarah Messinger

Sarah Messinger picture

Rabbi Sarah Messinger received her ordination from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1987. Sarah has served congregations in Wilmington DE, Plantation FL and Lock Haven PA. She received her Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy from Nova Southeastern University in 1997. Rabbi Sarah and her husband Rabbi Jeffrey Eisenstat have created Congregation Shireinu, outside of Philadelphia, which embodies the philosophy of "learning with laughter." Rabbi Sarah’s professional identity is defined by creative programming for families, camps and community programs. Her programs are multi generational, interactive and educational with a focus towards Tikkun Olam (repairing the world).

Rabbi Sarah has served as the Director of Education in both Reform and Reconstructionist congregations. She has developed family education programs and workshops in a number of community settings. Rabbi Sarah helped to create the educational program at Camp JRF (the National Reconstructionist Camp) and she served on the faulty at Eisner Camp (URJ camp) for many years.

In addition to programing for children, Rabbi Sarah has had extensive experience in presenting and creating adult education courses, teacher trainings and interactive adult programs. Rabbi Sarah team taught a course at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College on "Creating Transformative Text Experiences." As a rabbi, a systemic family therapist, and as an educator, Rabbi Sarah brings a unique focus to all educational opportunities.

Rochelle Rabeeya

Rochelle Rabeeya

Rochelle Rabeeya is a Jewish Education Consultant specializing in curriculum development and professional learning of teachers. She has been a consultant to lay leaders and education directors in areas of school organizational development and has been a coach, mentor and consultant to the education directors in areas, such as, supervision of teachers, working with a school committee, curriculum development, and creation of a professional development plan for teachers. She works for NEXT on a regular basis.

Previously, Ms. Rabeeya was the Educational Program Manager at The Partnership for Effective Learning and Innovative Education (PELIE). She served as Director of Educational Services at the Auerbach Central Agency for Jewish Education for 23 years, including working with the NESS Initiative in Philadelphia as a facilitator for the Program for Organization Development in the NESS schools. Ms. Rabeeya has served as a JSASIP assessor (Jewish School Assessment and School Improvement Process) in Philadelphia and has trained assessors to use it in Baltimore, San Francisco, Houston and Miami.  She was also a member of the NESS replication team in San Francisco. Prior to working for ACAJE, Ms. Rabeeya served as an education director of two supplementary schools, a counselor and member of the education staff in Jewish summer camps, and a teacher for the Jewish Community High School of Gratz College.

Ms. Rabeeya earned a Masters in Jewish Religious Education from Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion where she also received an honorary degree of doctor of Jewish Religious Education. She studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and did post graduate studies in Educational Psychology at Temple University.

Rabbi Michael Ross

Rabbi Michael Ross

Rabbi Michael Ross is a Reconstructionist rabbi living in suburban Philadelphia. He currently is the Education Director at Am Haskalah in Bethlehem, PA and Hayom in Phoenixville, PA. Rabbi Michael officiates at interfaith Jewish lifecycle events, leads scholar-in-residence weekends, and leads High Holidays at Chavurah B’Yachad in Salt Lake City.  He teaches regularly via Skype on Jewish mystical practices. He is a member of the founding cohort of “Rabbis Without Borders.”

Rabbi Michael has taught Gratz College courses to high school students in both “Jewish Bible Studies” and “Jewish Education” for five years in Gratz’  Jewish Community High School program.  He is a published curriculum writer and works as an experienced editor to rabbis fine-tuning their sermons and blog entries. He co-edited the children’s prayer-book, “Kol HaNo’ar: The Voice of Children.”

He is married to Rabbi Rachel Brown, the spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Jacob in Phoenixville, where Rabbi Michael has taught Torah Study for the past 8 years. Together Rachel and Michael are busy celebrating family life with their first child, Gabriel.

Carrie Walinsky

Carrie Walinsky

Carrie Walinsky has spent her entire working life in Philadelphia Jewish Education, (minus a few years in Israel). She has been a teacher for 31 years and the Educational Director of the religious school and preschool of Congregation Kol Emet for 13 years. Ms. Walinsky has spent 14 summers working at Camp Ramah.
Ms. Walinsky graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a BS from Rutgers University in Art Education and Jewish Studies, and a Masters in Jewish Education from Gratz College with a concentration in Early Childhood Education. She has also studied at Tel Aviv University and the Jewish Theological Seminary. Ms. Walinsky is currently pursuing her EdD in Jewish Education at Gratz College.

Ms. Walinsky is also a ketubah artist, a master naturalist, and a proud mother of 4.

Dr. Josh Yarden

Josh Yarden picture

Dr. Josh Yarden has experience working  in schools, community organizations, synagogues and national initiatives in Israel and North America. Dr. Yarden was the Senior Educator at Brandeis University’s Genesis program, a consultant at the Auerbach Central Agency for Jewish Education, mentor of the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Launchpad program, coach for the InCiTE Fellowship sponsored by the Jewish Education Project of New York and the iCenter, and he has led several groups of teachers on Israel study tours.

Dr. Yarden holds an M.A. in Judaics from the University of Haifa and a Ph.D. in Education, Culture & Society from the University of Pennsylvania, where he wrote a dissertation on reflective practice in experiential learning. His own formative and transformative experiences have been reflected through the prisms of a decade of engagement in youth movement camping, fifteen years of kibbutz life and over two decades of parenting.