The Spotlight

Dara Wood

Jarson Education Center at Adath Israel Congregation, Education Director


Dara Wood holds a Bachelors of Science degree in Elementary Education from the University of Cincinnati and a Montessori certificate, and is currently working toward a graduate certificate in Jewish Education from UC. Dara has been an active volunteer at Adath Israel for many years, and serves as Director to both Education and Ritual. She has two children, Brittany (Randy) and Becca, both Adath Israel Religious School and Mercaz graduates.


Q: What drew you to Jewish education?

A: I fell into it accidentally, I was asked to be on the Mercaz board since they knew I was a teacher. I helped out over the years and when our director wanted a year off for maternity leave I offered to help out for a year. That led to running Mercaz for several years and then my current position. I love that it used my education training, but also that it allowed me to give back to my synagogue and help children interact more with their Judaism.

Q: Provide a brief overview of your Jewish work in Cincy.

A: I served on many committees as a lay person at Adath Israel Congregation. I learned so much from that, everything from how boards and committees work, to financial workings of a synagogue and even about communication and membership. I served on an allocations committee at the Jewish Federation for a few years awhile back as well. Currently I am on the board for Kids4Peace, it is an interfaith organization for kids that hosts a day camp and more for pre-teens, and enjoy my work on that as well.

Q: What do you see as the purpose/vision of the Cincy Jewish Educators Council?

A: One of the things I value most about the Educators Council is that we are a true cohort that supports each and shares and geniunely want each other to do well. There is a respect between us and we work so well as a group. I think that support is a key purpose as well as being able to offer professional development opportunities for our teachers.

Q: For what resources/insight should Jewish educators come to you?

A: Incorporating choice and movement in the classroom.

Q: What is your #1 piece of advice for Jewish educators?

A: What you are doing is important and helps to develop Jewish identity in the next generations. Try new things, go to as many of the teacher professional development sessions as you can and try things in the classroom. It is ok if it doesn't work, because you have tried and learned from it! Lastly, have fun!


Nina Loftspring

Kulanu, Education Director


Nina earned her Masters in Religious Education from Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion and her BA at Indiana University, where she triple-majored in Jewish Studies, History, and Non-Profit Management. Nina prides herself on making students' interests central to the classroom experience, simultaneously empowering them and creating a community of engaged learners.

Q: What drew you to Jewish education?

A: I am an alumna of Kulanu here in Cincinnati! As an adult, I pursued many avenues of Jewish studies, including Holocaust studies, and synagogue education.

Q: Provide a brief overview of your Jewish work in Cincy.

A: Kulanu is an awesome joint program that benefits all of Cincy's Reform high school students. We help students find their own entry to Jewish education, to help them figure out who they are as Jews, and as humans, in a supportive environment. I believe in saying, "Yes, and," and giving students options in their learning.

Q: What do you see as the purpose/vision of the Cincy Jewish Educators Council?

A: I believe that the CJEC provides Cincy's education directors unique opportunities to learn from each other and explore professional development, allows teachers to learn and work together, and more. The Council brings us into alignment in our efforts to engage Jewish students as fully as possible.

Q: For what resources/insight should Jewish educators come to you?

A: I love teacher training! Classroom management, Holocaust education, backwards lesson design and lesson planning, big-picture curriculum development, and holiday programming.

Q: What is your #1 piece of advice for Jewish educators?

A: Believe in what you're teaching. If the perspective you're teaching doesn't work for you, you're going to be fighting an uphill battle to get students to learn it. You have the power to bring people in just with your enthusiasm.


Leslee Lisnek

CJEC, Jewish Education Coordinator


Leslee Lisnek is a 29-year-old queer Jew from Charlotte, who made Cincy her home 6 years ago. Growing up in the Reform tradition, she received her M.A.H.L. from HUC; today, she is happiest considering herself a non-denominational Jewish professional. Leslee is engaged to be married in the Fall of 2020!


Q: What drew you to Jewish education?

A: I fell in love with Jewish folktales as a child. As I grew older, I delved into Jewish history, and it's still one of my favorite topics to teach.

Q: Provide a brief overview of your Jewish work in Cincy.

A: I am the new Jewish Education Coordinator for the Council! I also teach 6th grade at Adath Israel, and have taught at multiple Cincy congregations, and conduct pastoral care work for the community.

Q: What do you see as the purpose/vision of Cincy Jewish Education Council?

A: I believe the CJEC's purpose is to ensure educators set aside deliberate time for professional growth, and to provide the resources and collaboration for us to successfully grow.

Q: For what resources/insight should Jewish educators come to you?

A: Teaching Jewish history to children, LGBTQIA* language and issues, and interfaith situations.

Q: What is your #1 piece of advice for Jewish educators?

A: Have 1-on-1 talks with each student at some point throughout the year, giving each a private opportunity to be heard.


Carol Hershenson

Northern Hills Synagogue, Spark School Principal

I divide my time and intellectual attention between Jewish education at Northern Hills Synagogue and prehistoric Aegean studies at the Department of Classics at the University of Cincinnati. I have spent most of my adult life in Cincinnati and raised my son here.

Q: What drew you to Jewish education?

A: I want to provide the students in our (Northern Hills Synagogue’s) supplementary religious school with both a love of Jewish observance, identity, and values and the concrete knowledge to be comfortable and confident in Jewish settings and services – in short the educational attainments my Jewish education bestowed on me and that the same school gave to my son.

Q: Provide a brief overview of your Jewish work in Cincy.

A: I have worked at Northern Hills Synagogue-Congregation B’nai Avraham for over a decade, largely in the school and with the youth and family programs.

Q: What do you see as the purpose/vision of Cincy Jewish Education Council?

A: I think that the professional development offered by the CJEC is of great value, both for new teachers and for veterans. I also value the opportunity to get together with other professionals in Jewish education and learn from their experiences.

Q: For what resources/insight should Jewish educators come to you?

A: I bring a perspective on Jewish history and practice from the perspective of comparative study of other ancient civilizations, and a rigorous understanding of historiographic method as applied to Jewish as well as other ancient texts.

Q: What is your #1 piece of advice for Jewish educators?

A: Don’t dumb it down in the name of making it “fun”. Students achieve a deeper level of enjoyment from genuine accomplishments achieved in an encouraging atmosphere of collaborative learning, and they know when we’re condescending to them.

Zak Lempert

Adath Israel/Mercaz, Teacher

Zak Lempert is a third year Judaic Studies major at the University of Cincinnati, and currently teaches Fourth Grade at Adath Israel Congregation and High School at MERCAZ. During the year Zak can be found helping with risk management and inclusion for AEPi, the Jewish Fraternity at the University of Cincinnati, leading Shabbat services at Cincinnati Hillel, and watching too much Netflix. Zak teaches theater at local summer camps, and is currently interning at the Jewish Women's Theatre of Los Angeles. After graduating from the University of Cincinnati this year, he hopes to enter Rabbinic school.


Q: What drew you to Jewish education?

A: For me, there was no question that when I entered 8th grade, I would be a Madrich at Adath Israel. My mother, Debbie Lempert, teaches Kindergarten, and I spent five years as a teaching assistant in Zahava Rendler's and Phyllis Binik Thomas's (of blessed memory) classrooms. Two years after Phyllis passed, I had the opportunity to step into her classroom and teach fourth grade. Her amazing work inspires me to be a creative and engaging teacher. She is definitely why I came back to teaching after my freshman year of college.

Q: Provide a brief overview of your Jewish work in Cincy.

A: Most of my Jewish work happens on campus at the University of Cincinnati. I'm a brother of AEPi, the Jewish Fraternity, and will be serving on Hillel's board this year alongside the incredible Emma Duhamel, who is also a Jewish educator in Cincinnati. I was also one of the students who helped plan the campus vigil for the victims of the the Tree of Life shooting. Off-campus, I'm a regular Davener at Adath and sing in the choir, along with helping lead Family Services on the High Holidays.

Q: What do you see as the purpose/vision of Cincy Jewish Education Council?

A: As a new teacher last year, I got to attend the New Teacher Series, which really helped because I am a young teacher, and not a "trained" teacher. I think this year with new kids I'm going to miss being able to workshop with this group so frequently. I've also met several friends through the Ed Council. I've especially enjoyed some of the more upbeat workshops. For me, its about professional development and having the resources I need to succeed in my classroom.

Q: Who is your Jewish education mentor, and why?

A: There is no possible way I can name just one person. As I said earlier, Phyllis Binik-Thomas is probably the person I am inspired the most by, I literally think of her every time I'm in my classroom. Mentor-wise, Dara Wood constantly finds ways to help me put out fires and grow as a person. And, of course, my mother Debbie who has had the biggest influence on me in so many ways, but certainly Jewish education being one.

Q: What have you found challenging as a Jewish educator?

A: I think one of the biggest challenges I had this year was being so young as the teacher in the classroom, with only four years of age between myself and my oldest Madrich. I ended up using this to my advantage, and I brought in a lot of technology. We built the ancient temple on Minecraft, used the school's iPads for flashcards and videos, and watched a lot of short videos, instead of me talking. I think it was a challenge to find ways to balance everything, but in the end it worked out really well.