Founding Artistic Director/Teacher
Year Honored: 2013
New Community Jewish High School
West Hills, CA
As a pioneering faculty member at New Community Jewish High, Benny Ferdman envisioned an arts program that would spend as much time outside the art studio as inside it. He imagined weaving a specific Jewish theme into each year’s arts curriculum to help guide the hands of the school’s artists, the melodies of its musicians and the feet of its dancers. Over the last decade, his vision has become a reality, creatively blending Judaism into the daily studies of New Jew’s students.
Mr. Ferdman believes that the role of the artist is to be an educator, whether as a classroom teacher or through the intrinsic nature of art as a mirror that reflects our complex world. He challenges students with the question, “What do I have to say with my work?” so they develop their voices as artists and learn to grapple with thought-provoking ideas. As New Jew’s artist-in-residence, he not only teaches three courses, but works with faculty to integrate the arts into other subjects and designs ceremonial objects, including the New Jew tallis donned by students at graduation.
Mr. Ferdman is enthusiastic about helping students explore the richness of Yiddish language and culture. In fact, New Jew has the country’s only full Yiddish-language program in a non-Orthodox high school. He revamped the school’s Yom HaShoah program to recognize the thousand years of Yiddish culture that were nearly destroyed by World War II. Today, Yom HaShoah celebrations feature pre-WWII art, dance, drama, language and food—emblematic of Benny Ferdman’s devotion to Judaism, humanity and the culture that sustains it.
Note: This biography was current at the time this educator received the Award