Barry Koff, who integrates technology and art into his religious school lesson plans, is a recipient of this year's Grinspoon-Steinhardt Award for Excellence in Jewish Education.
Joanne Mercer, retiring director of education at Newport Beach's Temple Bat Yahm, suggested Koff be considered for national recognition by the Jewish Education Service of North America and the local Bureau of Jewish Education.
Another winner from Orange County this year is Limor Barkol, a Hebrew teacher at Morasha Jewish Day School in Rancho Santa Margarita and Westminster's Temple Beth David.
"I have had the fortune of studying with many of Orange County's wealth of rabbis and educators, including my mentor, Rabbi Bernie King," Koff said, referring to the rabbi emeritus of Congregation Shir Ha-Ma'a lot. "King says that 'everyone we meet is our teacher,' so I suppose I come by my Jewish knowledge through my family, friends and strangers."
Koff earned a state teaching credential and completed a master's degree in Jewish education through Chicago's Spertus College. Yet his first career as an on-air radio broadcaster comes through in his classroom. During three years at Bat Yaym, Koff encouraged use of student-made video documentaries about Jewish genealogy and music videos about historic Jewish personalities.
"I try to bring whatever creativity I can to allow students to express themselves and their Jewish identity," Koff said.
His assignment is seventh-grade Judaic studies and middle-schoolers preparing to become confirmands.
He previously served as education director at Shir Ha-Ma'a lot, where he started, wrote and produced full-length Jewish-themed musicals for the Not Ready for Orthodox Players children's theater.
Koff, 46, and his wife, Ann, live in Dana Point with 10-year-old twins, Jonathan and Shoshana. Koff currently is a full-time home-school teacher for his children.
The award recognizes 50 outstanding Jewish educators annually. They each receive $2,500 toward funding professional development.
Koff intends to use the prize money for a summer study program in Israel.