2015-11-11 / Local News

Educator to get prestigious honor for contributions to Jewish learning

MEET HEDDA MORTON…
By JAYNE JACOVA FELD Voice staff

FAMILY: Husband David; 3 daughters, Elissa, Lauren, and Devorah; 9 grandchildren

FAVORITE BOOK: “A Spiritual Life” by Merle Feld

FAVORITE FOOD: Chocolate

Cherry Hill resident Hedda Morton’s excitement for education dates back to her childhood. As a young girl, she loved playing the role of teacher, sharing her curiosity about the world with eager-to-learn students.

As for becoming a Jewish educator, that dream was cemented during her post-high school year in Israel with the Young Judaea Youth Movement in the mid-1960s.

“I remember vividly, like yesterday, the conclusion of our program in Haifa, and thinking to myself that if I was lucky enough to marry and have children, they will have an Israel experience,” she recalled. “The research today shows that being connected to Israel through a Jewish youth experience has a tremendous impact on kids’ identify and involvement later in life.”

That’s Morton—always seeing the world through the lens and passion of a Jewish educator. It comes as no surprise to those who know her well that she is one of 13 educators from across North America being honored by the Jewish Educators Assembly and the Jewish Theological Seminary for her long and distinguished career in Jewish education. Morton will be awarded an honorary degree, one of the highest achievements given out by the Conservative movement to educators, at a ceremony Nov. 12 in New York. The degrees are granted every four to five years.

“The first thing you need to know about Hedda is that she is the epitome of a life-long learner,” said Rabbi Aaron Krupnick of Cong. Beth El, where Morton is a congregant and has taught in the religious school. “There are very few people who continue to press boundaries intellectually like she does—and she’s able to transmit that passion to others.”

Morton is the director of congregational learning at Adath Israel Congregation in Lawrenceville, where she has worked since 2001. She is also a longtime active member of the JEA, having served on the national board as member, officer, conference chair, and national president.

Morton’s path from Ossining, NY to Cherry Hill was circuitous. She has lived in Colorado, where she earned her master’s degree in education at the University of Colorado, met and married David in 1969 and started her family.

From there, David’s work took the family to Charlottesville, NC. Although she lacked teaching credentials in the religious world, Morton’s love of Jewish education earned her the position as educational director of the city’s small Reform synagogue. During the family’s five years in the South, she managed to double and then triple the size of the program.

Moving to the Philadelphia area put Morton at a crossroads. While working as a religious teacher at Beth El, she knew she wanted to go back to work fulltime but she had to decide whether to pursue her career in secular or religious education. To do what she did in the South, she would need more credentials.

“I figured the world had enough reading specialists, so I bit the bullet,” she said.

By that she meant that she went to Gratz College in Philadelphia, earning a master’s degree in Jewish education. From there, she was hired as director of Gratz’s Hebrew School before moving on to Adath Israel.

“It offers me a lot opportunity to be creative and resourceful,” she said of Adath Israel. “I’ve planned three Israel trips, conferences on special needs, and we have an outstanding resource center serving the needs of those with learning differences.”

That resource center in fact has received national attention for its Dalet Dog program, which uses therapy and service dogs to encourage children to learn to read Hebrew and prayers.

Morton said the AJE award came as a complete shock.

“I really thought the committee had made a mistake,” she said.

This was no mistake, assured Edward Edelstein, JEA executive director.

“She deserves this more than she can imagine,” said Edelstein. “She is an amazing educator, a consummate professional with a tremendous passion not only for her own school, students and families but in building and strengthening the field of Jewish education, both at a regional and national level.” .

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