Posted on November 14, 2012 by David Bogomolny
Aileen Heinberg grew up in a Modern Orthodox community in Brooklyn, NY, and graduated from the Yeshiva of Flatbush, which she’d attended since kindergarten; Torah learning was so woven into the fabric of her environment that she came to take it for granted.
Nevertheless, the young woman eventually grew to appreciate Jewish learning as a student at Columbia University, and elected to take several courses in Jewish studies, even as she pursued her psychology degree. In retrospect, she appreciated the emphasis that her yeshiva education had put on the Jewish value of chesed (kindness), as she volunteered very actively during her college years with Nightline Peer Counseling, Peace Games, and America Reads – serving both her local and extended communities.
At Columbia, Professor Walter Mischel strengthened Aileen’s thirst for exploration; she became more excited about research, learning and teaching, as she observed him during class and worked in his lab after college graduation. She wrote her honors thesis on learning strategies, and became interested in how to shape children’s positive development. After college, she also worked on projects involving child and adolescent psychology at the Columbia Health Sciences Center, and two years later she began a doctoral program in psychology at UCLA.
As an extern at St. John’s Child and Family Development Center, Aileen came to realize what impact teachers could have on their students. Whereas she could provide psychotherapy to her clients and contribute to their Individualized Education Programs, teachers could directly make an impact upon the children’s learning environments. The young woman became interested in judgment and decision making, and soon began to work with a lab group at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. She chose to focus her dissertation on the value that people place on short and long term benefits, and what influences their decisions.
During graduate school, Aileen joined the Modern Orthodox community of Pico-Robertson; and also started getting involved with local egalitarian minyanim, where she started feeling a lot more connected to prayer and community. She found that counting in a minyan really affected her desire to participate, and as she was away from NYC her Jewish involvement became much more of a choice for her – so she felt more strongly about it. Involved in several different Jewish communities, she connected with the idea of Jewish pluralism and joined the founding steering committee of LimmudLA.
After completing her doctorate, these positive experiences led her to join the DC Minyan and TLS communities when she relocated for her new job with the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit policy think tank. In Washington, DC she discovered her love of grassroots Jewish communities, which gave her a deep sense of ownership and empowerment.
At RAND Aileen provided research-based consultative guidance to government agencies and private sector financial services companies. Much of her focus was on how to get people to fully consider the future consequences of their actions and help them align behavior with long-term goals. She also applied insights from the behavioral literature as she developed financial education materials.
Through this work, the young woman was reminded of how much she cared about the field of education, and as she became more involved in her local DC Jewish communities, a renewed interest in Jewish learning – now as an adult – began to grow within her. Shabbat was the center of her whole week, but she was finding it difficult to make space in her life for Jewish studies, and her work at RAND was fueling her love for education.
Friends recommended Pardes to her, and Aileen joined the Educators Program (PEP) in 2011, while still remaining an adjunct at the RAND Corporation during her first year in Jerusalem. As she tackled Jewish texts in the beit midrash, and especially during her student teaching placement at Golda Och Academy, it became apparent to her that she cared deeply about Jewish education, and knew what kind of Jewish educator she wanted to be. The idea of bridging her psychology background and Jewish education excited the young woman, and she began to consider new ways of designing lessons to move her students beyond learning new material towards changing their behavior.
Currently, Aileen is collaborating with Pardes faculty members Zvi Hirschfied and Daniel Roth to apply her background in behavioral change methodologies, behavioral economics, and self-regulation to Jewish text studies. She hopes to help students carry out changes in their lives based upon the things they are learning about, empowering them to implement changes in their lives based upon their learning. Soon, when her project is completed, she will be presenting a series of winter workshops at Pardes on this very concept, and she is very excited to share her insights with her colleagues and instructors.