Federation’s new education director finds ‘great treasure’ in Pittsburgh

Federation’s new education director finds ‘great treasure’ in Pittsburgh

Rabbi Amy Bardack
Rabbi Amy Bardack

In its ongoing effort to strengthen and grow lifelong Jewish education in Pittsburgh, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh has hired Rabbi Amy Bardack, currently the Judaic studies director at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston, to fill the newly created position of director of Jewish education and community capacity building.

Bardack, who received her rabbinic ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary, will begin her duties on July 1. She will be moving to Squirrel Hill with her husband, Jared Magnani, and their two children. Magnani will be assuming a position as a research cardiologist for UPMC.

“We both got the jobs of our dreams,” said Bardack, speaking by phone from Boston.

Bardack, who has worked at Boston’s Solomon Schechter for 14 years, said she had been looking for her “next step” when she heard about the new Federation position in Pittsburgh. That position piqued her interest, she said, because the impact of her reach in such a job would expand “beyond a single institution.”

“I wanted something that would be more of a strategic position, and more pluralistic,” Bardack said.

As director of Jewish education and community capacity building, Bardack is looking forward to working from a higher level in terms of overseeing the task of building capacity, “from preschool to adulthood, and everything in between.”

The Federation created the new position as part of its assumption of the responsibilities of the former Agency for Jewish Learning, which dissolved last year.

“When the AJL was dissolved, the teen programming went to the JCC [Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh], and the part of the AJL that was capacity building — improving teacher training and educator excellence at Jewish religious schools, days schools and preschools — came to the Federation,” said Adam Hertzman, director of marketing for the Federation.

Bardack will join Carolyn Linder, the Federation’s early childhood education manager, in executing the capacity building responsibilities, Hertzman said.

Bardack was hired following a national search.

“Rabbi Bardack is a great mix of the qualities which we are interested in,” said Hertzman. “She is an ordained rabbi with a long experience with a religious school in Boston. She has experience developing curricula and training programs and has even written textbooks that ended up being adopted as a national model. We are lucky to have someone come into the community with that skill set, and just at the right time.”

Bardack is also the current president of the New England Rabbinical Assembly and was a fellow with Rabbis Without Borders.

In her new position, Bardack will work to ensure high-quality Jewish programs in the community, boost engagement of Jews of all ages and backgrounds and strengthen Jewish identity and leadership.

Bardack said her first task will be to hire someone to work as a planning manager to help with grant allocation and programming at the institutions funded by the Federation.

She also intends to have “many, many conversations with lots of people to find out what’s going well and what’s keeping you up at night. I have to get to know the community and what the needs are.”

Her work, she said, has to be “built from the ground up,” while strengthening the “tried and true.”

One area of focus will be to “figure out how to serve those people who are underserved,” Bardack said, pointing to demographic contingents such as teenagers and young adults.

While the Pittsburgh Jewish community is smaller than that of Boston, Bardack appreciates the fact that half its Jewish population is concentrated in Squirrel Hill, whereas Boston’s Jews are spread throughout a greater geographic range.

While she has deep connections in Boston that she will miss, she is excited to move to Pittsburgh.

“I feel like I uncovered a great treasure,” she said. “I suddenly discovered this vibrant, cultural, architecturally beautiful city that is up-and-coming. It was not on my radar before.”

Among the groups with which Bardack will collaborate are the Jewish Life and Learning Commission, the Centennial Fund for a Jewish Future Grant-Making Committee and the Day School Council.

“Amy brings a wealth of experience in innovating new programs, strategic planning and visioning,” said Deborah Baron, the Federation’s chief operating officer, in a prepared statement. “She has the ability to understand the needs of unique institutions while seeing the larger community picture. At the Federation, we are excited to welcome Amy and her family to Pittsburgh.”

The first public event at which Pittsburgh’s Jewish community will be able to meet Bardack will be the Unsung Jewish Heroes Awards on Sunday, May 22 at the JCC in Squirrel Hill.

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at tobyt@thejewishchronicle.net.

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