Ilana Blumberg

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Reading Open Your Hand is an exhilarating experience. Beautifully written, passionately argued, this is a profound meditation on education, morality, identity. Blumberg takes us through an astonishing range of educational experiences -- from teaching children in an experimental Jewish school to young teens in a broken inner city school to conservative students in a mid-western university -- and reminds us why education is an exalted adventure. In a relativistic era where facts are contested, she insists on the urgency and possibility of a moral education. Open Your Hand deserves a place among the essential books on what it means to be an educator.


--Yossi Klein Halevi, senior fellow, Shalom Hartman Institute, author, Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor


This extraordinary book is part memoir, part discussion of the ethics and praxis of education, and part detailed accounts of Blumberg’s teaching experiences – poignant, dramatic, profound in  their implications. Ranging from pre-school to college, these narratives show how redemptive the act of writing can sometimes be. Blumberg herself thinks and writes her way through crises that interrogate her own assumptions.  Here lies the generative drama of her book. A large-hearted and clear-minded document. Highly recommended.

-- Avivah Zornberg, author of Moses: A Human Life


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"In this remarkable memoir, Ilana Blumberg insists that classroom instruction entails moral commitments illuminated, in her case, through immersion in the humanities. A gift to anyone interested in the art and practice of teaching, and a powerful pedagogic manifesto."

Jonathan D. Sarna 

Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History, Brandeis University

"Open Your Hand will restore your faith in the power of teachers to make a difference. Blumberg offers her readers a thoughtful meditation on moral education by way of an entertaining and often poignant tour of the institutions in which she has taught. She describes her students with a level of empathy and insight that makes you wish that you had studied with her."

Jonathan Krasner 

Jack Joseph and Morton Mandel Associate Professor of Jewish Education Research, Brandeis University

"A smart, compelling, significant memoir. I enthusiastically recommend this particularly timely book as it makes a spiritual and ethical case for the humanities in action and for fact-based, rational discourse...Ultimately, Blumberg champions the sacred art of teaching and the power of reading and writing to make worlds and moral selves."

Helene Meyers

Author of Identity Papers: Contemporary Narratives of American Jewishness




Ilana Blumberg is the author of Open Your Hand: Teaching as a Jew, Teaching as an Americanand Houses of Study: a Jewish Woman among Books, winner of the Sami Rohr Choice Award for Jewish Literature and shortlisted for the National Jewish Book Award in Women's Studies and the Moment Magazine Prize for Emergent Writers. She publishes regularly in the field of Victorian studies and is the author of the scholarly monograph, Victorian Sacrifice: Ethics and Economics in Mid-Century England. She is currently writing a spiritual life of George Eliot.

Ilana was educated in Jewish day schools, at Drisha Institute, and Midreshet Lindenbaum, and earned her BA in English, summa cum laude, at Barnard College.

Ilana earned her M.A. in Creative Writing and her Ph.D. in English Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the recipient of fellowships and grants from the Mellon Foundation, the American Association of University Women, and the Israel Science Foundation.


Ilana began her formal career in teaching at Beit Rabban in New York City. She has received awards for teaching excellence from the University of Pennsylvania and Michigan State University, where she taught for eleven years. Ilana currently directs the Shaindy Rudoff Program in Creative Writing at Bar Ilan University where she is Professor of English. 


Ilana lives with her family in Jerusalem.  


With Evan Fallenberg, interview at Jerusalem Book Launch, May 2019

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Teaching Testimonials

I want to thank you for the great experience. I think the carefully selected variety and amount of reading was very useful, and Ilana professionally summed them up to their most essential parts. The class had a good flow and pace. My only personal wish is that it was longer.


Also, maybe it was our luck or maybe writers are just generally thoughtful people, but the comments and participation were much appreciated, and Ilana made sure that they were constructive to our work rather than just a free-for-all. 

This class left me feeling inspired and excited about writing, and already looking for the next one. 

I've done several workshops and courses  over the years, but I had never encountered the level of insight that I gained from only a couple of hours with Ilana. Her scholarship came across, as did her writing ability, but what impressed me the most was  her gift as an educator.

While she did touch upon certain (important) aspects of the craft of writing, these seem simple, almost banal, compared to the discussions about purpose and the doors she opened for me with choice of texts, the careful listening, the depth of her feedback, and ability to feel comfortable in such a mixed group.  My one complaint - it was short. Too short.

Over these past seven and a half years I have attended writing workshops from time to time.  None have been as excellent as this one from Ilana. Firstly, the choice of readings was so extraordinary - I had never encountered anything similar before .And I try to read all kinds of literature from known and unknown authors from all over the world..Lately I’ve read Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese Japanese, Irish, German, Hungarian fiction and non fiction … the list goes on and on.  Now I’ve added Sri Lankan, and Jamaican.  

The way Ilana handled the group was quite remarkable.  Everyone felt that they were important and she was interested in every sharing that the group felt free and willing to do.  The interaction I found quite remarkable between people who had not met before.  There was such empathy and understanding from everyone because  Ilana moderated the group in such in a quiet but purposeful manner.  We learnt a lot from her but also from others which I think ideally is the way a workshop  should happen.

It’s the best book on teaching that I’ve read in a very long time, so I’ve already given away several copies of Ilana Blumberg’s Open Your Hand: Teaching as a Jew, Teaching as an American. What I found in this book astonished and surprised me. Blumberg, who has taught in colleges, elementary and secondary schools, and a university in Tel Aviv, writes about a classroom crisis she encountered and the ways in which it awakened her to what truly matters in teaching: the formation of character. --  Jill Baumgaertner, Christian Century