It is no secret that the Baltimore Jewish community has a surplus of qualified, passionate and innovative Jewish educators working for the region’s religious schools, day schools, synagogues and camps. But there’s a power couple that stands out among the crowd, innovators in discplines from Hebrew school to the Holocaust with more than a half-century of Jewish educational experience combined: Dr. Eyal and Dr. Hana Bor.
Eyal, 61, has been the director of education for Beth El Congregation since 1991. In 2011, he founded the Rabbi Mark G. Loeb Center for Lifelong Learning at Beth El, which hosts monthly musical performances as well as adult learning opportunities. He also created Jewish learning programs for children with disabilities and founded satellite Beth El religious schools in the neighborhoods of Federal Hill, Roland Park, Ellicott City and Hunt Valley.
Hana, 60, founded the first religious school at Temple Isaiah in Howard County and worked as a professor at Baltimore Hebrew University before it merged with Towson University in 2009. She is now the Peggy Meyerhoff Pearlstone Professor and director of the M.A. in Leadership in Jewish Education and Communal Service. She is the first Towson University professor to take students to Israel.
Whether it is Israeli paintings, old saxophones or higher education degrees, the Bors are collectors. Their tendency to pursue, amass and celebrate masterpieces and milestones extends to the Jewish community, where they are leaving their mark on a growing number of educators and institutions, and setting new standards for future generations.
“Jewish education is much more than a job for both of them. It’s not simply a way to earn a salary,” said Rabbi Larry Ziffer, former CEO of The Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education. “They both represent the best in terms of dedication, commitment and ongoing professional development for themselves. They do everything they can to hold up the highest possible standards for Jewish education.”
Both Eyal and Hana are natives of Israel. They met briefly in the Jewish state before reconnecting in Los Angeles in the early 1980s. They got married in 1986, and moved to Columbia, Maryland, where they lived for more than two decades before settling in Baltimore in 2011.
Both earned doctorates in Jewish studies from Baltimore Hebrew University in 1996, marking a grand total of six higher education degrees between the two — or eight, depending which Dr. Bor you ask. This disagreement — whether to count their dual master’s degrees as one degree or two — was one of several playful quarrels the couple had during their interview with the JT.
“We don’t fight much, but do have some issues about how much art can go on the walls. What you see here is about one-tenth of what Eyal would want,” said Hana, sitting in the living room of their Baltimore home.
The walls of the house are indeed filled with paintings. Eyal estimates they have hundreds of original paintings by Israeli artists, a collection he started more than 40 years ago.
“The first piece I bought was on a lawn in Los Angeles. I paid $5 for it,” said Eyal, who is also a professional musician and practices clarinet daily. “I took it with me to our home in Israel, and had it appraised for $7,000. We left it in Israel in our home there, because as Hana suggests, we can’t have everything here.”
Luckily for the Baltimore Jewish community, the Bors never disagree about where their energy is best spent: Jewish education.
Raising & training educators
If the Bors’ four adult children’s degrees are included, the family has either 14 or 16 degrees to its name. Dr. Roni Levin, 34, Dr. Nurit Wilkins, 30, and Shira Bor, 23 and studying to be a dentist, all work in the medical field, while their son Reuben, 27, lives in Tel Aviv and works in finance.
While none of the Bor children followed in their parents’ footsteps professionally, the importance of education has not been lost on them, according to Wilkins, an optometrist who will soon begin working in academia.
“None of us specifically went into Jewish education, but each of us implements education in our careers,” she said. “For example, as an optometrist, one of my favorite parts of my job is to educate my patients about their conditions and about how to maintain a healthy life.”
Although Wilkins admits it wasn’t until her adolescence that she realized her parents speak with Israeli accents, she knew from an early age that they were both powerhouses in the Jewish community.
“I’ve always thought that my parents were famous. Some kids go through life being embarrassed about their parents. I’ve always thought that my parents were the coolest,” said Wilkins. “All of my siblings think that way, too.”
The Bors’ areas of expertise, and therefore the ways they teach, are different, but not at odds. In fact, many of the educators and leaders at Eyal’s religious school at Beth El are graduates of Hana’s master’s degree program at Towson. Eyal also teaches Hebrew courses at Towson, and has taught some of Hana’s graduate school students.
Holly Tiedeman, 23, teaches sixth-grade religion and Hebrew at Beth El three times a week. She attended
Beth El for Hebrew school and remembers meeting Eyal then. Years later, when she became a family studies major at Towson University, Hana taught her.
“When I was in the family studies major, I really just wanted to work with families, I didn’t think about working specifically with the Jewish community,” Tiedeman said. “But I ended up working with a professor on a research project. The topic was Jewish adoption and identity. I started to really be inspired by working with Jewish families.”
From there, Hana approached Tiedeman to consider the five-year bachelor’s and master’s degree program offered to family studies majors. As part of the program that Hana created, students can begin taking courses for their master’s degrees in family science and Leadership in Jewish Education and Communal Service during their senior year. Tiedeman finished her bachelor’s in 2017 and will finish her master’s in the spring.
The courses Tiedeman teaches at Beth El are quite different from the ones she was took years ago.
“The things in my curriculum and the things I teach them are things I did not learn,” she said. “For example, we’re going to be talking about the Jewish history and Jewish immigration from Russia in the 1880s. I never learned any type of Jewish history— it was all very Hebrew-based. But now we’re spreading it out a little more so they can learn some history.”
Despite the fact that Eyal was the director of education during Tiedeman’s time as a student and a teacher, it should be no surprise that the curriculum has changed. Beth El Senior Rabbi Steven Schwartz, who has worked with Eyal since 1998, says that Eyal has a talent for recognizing and implementing new trends in education.
“There is certainly a growing need in the Jewish community to open up a variety of access points for people who might not be oriented towards traditional synagogue stuff like services or a class on the Torah portion of the week,” he said. “Dr. Bor has a remarkable vision in terms of sensing where the community is and also where it’s going. He had his finger on that pulse.”
Eyal talks about the need to innovate a bit more pragmatically.
“Jewish education is like contact lenses. If you take the contact lens out of your eye and you forget to put it in a solution, it will dry out and you cannot use it the morning after,” Eyal said. “Jewish education needs to recreate itself. Two years with the same program, it’s getting stale.”
Rabbi Hillel Baron of the Lubavitch Center in Howard County can attest to this. He credits some of his trademark hands-on Jewish learning opportunities such as matzah-baking and shofar-making to Eyal’s inspiration. The Barons and Bors both moved to Columbia in 1986; Baron officiated at Eyal and Hana’s wedding.
“When Dr. Bor went on to Beth El, we continued our relationship. He’d always be asking, ‘What else do you have new? Make something new!’” said Baron. “He was very encouraging, a very good friend.”
For his years of commitment to Jewish education, the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York will honor Bor and 13 other members of the Jewish Education Assembly with honorary doctorate degrees in pedagogy on Nov. 12.
Teaching the tough topics
Hana is heading up an evolving program at Towson. Over the past several summers, she has taken trips to Eastern European countries, most recently Germany and the Netherlands, to research the Holocaust and develop a course for undergrads and students in her master’s program.
“I’ve developed a course for educators that will roll out fully in the spring semester about what happened to families and communities during the Holocaust,” she said. Hana hopes the Holocaust education course will ensure that the topic remains relevant for generations to come.
“I’m really worried that many American university students have never heard about the Holocaust. They don’t know who Hitler was,” she said. “It is something to worry about, especially in our world now with other genocides. We say ‘never again,’ but today, ‘never again’ is not so obvious.”
Eyal also helms Holocaust education programs at his schools.
“My approach is to always ask, ‘Is there anything good that came from the Holocaust?’” he said. “I suggest bringing to children heroic stories, and that fact that Hitler did not win. We have the great country of Israel that I will not say wouldn’t have existed without the Holocaust, but was probably expedited by it. Also, the American Jewish community became somewhat stronger. Those that came over after the Holocaust were very successful. They became very philanthropic and generous to Jewish causes.”
Both Eyal and Hana believe it’s important to encourage people to visit Israel. Eyal estimates that between students, Beth El congregants and other members of the Baltimore Jewish community, he and Hana have brought more than 700 people to Israel.
“It’s very important to know that the Israel that I know and love from my childhood is not the same Israel that young people here know or hear about,” said Hana. “When you take people to Israel and show people the Israel as it is today, we ask tough questions.”
Hana is also working on an collaborative project called 3D’s: Diversity, Dignity and Democracy. The program takes 10 Towson University faculty members and has them interact with 10 faculty members at Kibbutzim College in Tel Aviv, the largest teachers’ college in Israel.
“We are working collectively on a series of articles and manuscripts of how we deal with issues of diversity and democracy in a dignified way,” said Hana. “The program began last year. Hopefully, it will be something that we can use here in America and in Israel.”
While Eyal only teaches Hebrew courses at Towson University now, he taught a one-off seminar course about Israeli culture in the spring of 2015. At the beginning of the course, the students described Israel using words like “discrimination,” “apartheid,” “exploitation,” “terrorism” and “war,” he said.
“By the end of the 14-week course, every single student had words of praise for Israel, from the standpoint of technology, humanitarian efforts, advanced medicine,” said Eyal. “It brought tears to my eyes.”
As the Bors approach traditional retirement age, neither seem to exhibit any signs of slowing down. Their
energy is partly derived from mutal support, professionally and personally.
Hana calls Eyal the Energizer Bunny.
“He wakes up and literally starts running. That’s at 5 a.m. He doesn’t stop at all, and finishes his day practicing clarinet,” she said. “Doing a million things in a day is normal for him.”
Eyal said Hana should be called Supermother for taking on many of the responsibilities raising their children. And now with all four children grown, Hana tries to make sure the couple sets aside time to eat breakfast together in the morning, when they often put cell phones away if they are distracting them from being in the moment.
How, with such busy schedules, do the Bors balance all their responsibilities and personal commitments? Eyal, at least for himself, credits minimal sleep.
“She needs eight hours of sleep, I need four,” said Eyal.
Hana, lovingly rolling her eyes, responded, “I never sleep eight hours!”