‘Flying Chai’ festival will honor COC education director

Rina Liebeskind

A decade as the director of education at Congregation Or Chadash has flown by for Rina Liebeskind. The congregation will honor her for her years of dedicated service with a “Flying Chai” tribute festival at the Tucson Jewish Community Center on April 15.

“As the oldest of six children, I practically raised my youngest two siblings who are 16 and 18 years my junior,” says Liebeskind. “I believe that I didn’t so much choose the field of education, rather education chose me.”

Liebeskind’s career in education has spanned 30 years — and counting.

Born and raised in Jerusalem, she served in the Israeli Defense Forces for two years before meeting her husband, Jim, and moving to Tucson, where his parents lived. Upon her arrival, she began teaching at the Tucson J in the early childhood program. Liebeskind stayed with that program for 20 years, ending as senior lead teacher before taking the position at Congregation Or Chadash.

Many members of the community have had their lives touched by Liebeskind either through personal interaction or through their children’s education. Dana Narter has had the opportunity for both as she was on the search committee that hired Liebeskind as the education director, co-chaired the accreditation committee with her, and both of her children attended Or Chadash’s religious school.

“She totally wowed us at her interview,” says Narter. “You need to find a director who knows what to look for in a classroom environment, what to look for in a teacher, is interactive and has all the necessary skills. Rina has all these qualities and has gone on to run a religious school program that kids like and does a good job of keeping kids on post-bar mitzvah.”

In her 10 years as director of education, Liebeskind has had her hands on many different projects. “My greatest achievement as the director of education is the accreditation that our school received from the Association of Reform Jewish Educators,” says Liebeskind. “The Or Chadash Religious School is the only Reform school to currently hold accreditation in Arizona and the smallest school to ever achieve accreditation. The process took almost two and a half years to accomplish, and it really forced us to evaluate the way we were doing things, and brought us together in ways that were missing before.”

Or Chadash’s Rabbi Thomas Louchheim has had the opportunity to brainstorm creative ideas for the religious school with Liebeskind. “Rina has been a fantastic presence for our community by trying to integrate families into the process for religious education,” says Louchheim. “We focus on getting the parents more involved in the religious school process by having programs not only for the kids but having components for the adults to relearn their Jewish education from generations ago.”

An accomplished educator, Liebeskind also relishes her role as Jim’s wife and mother to their two daughters, Sharon and Eve, and her stepson, Etai, all of whom are raising families in Tucson. “Each one of us have been a part of the Jewish community in Tucson in one way or another and we are extremely proud to be members of the Or Chadash family,” says Liebeskind.

Now she’s looking to the future. She will be graduating from Northern Arizona University in December with a Bachelor of Science in education, and Or Chadash recently offered her the position of executive administrator and director of youth engagement. “In this new role I will not only continue to run the educational side of Or Chadash, but I will also put my administrative skills to work in the hopes of bringing a new perspective to the business side of the congregation,” says Liebeskind.

“Flying Chai, a tribute festival honoring educator Rina Liebeskind” will be held April 15 from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., with entertainment by comedian/ventriloquist Chuck Field, Israeli dancing and lessons, an Israeli-themed dinner, a DJ, children’s games and a raffle. Tickets are available at https://events.orchadash-tucson.org/events/flying-chai. For more information, call 512-8500.