AYA to honor Jordana Bernstein
Photo: Courtesy Terri Rohan
Jordana Bernstein amid her littlest students at Akiba Yavneh Academy, where she attended and has worked for 27 years. She is leaving her post after 16 years as Early Childhood director. “I’ve accomplished so much here and now, with doors open for me to explore other ways in which I can flex my skills and talents,” she said, “I look forward to finding other ways to give, to grow and to live.”

A carnival for her commitment

By Deb Silverthorn

In “Ve’ahavta,” we learn we are to “teach these words to your children and speak of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk on the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.” Jordana Bernstein, the Akiba Yavneh Academy Early Childhood director, has lived that message for the 27 years she has been a part of the school’s faculty. She is being honored at the AYAlways Mishpacha Lag B’Omer Community Carnival, from 5 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, May 19, at the Schultz Rosenberg Campus,

“My life at Akiba Yavneh, as a student and then all these years as a teacher and faculty, have been precious to me,” said Bernstein. “To celebrate all that with my friends, with the children of our community in a way that is perfect for them, is perfect for me.”

The carnival, set to celebrate Bernstein’s dedication to the school, which she attended herself from grades one to seven, will feature rides, games, activities and musical entertainment. Tickets are $18/adults and $10/children for admission, with dinner available at an additional cost. Sponsorships and tributes to Bernstein are available, as is the opportunity to purchase a brick to help pave “Jordana’s Way,” to be installed near the preschool.

“It’s truly an honor to honor Jordana, who is and always has been so incredibly special,” said Amy Davidsohn Doty, Bernstein’s sister and, with sister-in-law Suzy Davidsohn, co-chair of the event. “Most early childhood educators affect the children, but she touches, and teaches, the parents, her faculty, everyone she ever comes in contact with. She doesn’t lead from ahead, but always beside those she’s with, always with the most respect and care, and she is due this really fun gathering to share all of our appreciation of her.”

Bernstein, the daughter of Linda Wisch Davidsohn and Eli Davidsohn and sister of Amy, Reuben and Ethan, is a Dallas native who was raised at Tiferet Israel. She has been married to her beloved Josh since 1997; the couple are parents to Rosie (Avi) Greenbaum, Zach, Micah and Shaya, and the family belongs to Congregation Shaare Tefilla. She is a graduate of J.J. Pearce High School, a former member of BBYO’s Blum Chapter and former gymnastics coach at the Aaron Family JCC.

“Jordana has been creative all of her life, she has always been able to have 20 things going on at once and she succeeds at them all — and she takes on everything she does with a smile,” said her mother. “She’s a great professional, a wonderful wife and mother and I admire her so much.”

Bernstein’s flair for touching little ones very well may be hereditary, her father one who has hit the high notes of Jewish music for the generations. 

“Jordana is amazing, all my kids are and I couldn’t be more proud,” said Eli Davidsohn, his accordion and his smile never a stranger to the Schultz Rosenberg Campus. “She reaches every goal she sets, such an incredible example in all of her roles in life — all of that and Shabbat at her house, it’s a gift.”

While she was a psychology student at the University of Texas, Bernstein worked at the JCC Early Childhood Program preschool in Austin and UT Lab School early childhood programs. In those experiences, she found her passion and her future. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and childhood development and returned to Dallas, applying at several Jewish preschool programs through which she had positive connections.

“Meeting with Hanna Lambert, I fell in love with Akiba all over again,” she said. “The attention she poured into the program, how she listened to me speak of my goals, her overall passion for children and the school’s commitment to meeting NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) accreditation, meant everything to me. I’m proud to say I have maintained that accreditation, undergoing and succeeding in the process three times, and we have always scored the highest marks in every standard.”

Bernstein began as a Teenoki-Toddler preschool teacher in 1996 and soon began leading the early childhood afternoon enrichment programs, teaching physical education to middle school girls and coaching their volleyball and basketball teams. While teaching fulltime at AYA, and the mother of a toddler, Bernstein then earned her M.Ed. in early childhood education and administration from the University of North Texas.

With Lambert’s support, she started the school’s Mommy & Me then Parent & Me programs, she led AYA’s Camp Kulanu and she served as assistant director of Early Childhood and Recruitment and Retention.

In 2006, Bernstein was named Lambert’s successor, only the second director of AYA’s preschool in its now 60 years. Her first year in the role, her youngest, Shaya, lay on her lap as a newborn.

“Jordana has done an excellent job and from her first day understood what it means to touch children and to bring them a love of Jewish life and experience,” said Lambert. “She is a born teacher and leader who has inspired all of the teachers around her to grow and to focus on how children learn and think. She has made an incredible impact, and a huge difference, in Akiba’s program and I wish her only the very best.”

Under Bernstein’s leadership, in 2007 AYA began offering the community’s first all-day childcare to infants as young as 3 months, and AYA was one of five schools in the country to join the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Jewish Early Childhood Education Research Collaborative.

Bernstein guided the program to a partnership with JECEI (Jewish Early Childhood Education Initiative) developing and setting high standards for Jewish early childhood programs. Akiba was one of 13 schools across the country that collaborated with JECEI. She also brought the Reggio Emilia approach to her staff which mirrors how AYA sees its children as valuable, unique and contributing members of the community.

“Jordana’s essence and G-d-given gifts have found expression and a home here at AYA for so many incredible years. Her professionalism, which helps set the tone and tenor, not just for the AYA staff, but for an entire field of Jewish education, combines calm, patience, love, sincerity, wisdom and guidance,” said Rabbi Yaakov Green, AYA head of school. 

“Jordana has had an instrumental hand in raising thousands of Jewish children through the most formative and foundational years, guiding them through first steps, first words, first friendships and playdates, first words of tefillah and aleph-bet exploration,” said Green. “We will always be indebted to Jordana for what she has taught our entire community of Jewish parents raising Jewish children.”   

In the last year, AYA received a grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas to participate in the national GrowTorah community garden building initiative, which works to cultivate a more passionate, compassionate and sustainable future driven by Torah values.

“Jordana has helped me grow in every way possible; she is inspiring as an educator and a friend,” said Dorit Schonbrunn, AYA’s early childhood pedagogical coordinator, who has worked with Bernstein for 15 years, the two becoming fast and dear friends from the start. “I follow so many educational experts and Jordana embodies everything ever recommended in a calm, unassuming way. She really sees the best in everyone.

“Jordana is always leading her team to serve one purpose and any advice from her guarantees success and growth,” said Schonbrunn. “She is the glue of this school — she has been for a long time — and it’s an absolute honor to be by her side.”

While Bernstein is leaving her directorship, she plans to remain close to campus by guiding the GrowTorah program and as a part of the Ideal 18 (Intentional Deep Experiences Across Lifecycles) Fellowship, which brings generations together through intentional, creative experiences.

Off-campus, she is pursuing certification as a life coach, by which she plans to support families working through recovery from substance abuse and to expand her Park Lane jewelry sales through her Jordana’s Jewelry Junkies online and home-sales boutique.

“Akiba Yavneh is where I have worked my whole career; I came here as a 21-year-old and I’ve loved every experience along the way,” said Bernstein. “I’ve accomplished so much here, and now, with doors open for me to explore other ways in which I can flex my skills and talents, I look forward to finding other ways to give, to grow and to live.”

Sponsorships, dedication bricks and advance tickets can be purchased at tinyurl.com/AYA-Honors-Jordana-Bernstein. Carnival tickets will also be available at the door, the day of the event.

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