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“I have always been proud to be a part of Schechter, and it is an honor to know that Schechter is proud of me. “

Heidi (Birnbaum) Aaronson ’96 delivered the following speech at Schechter’s graduation as she accepted the Arnold Zar-Kessler Outstanding Alumni award. Pictured: left – present day; right – fourth grade. 

I knew from a very early age that I wanted to become a dentist, and Schechter helped nurture and encourage that desire from the very beginning.

When I was in first grade, my father was invited to speak to my class about what a dentist does. To this day, I remember being so proud of him and the work he did and I knew that’s what I wanted to do, too.

Three years later, my fourth grade teacher, Susan Bloom, asked my class to write a report about anything that interests us. So, naturally, I wrote about root canals and dental implants. Shortly after my dental school graduation, I received a beautiful letter in the mail from Mrs. Bloom, telling me how proud she was of me and that she remembered how much I loved dentistry, even as a child.

In fifth grade, I won the award for the “most hygienic Purim costume,” when I dressed up as a tube of Haman-fighting toothpaste. Back then, David Wolf referred to me as his “Favorite Heidi,” since he had never had another student named Heidi. Fifteen years later, I was sitting on an airplane, about to head to my very first sports dentistry conference, and I heard a voice say “Is that my favorite Heidi?” I looked up and saw David Wolf standing in the aisle of the plane.

For my fourth and fifth grade teachers to still remember me years after I was in their classroom shows just how much Schechter teachers care about their students. We are not just another face or another name year after year. Teachers care about their students well after graduation. They remember their names, they ask about their families, and they genuinely care about their lives.

In eighth grade, my Hebrew teacher, Ruti Peled, asked every student to write an essay titled “In Twenty Years”. My mother recently found my essay, and I’d like to read it for you today. “I hope that when I am 34, I will have finished college and dental school, and I also wish to work in my dad’s dental practice. I know that I will be a dentist and I will have 3 children. I will have two children by the time I am 34, but I want three children. In our yearbook they wrote that in 20 years I will be a hair stylist. That was a joke because that’s the last thing in the world I’d ever be. I am positive I will be a dentist”.

It has been exactly twenty years since I wrote that essay, and I can honestly say, I nailed it. And part of the reason why I was able to fulfill my dreams, succeed in school and become a dentist, marry an amazing man and raise our two beautiful daughters in a loving, Jewish household is because Schechter instilled in me a love of Judaism, a passion for learning, an understanding of the need for tikkun olam, and most importantly, showing me that no matter what you want to do in life, anything is possible.  My daughter, Abby, just turned 6 this past Saturday, and her kindergarten teacher, Sondra Kaminsky, put together a “birthday book” for her with beautiful pictures and messages from her friends. At the end of the book, Sondra wrote up an interview she did with Abby. One of the questions was “what do you want to be when you grow up?”, and when I saw that Abby’s answer was “a dentist”, I know that in another 20 years, we might discover she’s nailed it, too, because Schechter creates an environment that enables its students to be confident in who they are and prepares them to take on the world, filling them with the knowledge that they can accomplish just about anything.

I have always been proud to be a part of Schechter, and it is an honor to know that Schechter is proud of me. Thank you.

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Thank you, Nurit!

The following remarks were delivered by Alyssa Bickoff ’07 (Young Alumni Chair) at a celebration honoring faculty and staff, including the occasion of Nurit Kussell’s retirement after 26 years teaching at Schechter. 

Pictured above: Alyssa’s third grade class with Nurit in June 2002.
Pictured below: Alyssa and Nurit in 2001 (left) and at a celebration honoring Nurit in June 2016.

There comes a time, hopefully, in every student’s life where an individual teacher makes an impact that helps direct them in their future journey. Nurit was that teacher for me.

I have a love for the Hebrew language, solely because I was lucky enough to have Nurit twice, for 2nd and 3rd grade. While you find might it funny that someone could make such an impact on a child, at that young age, I’m proof that it can. Nurit was tough and loving all at the same time. She worked diligently with each student, bringing out their potential and encouraging them at every step. I loved learning from her so much that I actually met with her weekly, not for extra help, but instead just for extra learning. We read books in Hebrew and worked on my writing and grammar. I always say my Hebrew grammar is better than my English grammar thanks to Nurit. I continued my studies all the way through college, testing out of the language requirements, and taking all higher level courses where some of my classmates were teachers from the surrounding Jewish day schools. I am confident that I would not have made it to that level without the support I got from Nurit at Schechter.

I know I am not alone in wanting to stand here to share my respect for what Nurit has given me and to publicly thank her for her many years of giving of herself to all the students who have been lucky enough to have her.

Thank you, Nurit!

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“Who is rich? She whose child…attends Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston”

Schechter alumni parent, Keren R. McGinity shared the following remarks on behalf of the eighth grade parent community at Schechter’s Faculty and Staff Appreciation Luncheon, June 15, 2016 

When the Parent Association Co-Chairs first invited me to give these remarks, I was deeply honored and jumped at the opportunity to articulate my immense gratitude to all of you. But as I began to piece together some thoughts in my head, I became increasingly daunted by the task at hand. How do I, one parent, represent a whole grade’s worth of diverse parents’ perspectives, some of whom I don’t know nearly as well as I wish I did?

In order to say something meaningful yet brief, I’ll just share a few personal thoughts and hope that though words alone cannot do justice to your devotion, dedication, expertise, and care, they will at least give you an inkling of how we parents feel.

When I was 10 years old my mother and I moved to Boston and I had an interview at Schechter. I remember being told that my Hebrew was only at the first grade level and the massive amount of studying that would be required to “catch up” with the fifth graders made a Schechter education unattainable at that time. Now, I did have the privilege of having a then soon-to-be Schechter teacher as my bat mitzvah tutor, so I wasn’t entirely deprived. But I wanted more for my one and only child.

My daughter Shira’s Schechter experience began nearly 13 years ago when she was just 20 months old at Gan Yeladim, the former Gan Shelanu. It was there that a Schechter teacher came to sing songs with the children. (Little did I know then that this same teacher would one day teach Shira at the upper school and chaperone her on the 8th grade trip to Israel!) Perhaps it was those tunes that helped make the transition from Gan to Kindergarten so seamless. Over the years, many more teachers and administrators contributed to making more transitions seem almost effortless.

On Yom Kippur, some Jews fast. Fasting, among other things, reminds us to feel—if only for a day—what someone who doesn’t have enough to eat feels on a regular basis. To fully appreciate Schechter teachers and staff it may be necessary to live without you for a time, which we actually did. Shira and I spent her first and second grade years at a different Jewish day school in another part of the country. While it had its strengths and some excellent educators, those two years gave us a point of comparison that increases our gratitude. The warm welcome we received when we visited and again when we returned as planned, solidified that Schechter of Greater Boston was truly where we belonged.

“I love school!” Shira has said many times over the years—thanks to you!

Shira grew from holding my hand until we said goodbye at the classroom door to a social butterfly whose wingspan is still spreading—thanks to you!

Shira evolved from knowing her name in Hebrew to texting b’ivrit—thanks to you!

Shira’s grasp of the English language went beyond WordMaster’s to poetry and state-wide essay contests—thanks to you!

Shira’s indifference about science and confusion about math became infatuation mixed with curiosity and conceptual satisfaction—thanks to you!

Shira transformed from a child whose gross motor skills lagged behind her fine motor skills to an athlete who played soccer, basketball, and softball all in the same year—thanks to you!

She glided from singing and dancing in the privacy of our kitchen to dueling with her fictional nemesis and belting it out on stage—thanks to you!

Most recently, Shira morphed from someone who accused me of being “that kind of mother” for not allowing her to go to a Beyoncé concert on Shabbat to telling me exactly what time we needed to light the candles—thanks to you!

The school-parent partnership is an extremely important function of a successful educational experience. I couldn’t be more grateful for the abundance of information, timely responses, and proactive communication. Colleagues of mine wrote a book called Back to School about how Canadian Jews who send their kids to day schools learn alongside their children. That’s definitely true in my case and so I must thank you for my Schechter education in addition to Shira’s. You have also provided much needed support, during good times and some hard ones; when I needed you, you were always there for me.

Pirke Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) 4:1 teaches us: “Who is rich? He or she who is happy with what he or she has.” In today’s age of social media, with Facebook posts about everything from the best trip to Paris to a new puppy, it can be challenging to remember the most important thing, which isn’t even a thing but a process: Jewish Education. Who is rich? She whose child has the privilege of being taught, coached, challenged, nurtured, and most importantly inspired by all of you!

Now, as a freshly minted alumni parent, I have only one regret and that’s not having more children to send your way!

Todah rabbah. May you all go from strength to strength!

In addition to her newest role as Schechter alumni parent, Keren R. McGinity is the Director of Interfaith Families Jewish Engagement at the Shoolman Graduate School of Jewish Education and Founding Director of the Love & Tradition Institute

Schechter’s Outstanding Alumni Award Goes to…. Yosef Abramowitz ’78 and Heidi Birnbaum Aaronson ’96

Schechter has named Yosef Abramowitz ’78 and Heidi Birnbaum Aaronson ’96 as recipients of the school’s Arnold Zar-Kessler Outstanding Alumni Award. Created in 2014, the alumni award is given in honor of former head of school, Arnold Zar-Kessler, and his 21 years of dedication to and leadership of Solomon Schechter Day School. 

2012-12-19-יוסף-אברמוביץ-ערבה-פאוואר-72Yosef Abramowitz ’78 was selected for being an influential, entrepreneurial, and innovative leader in the field of solar energy. Yossi is President of Gigawatt Global and its Israeli affiliate Energiya Global. He is a 2015 Nobel Prize nominee for Gigawatt Global’s work with the Rwandan solar field project, which now provides 6% of the country’s power. He co-founded the first Israeli solar company, Arava Power, in 2006. CNN named Abramowitz one the top six Green Pioneers Worldwide.

0176 copyHeidi Birnbaum Aaronson ’96 was selected for her significant contributions to her dental profession, as well as her community. Heidi organized an annual public health event with the Red Sox – Tooth Day at Fenway – that brings awareness to the dangers of chewing tobacco and the risk of oral cancer. Heidi gives back to her community by providing dental exams and treatments to soldiers who are preparing for active duty and to the Jewish community by participating in a program that provides free dental treatments to Holocaust survivors. Her contributions to the field of dentistry have earned her one of the Massachusetts Dental Society’s top awards, the “Ten Under Ten Award.” Heidi’s brother Daniel Birnbaum ’94 writes, “And while I am certain that she is proud of all of her accomplishments, Heidi’s proudest moment was when she walked her 5-year-old daughter, Abby, to her first day of kindergarten at Schechter, to the very same classroom in which she was a student 28 years ago. As evident from all she has done in her career thus far, Heidi clearly embodies Schechter’s vision and mission.”

The awards were presented at the school’s eighth grade graduation on June 14 at Temple Beth Avodah in Newton, MA. The Arnold Zar-Kessler Outstanding Alumni Award is presented annually to an alumna/us whose life embodies Schechter’s vision and mission. Nominations to the Director of Alumni Relations are due each year by March 15. Click here to read Heidi’s remarks.

Eighth Graders Become Marine Biologist for a Day

Eighth Graders Become Marine Biologist for a Day

Eighth graders took a field trip to Nahant for a hands on marine biology experience. Grades 7 and 8 Science Teacher, Rebecca Edelman shares, “The 8th graders traveled to Northeastern’s Marine Science Center in Nahant. They completed a variety of activities in the field of marine science, including quadrat studies, which involves examining a standard size area and collecting a variety of data for that area. They counted and identified marine life, estimated how much of their quadrat was covered in seaweed, and tested temperature, pH and salinity. This data is used to determine how healthy the area is and how well it is supporting the living organisms in the area. They also performed a mussel dissection. The trip touched upon content covered in their middle school science classes over the years and served as a wrap-up to their time at Schechter.”

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Bechukotai

If/Then is the (now closed) Broadway musical by Brian Yorkey that tells the story of a woman named Elizabeth. It tracks her choices and follows two possible futures for the heroine as she moves back to New York City for a fresh start. When she arrives she meets friends, one of whom suggests as part of her remaking herself she should go by a new name: ‘Liz.’ Another friend suggests she readopt her college nickname, ‘Beth.’ The play then follows Beth or Liz into their different futures.

The idea of the play, and of Parashat Bechukotai, is that we make our world. IF we are faithful to our promises, IF we heed the voice of God and the commandments, IF we are committed to being fair and honest and selfless and decent…THEN we will be blessed and treasured and have the kind of just and holy society that God wants for us. The kind we want for ourselves.

And IF not…THEN.

On one level this message is very empowering. There is no one else who is responsible. If we want a good and righteous world, then we can make it happen. If we don’t want to tolerate the opposite, the future is within our power to control.

But the danger of this simple message is twofold. One danger lies in the fact that things don’t always turn out as we hope, no matter how hard we try. Bending the arc of justice from oppression to freedom is not as simple as changing your name. The other danger in this answer is that believing that people always get what they deserve can make us hard-hearted in the face of suffering. If ‘they’ are not smart, healthy, or rich enough – then ‘they’ are obviously at fault. IF/THEN can be a convenient cover for not caring.

Perhaps the best lesson of the Parasha is a reminder of the wisdom of Rabbi Akiva in Pirkei Avot. There are so many things in the world which we cannot control. Our goodness or wickedness is no guarantee of perfect rewards or punishments from God or the universe. We are not able to predict or understand the world in such a simple and direct way. But the one crucial thing we can control, we can have perfect understanding of, is our own inner spiritual life. “All is in the hands of Heaven except for Fear of Heaven.” (Ethics 3:11)

The truest IF/THEN of Jewish belief is that if you work to be the kind of person whom you admire…if you make decisions which are based on the truest values you hold dear…then you will be blessed to become the person you hope to be. You will be the embodiment of all you seek. The power you hold in your hand, no matter what comes, is to ensure that your name be a blessing.

As Anne Frank put it, “Our very lives are fashioned by choice. First we make choices. Then our choices make us.”