JWA News Release: February 14, 2012
Contact: Alan Kravitz
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JWA NAMES BALTIMORE TEACHER RECIPIENT OF INAUGURAL NATALIA TWERSKY EDCUATOR AWARD
Jewish Women's Archive (JWA) has awarded the inaugural Natalia Twersky Educator Award to Allyson Mattanah, a teacher at the Kesher School of Congregation Beit Tikvah in Baltimore. The honor recognizes educators who use JWA's material in creative and engaging ways, as Mattanah did when she designed a lesson that draws parallels between women in the Purim story and Jewish women who helped build the American Labor Movement.
For the winning lesson, Who Will You Be: Esthers and Vashtis in the Labor Movement, Mattanah created three learning stations, one each for Clara Lemlich Shavelson, Pauline Newman, and Rose Schneiderman—Jewish women who were active in the struggle for workers’ rights.
At each station, students encountered material from the JWA website, jwa.org, including photos, biographies, original letters and speeches. As her 9-12-year-old students (4th - to 6th - graders) visited an individual station, they were asked to decide if the woman they learned about there was more like Esther (who, in the Purim story, worked within the power structure) or Vashti (who defied it).
"The children moved from station to station … listening, reading and debating the question at hand," Mattanah said. "I, as their guide, was in the background. The students constructed their own experiences [from] the content."
The students also got a small taste of what it was like to work in a sweatshop a century ago, when labor conditions were poor and laws protecting workers were weak. Mattanah gave each child a square of felt, a pair of scissors, and threaded sewing needles. The students sewed buttons and stitched button holes. To help them understand the plight of factory workers—who were often children their own age who earned one penny per button—Mattanah paid the students with orange slices and then only if their work was "acceptable."
"The lesson really worked for my students," she said. "It was a magical moment."
Mattanah always wanted those "magical moments" as a teacher; her path to becoming one was unusual. She was a registered nurse, and then an attorney, before she became involved with the Kesher School. Even now, as she teaches Sunday School at Kesher, she's still a practicing attorney during the week. At the school, she chaired the Kesher Committee and when two other teachers left the small congregation school, Mattanah stepped in as a "guide" for the 4-6th graders.
"We are a tiny Reconstructionist Congregation with a 'can-do' spirit," Mattanah said.
Mattanah is "overjoyed" that JWA selected her lesson for the Twersky Award.
Barbara Ellison Rosenblit, an educator on the JWA Board who chaired the Twersky Award Committee, praised Mattanah for crafting a lesson that aimed to both educate about the issues of the Labor Movement and integrate this concept with our sacred texts. "It was an ambitious goal and I think it worked really beautifully."
The late David Twersky endowed the prize in memory of his wife Natalia, mother of JWA's Executive Director Gail T. Reimer. "It is especially moving to me that the first educator to be awarded this prize used JWA materials to help her students explore the different ways people stand up for themselves and for others," Reimer said.
The prize will be presented at JWA's annual luncheon in New York City on March 18, 2012. Mattanah will also receive a $2,500 in cash, an all-expenses paid trip to New York, and $500 for the Kesher School to spend on materials, field trips, or other expenses related to teaching gender inclusive Jewish American history.
For more information on the Twersky Award, including details on applying for the 2013 Award, visit jwa.org/twersky.
About the Jewish Women's Archive
The mission of the Jewish Women’s Archive is to uncover, chronicle, and transmit the rich history of American Jewish women to the broadest possible audience. JWA is nationally recognized as a vital contributor to a more expansive and inclusive vision of Jewish life, past, present and future. Through its innovative uses of technology and of strategic partnerships, JWA has successfully changed the way history is researched, recorded, and taught.