Educator of Jewish Educators
JOFA mourns the passing of Dr. Chaya Gorsetman, a master teacher, champion of women’s inclusion in the day school curriculum, and mentor of Jewish educators. In her role as co-chair of the Education Department at Stern College of Yeshiva University, she inspired and mentored a generation of novice teachers in Jewish day schools. As educational director of the Educational Leadership Advancement Initiative of the Lookstein Center of Bar Ilan University, she guided those who would mentor others.
For JOFA, Chaya spearheaded the JOFA Gender and Orthodoxy Curriculum Project, which sought to highlight the stories of women in the Torah and to teach third and fourth graders to ask probing questions of the text. Three years in the making, the curriculum, researched together with Sara Hurwitz (now Rabba Sara) and Amy Ament, resulted in Bereishit: A New Beginning—A Differentiated Approach to Learning and Teaching. The curriculum, meant to supplement the standard lessons, was not an ivory-tower creation, but was field-tested in classrooms in the tristate area. One of the teachers who piloted the program, Gavi Zevi, said, “It’s a much deeper, wider kind of learning. And you know what? It’s a gutsier kind of learning.”
Chaya co-authored, with Elana Maryles Sztokman, Educating in the Divine Image: Gender in Jewish Day Schools, which examines the broader issues of day school pedagogy. They showed how school practices, textbooks, and gender hierarchies in educational leadership socialize students into unhealthy gender identities and relationships. Chaya presented a standing-room-only workshop on the topics of her book to the 2013 JOFA Conference. She courageously included in her remarks a call for Orthodox day schools to fully recognize the needs of same-sex parents and single mothers by choice.
Chaya was a lifelong learner as well as a teacher, having begun learning Gemara with her father when she was in sixth grade. This experience had a tremendous influence on her life’s work, as she appreciated the impact of the relationship on her love of learning and engagement with text study. She passed this love of learning on to her children Atara, Talya, Leora, and Yedidya, to whom JOFA extends sincere condolences.