A LOOK AT FOUR EDUCATORS WHO HAVE MADE A DIFFERENCE…
Wendy Stein Built Upon Gan Keshet’s Foundation
By Stacey Dresner
NORTHAMPTON – Wendy Stein began working as executive director of Gan Keshet preschool in Northampton 13 years ago – [“It’s] my bat mitzvah year,” she said with her easy laugh.
While Stein received a degree in elementary education from Boston University, she worked for many years in the business world, for an international engineering firm in Boston, and then as a legal administrator at a Springfield law firm.
“I think that served me well as far as being an administrator at a school because you have to understand business,” she said.
As director at Gan Keshet, her responsibilities included fiscal management, fundraising, developing relationships with families and oversight of the curriculum.
She explained her role over time there more fully as “understanding the needs of the program and supporting it development as a desirable preschool program open to there.”
Jody Rosenbloom Retires after 18 years at JCA
By Stacey Dresner
AMHERST – Longtime Jewish Educator Jody Rosenbloom retired earlier this summer as director of Lifelong Learning at the Jewish Community of Amherst (JCA).
“Jody has been a trusted partner with JCA families in developing their children’s Jewish identity and knowledge of Jewish culture and ritual,” said Andra Rose, chair of JCA’s education committee.
Rosenbloom said she “came in the back door” in terms of being a Jewish educator. A native of Minnesota, she majored in urban planning in college and then worked in that field in Israel.
“When I came back to the U.S. I wanted to keep my Hebrew functional and I was auditing a class in Hebrew at the University of Minnesota. Somebody said they needed a substitute teacher over at this synagogue.”
She first taught Hebrew school at the Reform congregation, then became principal of the Hebrew school, then education director. She and her husband later moved to Northampton when he got a job at Smith College.
“I found through both communities – the one in Minnesota and the one in Massachusetts – that Jewish education is a creative and stimulating field,” she said.
Rabbi Benjamin Weiner of JCA says he is very grateful for Jody, who he says has done a tremendous job at JCA.
“She has built up our education program, and I’m very grateful for her work,” he said.
Rosenbloom said she will enjoy spending work-free weekends with her husband. She is also planning a trip to Israel, but says she doesn’t want to retire completely.
“What I will miss most but hope to continue doing is mentoring Jewish educators, teachers and principals,” she said. “As for JCA, I love the community there and I plan to continue to be a congregant, so I don’t think I will miss my favorite parts of the people I got to know and the stimulating community there.”
Karen Kaufman honored for her work at Pardes
By Laura Porter
WORCESTER – On Sept. 1, Karen Kaufman was recognized at the Annual Meeting of the Jewish Federation of Central Massachusetts (JFCM) for her three years as chair of the Pardes School Committee.
Pardes, the pluralistic community religious school that opened in 2012, brings together children from Temple Emanuel Sinai (originally Temple Emanuel and Temple Sinai) and Congregation Beth Israel as well as children from unaffiliated families. It is co-sponsored by both synagogues as well as JFCM.
“Karen worked with all three groups and a newly formed committee to ensure a smooth transition from three schools to a single combined one,” says Howard Borer, executive director of JFCM. “Her dedication and commitment to the newly formed school has allowed it to grow and develop and become a school that brings all segments of our community together.”
Kaufman credits the proverbial “village” with the school’s evolution, citing the hard work of the school committee, the teachers, Director Talia Mugg, and Federation.
“I loved working with Tali, she’s an exceptional director – she’s a caring and very committed educator,” she says. “Howard was very supportive. And I’m very excited about the dynamic female leadership in both synagogues who ultimately all want the same thing – a rich experience for the kids in their Judaism.”
A Canadian, Kaufman received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from McGill University in Montreal and took her first job as a parole officer in Kingston, Ontario, where her husband, David, was going to medical school.
“After working with prisoners,” she says, “I realized that it felt as if we were starting too late. I wanted to intervene earlier and to do something with children and families in the educational system.”
She began teaching elementary school in Ontario and, when she and David moved to Worcester in 1989, drawn in part by the active Jewish community, she founded Temple Emanuel Nursery School. While working full-time, she took classes to become certified and then completed a master’s degree in child development at Wheelock College.
After 13 years at Temple Emanuel, she worked with adolescents with special needs for three years at South High in Worcester, and then went to Pardes. During the school’s first three years, the three original synagogues became two as Temples Emanuel and Sinai integrated. Like any new venture, it has been a work in progress.
“We came up with a handbook, a policy manual, which has been revised every year based on all of the things that we’ve learned as we’ve moved along,” Kaufman says.
The Shabbat program has evolved over time and presently provides “a Shabbat experience for students that offers choices while providing the children with a traditional worship experience as well as creative ways to explore spirituality, including Jewish meditation and text study.”
Israeli culture has been a key component, invigorated and reinforced by the Israeli emissaries who come to the area every year as part of the Young Emissary Program. And, in a critical step for any religious school, Pardes and Hebrew High have worked together in many of their ventures “so that Pardes does not represent the endpoint but rather a bridge to the next step for students.”
She considers her experience with Pardes to be very gratifying, particularly the people with whom she worked, many of whom have become lifelong friends.
“We established the foundation for community education in the Worcester area.”
Phyllis Spool wins Grinspoon Award
By Laura Porter
WORCESTER – In 1968, Phyllis Spool went to Israel for three months – and stayed for five years.
She lived in Eyal Kibbutz, where she did everything from dismantling Uzis to artificially inseminating large farm animals.
“In those five years,” she recalls, “I learned the Hebrew language and I learned to love the land and the people of Israel and to respect and honor children and their families.”
Spool, who received the Grinspoon Award for Excellence in Jewish Education on Sept. 1 at the Annual Meeting of the Jewish Federation of Central Massachusetts (JFCM), has devoted her life to children, to learning and to Judaism.
“Phyllis was unanimously chosen to receive this award from the Jewish Educators Council of Central MA, which is made up of our community’s educational directors,” says Howard Borer, executive director of JFCM. “She is a veteran teacher with a wide range of teaching experience in the Worcester community.”
Spool was born in Dorchester in 1948. When her parents moved to Needham when she was 10, there were few Jews and no synagogue; services were held in the basement of a church. Her parents were among the founders of for Temple Beth Shalom, the first Reform synagogue.
One day, Spool came home from Hebrew school holding a slip of paper with the name of an Israeli girl who was to be her pen pal. For years, they exchanged letters half in Hebrew and half in English, with a Hebrew teacher at synagogue translating for her.
It was that slip of paper that got her to Israel in 1968 and, ultimately defined the shape of her life.
When her pen pal invited her to attend her wedding, Spool scrambled to find an affordable way to get there. The summer program she found cost $350, including airfare, and involved spending three months working on the kibbutz. The formative, intense years she subsequently spent in Israel shaped her entire future.
She came home in 1973, a couple of weeks before the Yom Kippur War, to study early childhood education at Lesley College, but fully intended to return to Israel.
Instead she met her husband, Richard Spool, on a blind date.
Living in the Boston area after they married, Phyllis worked in a day care center in Harvard Yard, tutored b’nai mitzvah students, taught afterschool religious school and took advanced classes in Hebrew. In 1985, she, Richard, and their daughter, Sarah, moved to Worcester.
There she taught first grade Judaic studies for six years at Solomon Schechter and then moved to the brand new nursery school at Temple Emanuel. She eventually became director in 2008 and remained there until the school closed in 2012, a casualty of the synagogue’s financial difficulties.
Over the years she has tutored students in Hebrew, taught at Hebrew High, and, for many years, led High Holiday services for young families at Temple Emanuel, now Temple Emanuel Sinai.
This year, Spool is teaching on Mondays at Pardes and has introduced the program, PJ Library Goes to Pardes, which meets once a month on Saturdays at the JCC.
“Phyllis is an extremely devoted and talented educator who loves her students,” says Howard Borer. “She is always looking for ways to motivate and inspire them as well as her colleagues. Her love of Judaism and Israel is evident in the way she interacts with the students and parents.”