Spotlight On: Noah Hichenberg

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For this month’s Spotlight I had the privilege of talking to Noah Hichenberg, the Gan HaYeled Preschool Director at  Adas Israel Congregation in Washington DC. We are pleased to be able  to feature him and thank him for his leadership of the New Directors’ Institute Early Childhood Education (ECE) track. Noah has had the opportunity to grow up within the Conservative movement. He grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts where his family were members of Temple Emunah. Judaism was a huge part of his family’s rhythm and social life. He attended Hebrew School,Junior Congregation, Kadima and later LUSY, NERUSY, and Camp Ramah in New England.  All these experiences  gave him the comfort and confidence to be in Jewish settings, and provided him with important social interactions. He is still very close with several childhood friends. He recalls learning the Ashrei together with one when they were 10, and now they and their children attend family camp together. He has also stayed close with another friend, attending both his Bar Mitzvah and wedding. 

While he was on staff at Camp Ramah in New England he met his wife, Shira. They met in the summer of 2003 and now have four beautiful children. They are raising their children with the same strong Conservative Jewish upbringing as he experienced. Their eldest is attending Camp Ramah in New England for the first time this summer. Their second oldest is going to Camp Ramah Day Camp. Their twin two year old girls would have gone to family camp had Noah and his wife not caught COVID.

He went to The Jewish Theological Seminary’s List College, after participating in our gap-year program in Israel,  Nativ. In his senior year at List he found his true passion, Jewish Early Childhood Education (ECE). Melissa Friedman, the Director of Alumni Affairs connected him with Sara Shapiro-Plevan. Sara met with Noah and learned about his passions for Jewish education and his previous work as a counselor at the Park Avenue Synagogue preschool day camp and suggested he apply for a job at the JCC preschool. He swiftly got the job. His new mentor and supervisor at the JCC was the Director, Ilana Ruskay-Kidd. She first introduced him to the Reggio inspired preschool teaching where the child’s voice, rights, and responsibilities are center and the teacher does the listening and learning by asking meaningful questions. He had a thirst for knowledge and received his MA in ECE from Fordham by attending night classes. Ilana Ruskay-Kidd left the JCC to start her own school, the Shefa School, which teaches Jewish students with language learning disabilities, addressing a need she felt within the community. This was something Noah took note of and values now. Noah applied for and received the Director role at the JCC, and has been directing preschools ever since that day in 2013.

Before taking the job as Gan HaYeled Preschool Director at Adas Israel Congregation in 2019, Noah received his EdD from Columbia University's Teachers College. While studying in this program,  he had the opportunity to think more deeply about why we do what we do in school settings. He learned that school is a socially constructed place, made up of the people within. He now Directs the Gan Hayeled with those same philosophies. He has also taken a page out of his mentor’s book and created two new spaces in the preschool to better serve the community. First is the Gan Hamishpacha, which provides pre- and post-partum support for new parents, with dulas, breastfeeding support, “adult and me” classes for newborns, infants, and toddlers.  The second space is the Gan Hanishma, which is a multi-disciplinary evaluation center that allows a clinical team to evaluate and offer therapy to preschool students on site.  Thanks to both centers, there are more resources and support being offered to the community under one place.  One of the reasons Noah leads the Early Childhood Education (ECE) track of USCJ’s New Directors Institute (NDI) is to give back to the community that has given him so much. NDI is a conference for new Education and ECE directors in our synagogues. It has been in existence for approximately 30 years. Noah sees the value of NDI in creating a network for directors where they can connect and share their experiences, joys and headaches. Last year’s NDI participants were even able to meet as a cohort several times during the year to be supportive of one another and to continue learning together. We are looking forward to this year’s NDI experience for our educators, beginning  July 20th, and Noah’s second year leading the ECE track. His lessons and contributions   back to the  community are invaluable.  

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