By Stacey Dresner
SPRINGFIELD – After serving seven years as director of the religious school at Sinai Temple and many more as an educator throughout the local community, Sheila Shear will be leaving Springfield at the end of May to relocate to Charleston, S.C.
Sinai honored Shear earlier this month at a reception that also honored all of the religious school’s teachers.
“It has been a delight and an honor to work with Sheila,” said Rabbi Mark Shapiro. “She is thoughtful and caring and very flexible…We’ve had a great time together and we’ve both felt we were “creating” something precious and Jewish together.”
Shear, a native of Malden, Mass. came to Jewish education through her love for Judaism.
“It was something I loved from I think from the time I first walked into a synagogue. I used to go to services by myself when I was seven years old… I was in the choir as a kid. I went to services no matter the weather. The temple was walking distance to my house.”
Born into a musical family, Shear first wanted to be a professional oboe player in the Boston Symphony. She played a variety of woodwind instruments – alto clarinet, saxophone – playing in the college band and accompanying her college chorale, always remaining active musically.
“My brother, my sister, my dad and I would play together, that is how we spent our Sunday afternoons. My dad and my brother were trumpet players. My sister played the piano.”
Shear attended American International College (AIC) and did her graduate work in education at Westfield State College, returning to AIC to get her Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies (CAGS) in school administration. After graduating from college, Shear stayed in the Springfield area. Her first job was as a music specialist at Springfield Day Nursery, which is now Square One. At 22, she married Barry, her high school sweetheart. She began teaching preschool at Springfield Day Nursery, moved to the Berkshires where she worked for Berkshire Center for Families and Children, then returned to Springfield and continued to teach preschool.
When she became a stay at home mom raising her three kids, she did some home child care and did her graduate work. Eventually, she began to work at Lubavitcher Yeshiva Academy.
“The thing that was key to my ultimate career here was that I ended up at Yeshiva (LYA). While I was there I taught kindergarten and became the preschool director, and then became the secular director,” she said.
Shear was at LYA for 13 years.
“My career really had always really been secular education, but I come to the Jewish part of it, honestly, through my love of Judaism,” she said. “I taught here at Sinai for 10 years before I became the secular director at Yeshiva, during which time I spent time learning and studying and also was very active here at the same time. My children grew up here at Sinai, and it was my adopted congregation. It was where I felt comfortable and it was my spiritual home.”
Shear said that the part of her job that she will miss the most is being with the children.
“I love being able to work directly with the kids. Throughout my career I have never been an administrator who sits behind the desk. My best times are spent, either one on one or with a group of children. I love being able to develop curriculum, particularly for our post B’nai Mitzvah group, for whom school can be such a chore. The fact that I have been able to put into place programs that really have enabled them to make connections between their Judaism and their lives now, in 2012 has taken their studies out of the ordinary.”
For example, she said, Sinai’s 8th graders study text with Sinai seniors. “Not only do they study text, but they get to know them, they spend time with them, they study about how Judaism looks at aging,” Shear said. “But they study so much more and the bonds that are developed between the kids and the adults are so special.”
Social action has also been a big part of Jewish education at Sinai. Shear and Rabbi Shapiro took a group of 11th and 12th graders to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and 9th and 10th graders to Alabama for a Civil Rights Journey. Every other year they take the kids to Washington, D.C. to the Religious Action Center.
“This is so that the children become involved in social justice. It is not just about sitting in the sanctuary and learning tefillah. It is about how they live their lives and that is really what being Jewish is about.”
Shear also is proud of Sinai’s regular Tot Shabbat group of around 15 families that show up regularly for Friday night Shabbat service, and its Bagels & Blocks program for young families on Sundays.
“I have loved my partnership with Rabbi Shapiro and both cantors – Mekler and Levson. Those are special partnerships that think go beyond typical working partners. They were all there for me when my parents passed away and they were there for me to celebrate and share everything. The staff here is a lovely community and the people here are good people who mean to do good things in this world.”
Rabbi Shapiro spoke glowingly about Shear and her work as a Jewish educator at Sinai.
“Although Sheila has been at Sinai Temple for seven years as our educator, I think I can best explain what she is like as an educator by describing something that happened only this past week,” he said. “It was late in the day after a rehearsal for our upcoming musical production of Oliver. Sheila is in the play as are many of the children in the school. As the rehearsal came to a close, one of the younger siblings of a child in the play came into then auditorium. He quietly walked over to Sheila so that she could give him a great hug. Natural. Beautiful. That’s Sheila. A hug and an embrace for every child.”