In 2020 Jewish LearningWorks, in collaboration with the San Francisco Teen Initiative, established an annual Award for Excellence in Jewish Youth Education and Engagement.

Award recipients were selected from a competitive pool of professionals who:

  • Work in the SF Federated Area
  • Have at least 10 years of experiences as a youth professional working directly with teens
  • Have made a significant contribution to Jewish teen education and engagement

Nominees completed a personal statement and submitted a letter of support from a teen been in a youth program in the past 3 years. The selection committee is comprised of alumni of the Tikea and Shofar fellowships: Phil Hankin, Rachel Roseman and Darren Schwartz and past Award recipients. The Award for Excellence in Jewish Youth Education and Engagement will be awarded annually; while the Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Jewish Youth Education and Engagement will be awarded every 3–5 years.

Please direct questions about the award to Deb Massey: deb@jewishleraning.works

Award Recipients

2021 Award Recipient

Zephira Derblich-Milea

Youth Program Manager at Shalom Bayit

Zephira is an extraordinary educator in and out of the classroom; her commitment to honesty and integrity leads her to bring her full self to each and every single workshop she leads. And because she does so, her capacity for genuine connection with the hundreds of teens she serves every year is profound. Her ability to create safe space for these youth while talking about deeply personal and, often, charged subjects — like consent and abuse — is what makes Shalom Bayit’s Love Shouldn’t Hurt program so successful. She brings crucial content that students are desperate to discuss and presents it in a way that resonates so deeply with many of the youth that they often make insightful connections about how the workshop material manifests in their own lives throughout the workshop.

Zephira deeply embodies and models beautifully that idea that we are not required to complete a task, but neither are we free to avoid it. Zephira opens almost all of her workshops explaining that “her job is to work herself out of a job”, and asks the students to explain what she means by that. They are quick to understand that Zephira’s goal is to create a world where no one experiences abuse and, if that were the case, she would not need to do prevention education. She follows up this conversation by explaining that although it is unlikely that abuse will end within her lifetime, she has seen the way our culture has shifted since she (and others) have begun this work. In this opening conversation, Zephira is modeling for the students that people can have impact, even if they don’t fix everything. That when we care about an injustice in the world, it is worth our energy to try and do something about it. And that the inability to make everything “perfect” does not diminish the impact of changes we can make and the progress we can achieve.

2020 Award Recipient

Devra Aarons

Contra Costa Midrasha Executive Director

Devra has positively enriched the lives of hundreds of students through the Contra Costa Midrasha program in the last decade. From being a safe adult presence on a weekly basis to taking young people on trips to Israel, she makes a difference in the lives of all her students. She supports the students through the ups and downs of the high school years – providing support, connection, community and Jewish education. Devra brings innovative, visionary and creative programming that inspires and engages teens in addition to the regular weekly programming.

Devra has often shared that she, “never says no to a teen’s request.” While she creates unique programs, she clearly understands that collaborating with teens is where this work makes the most impact. That it means letting teens create, teach and guide their own electives on Wednesday nights during Midrasha. She’s most proud of their Hamsa Fund, their Teen Philanthropy program. Each year this teen lead program teaches each a group of 20-30 teens how to do Jewish philanthropy. By itself, none of this is remarkable. What stands out about Devra is that she works in her community to offer all these options to the teens in the Contra Costa community – with pluralism always in mind.

2020 Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient

Rick Concoff

Director of the Chaverim Teen Program at the Sonoma County JCC

Rick has been the Teen Rebbe of Sonoma County for over 25 years. He has put his heart and soul into all the programs he leads whether it be Kehilah, Chaverim, Camp Chai and various other programs and events. He is creative, Jewishly knowledgeable, psychologically sophisticated and most importantly, he cares deeply for the kids always going the extra mile to be of assistance to them, their families and the organizations that serve them.

Rick naturally connects with the teens; he’s able to engage them on a number of levels and keep them connected over time. He is also excellent in crisis. Rick’s strength is in building community and values clarification. Over the years he has deepened his Jewish knowledge and his ability to bring it into the classroom. More than anything else, Rick knows how to create a safe, Jewish environment where teens come together, be vulnerable, find support and connect to their Jewish roots. This is a precious gift to the teens and to our community.

Note: All information for the bios were taken directly from the Award recipient’s nomination forms, and are the words of their colleagues.