Nina Pachino grew up in a heavily Jewish suburb outside of Philadelphia, where she attended a Jewish religious school program. Now, as director of youth education at Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom Congregation, where she runs the Posner JEM Religious School, her own religious school experiences play a role in how she approaches education.
Pachino, 39, lives in Pikesville with her husband Michael and children Maddie, 9, and Winnie, 6.
She has a bachelor’s in nutritional sciences from Penn State University and a master’s in educational leadership from Loyola University.
Was Judaism a big part of your life growing up?
I grew up in a small suburb, and my school district was about 60% Jewish, so it felt like a day school experience, especially during our b’nai mitzvah year. My family was probably one of the most traditional Jewish families in the community — I’d call us Conservadox. I went to religious school, spent my summers at Camp Ramah and after confirmation I got my Jewish teaching degree. My dad used to have Torah study with me and my brother once a week, and we were shomer Shabbos.
What was one of the most formative parts of your Jewish upbringing?
I really enjoyed my religious school experience with all the friends I made there. It really shaped my Jewish identity. And I loved Shabbat — every Friday, we sat down together as a family for prayer and dinner. It was always a traditional Shabbat meal with homemade challah, and I have continued that tradition with my own family.
While I loved so many pieces of my Jewish youth, there were some things that I wished I could have experienced differently … and I used those things as a starting point for how I approach Jewish education now. I try to create experiences of excitement and joy that give students at Posner JEM Religious School a reason to want to be there.
How did you end up in Jewish education?
Over 15 years ago, I was hired as a youth director. At the time, I had a ton of Jewish knowledge and connected well with the students. Since then, the job, my responsibilities and my abilities grew. When I had my first child, I was hired as a principal at a small religious school program and served that community for many years. And for the last four years, I have been the director of the Posner JEM Religious School at Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom Congregation. I’ve had a very fulfilling Jewish journey, both with regards to my personal life and my career, and I’m grateful to all the students, families and educators that I’ve been able to work with over the years.
How do you make Jewish education something your students want?
I believe that every moment is a learning experience, and I try to make them as fun as possible by creating and encouraging experiential moments in the classroom and with special programs. We offer a lot of engaging programs throughout the year, because it’s not just about the Jewish content learned, but the Jewish content lived. These experiences and interactions with Jewish peers are the cornerstone to creating positive Jewish identity in our youth. Every week, I want the students of Posner JEM to come to religious school excited to see their teachers and each other and excited for the new experience they are about to have together.