By Cindy Mindell
After a year-long search process, the board of Yachad: Greater Hartford Jewish Community High School announced that Heather Fiedler has been appointed as director.
Fiedler has been on the Judaic studies staff at Solomon Schechter Day School in West Hartford for 11 years, both as teacher and coordinator, and will continue in that role part time.
“Heather is a magnet for Jewish teens,” says Yachad co-president Mel Simon. “She is the kind of person who has the curriculum background and the ability to inspire kids to continue to pursue Jewish learning beyond their bar- or bat-mitzvah.”
Throughout her childhood, Fiedler’s father worked for Jewish Community Centers in New Orleans, New Jersey, and New York. “The Jewish professional world was the only world I knew, but I said I’d never work in it when I grew up,” she says. “But after a fleeting thought of doing something else, I decided to go into Jewish education and have been there ever since. I really had no choice. Being a professional in the Jewish world is where and who I was supposed to be.”
After earning a BA in arts and religion from Syracuse University and moving to the greater Hartford area, Fiedler has taken courses in Judaic studies at University of Hartford and UConn and completed a certificate program in Jewish family education through Hebrew College. She worked at the Commission on Jewish Education & Leadership (CJEL) of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford and has been coordinator of the education program at Camp Ramah in Palmer, Mass. since 2001.
“Yachad is so important in our community and I’m so grateful to have this wonderful opportunity,” says Fiedler, whose two teenage sons are Yachad students and whose daughter is almost old enough to attend. “It’s been such a great experience for my sons that I’m so excited to be part of it, to work with Jewish teens and help them think about what it means to them to be Jewish, especially during such a challenging time in their lives. I want to help them connect Jewishly, learn, and have a great time, all in one place.”
At Yachad, Fiedler will work to implement new programming laid out by interim director Karen Trager and the school’s board over the past year. “There are a lot of teens who don’t connect to Jewish learning in the traditional way it’s been delivered,” Simon says. “We are developing flexible programming and curriculum to reach teens who may not have the staying power or the time to come to weekly classes for a year. Starting in September, Yachad will look very different to the community, more attractive and accessible to a broader audience.”
As a way to expand Yachad’s reach and relevance, the school will go “on the road,” Simon says, collaborating on-site with synagogues, youth groups, the JCC, and other Jewish institutions throughout the community.
For example, Yachad plans to collaborate with the existing Unified Theater program at The Emanuel Synagogue, a Hartford-based project that brings together teens with and without special needs in theatrical productions.
Another new program is Kol Zimra, a Jewish teen choir comprised of individual choirs from throughout the world that performs every spring at Lincoln Center in New York. Cantor Joseph Ness of Beth El Temple is building a consortium of local cantors to organize a new Yachad component of the worldwide choir.
Together with Jewish Family Services clinical director Janice Rothstein, Yachad will offer a teen wellness program, funded by the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford. The program includes “Strong Girls, Healthy Relationships” for girls, and “Good Guys: Partnership and Positive Masculinity” for boys.
An internship program will give Yachad teens the opportunity to serve at Jewish community organizations and agencies, under the supervision of a faculty facilitator. The Teen Leadership and Tzedakah Institute, funded by the Jewish Community Foundation and offered through Yachad, will be expanded to include additional years of curriculum and a new collaborative relationship between the two institutions. The institute will be opened up to all Jewish high-school students in the community.
“I’m a very big-picture person and I like to look at the amazing possibilities Yachad offers,” Fiedler says. “I imagine a school with walls and without walls – not necessarily keeping everyone in a classroom but also looking at ideas like online classes, building bridges with area youth group movements, and creating experiential learning opportunities. It’s important to offer ways for teens in the community to not just learn about Judaism but to live it, and in a practical way.”