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A love of teaching

Caryn Resnick to Be Honored at Sandi Kupperman Learning Center Fundraiser on April 2

By Stacey Dresner

SPRINGFIELD – When Caryn Resnick was growing up in Pittsfield, her family was very involved at Congregation Knesset Israel, the town’s Conservative synagogue.

Her father Jason Borke was the temple’s Gabbai and her mother Lilyan was involved in many committees, both chairing and volunteering. The family, including her older brother Stan, went to Shabbat services every Friday night and every Saturday morning.

“My father went to daily minyan every single day. We went to services as a family every week, but as a little girl I never got to sit with my father because he was up on the bimah choreographing the services. But I remember from that time, being so proud of him.”

Caryn went to Hebrew School, became bat mitzvah, had her Confirmation and was married at Knesset Israel.

“My parents were serious Zionists, so I grew up in a home where Israel was very, very important … I think I became aware of Israel at a very young age,” she recalls.

Due in no small part to her upbringing, Resnick has become a prominent Jewish educator in Western Massachusetts and has served as the director of education at the Sandi Kupperman Learning Center (SKLC) at Temple Beth El for more than 20 years.

On April 2, she will be honored at SKLC’s biannunal fundraiser. All proceeds will benefit the programs at the SKLC, which provides educational programming for children and adults of all ages.

“Caryn is a visionary educator who brought a new model of education for children and adults to Temple Beth El,” said Stuart Chipkin, chairperson of SKLC’s board of education. “Caryn’s enthusiasm and energy are palpable to anyone who talks with her. She fosters an environment in which children, teens, adults and families learn about Torah, prayer, holidays, history, Jewish values and ethics, Hebrew, and Israel. She has helped to make Temple Beth El a place for life-long learning, and has been a major force in creating the next generation of knowledgeable and inquisitive Jewish adults.”

“I love my work and I am passionate about Jewish education! I love living a Jewish life!” responded Resnick, who admitted that being a Jewish educator is not always a piece of cake.

“Trying to instill this into children is not easy. Learning at 4 p.m. after a long day in school is difficult. Competing with all of our children’s extracurricular activities and school demands is extremely challenging. There is so much of our heritage and traditions, not to mention necessary skills that we want to teach our children, with such little time to do it in.”

Resnick says she wanted to be a teacher from an early age.

Receiving her degree in education from Boston University, she says she was highly influenced by the writings of education reformer John Dewey, a major voice in the progressive education movement, and someone who supported “experiential learning.”

“I also took a class with a professor who wrote a book called, Push back the Desks. I was totally encouraged by this teaching approach,” she said.

At the same time, the idea of the “open classroom” was emerging, modeled after the British Infancy school model. “I knew that if I was going to be a teacher, that this was the kind of teacher I wanted to be.”

From there, Resnick became a student teacher in the first open classroom in the Berkshires — in a Pittsfield public school and facilitated by Dorie Rockefeller, whom Resnick calls a “master educator.”

After getting married and moving to Longmeadow, Resnick began working in the Wilbraham school district, which was starting an open classroom pilot program. They asked Resnick to lead it.

“We created this open classroom… That was my first teaching job. The open classroom model was so successful. It was totally individualized and mostly experiential.”

After three years, she was recruited by Springfield College to supervise their student teachers. Taking some time off to have children, she later went back to work part-time as a teacher at Heritage Academy in Springfield.

“I immediately fell in love with working in the Jewish school,” she said. When Heritage moved to Longmeadow and Resnick enrolled her two children in the day school, she was asked to serve as chair of its board of education.

One winter, a teacher had to move away suddenly and they couldn’t find a replacement. “I agreed to go into the classroom and finish the last of the school year. I stayed for 10 years,” she laughed.

Resnick used all the tools she had learned as an educator in the day school. “I was able to bring my background of experiential education and I loved integrating secular studies with the Judaic studies. To me it made the day school education so much more relevant to the children.”

After 10 years, Resnick ended up at The Learning Center at Temple Beth El. For years Jewish children from all the Springfield congregations had attended the United Hebrew School for their religious education. But in 1994, Temple Beth El and a task force of 40 of its parents decided that they wanted to start a synagogue-based religious school. They approached Resnick to help develop the school, under the leadership of Rabbi Herbert Schwartz and Harvey Shrage, president of the temple.

Starting from scratch, Resnick, Rabbi Schwartz, and the TBE board of education worked together on focus groups with parents, visited other religious schools, studied different curricula, and determined what kind of school they wanted.

With only three or four months to get the school up and running, Resnick and Rabbi Schwartz traveled around New England interviewing education directors at different schools and meeting with curriculum developers. Along with the board of ed., they put the program together, “and we opened the school with a new model for the community,” she said.

“The Learning Center’s curriculum was developed around thematic modules and integrated from the school into the synagogue so that we were able to engage parents and the congregants into the learning process,” she said.

One of the many modules she created was in 2003, when the religious school studied Israel. “This was during the Intifada, the period of intensified Palestinian violence when people were not traveling to Israel,” Chipkin said. “Caryn personally contacted 20 shop owners in Israel and invited them to our community. She organized travel, home hospitality, and a “Shuk” where the shop owners could sell their products. The synagogue’s social hall looked like the streets of Israel, and over 900 people from throughout the community attended this special event. The shop owners returned to Israel, having sold almost all of their wares.”

Keeping older students involved was one of Resnick’s priorities.

“It was important for me to retain students after becoming bar and bat mitzvah. So we developed a high school program with electives that we felt would attract teenagers. Another way to keep them invested was to promise the children that if they stayed through 10th grade at the Hebrew High School that that summer of their junior year, I would take them to Israel. I did that for probably eight years.”

The Israel trips were just part of her agenda to try to invest Judaism in her students’ lives.

“My hope is that with the current system that we do something that leaves a little spark in their hearts that stays with them always,” she said. “Something that remains that feels ‘good and right’ and perhaps will help them make good decisions grounded in Jewish values when they are older and have to make hard decisions or choices. I hope that we have offered them enough opportunities, not just for learning about Judaism, but enough about celebrating and living Judaism for them to hold on to and remember.”

At one time, The Learning Center had an enrollment of 125 children and 43 students in the Hebrew High School.

Today, the Sandi Kupperman Learning Center, now named after the beloved and devoted teacher who passed away in 1998, has an enrollment of 40 students in grades K-7 and 11 teens in the high school.

With changing demographics resulting in the decline in enrollment, both Temple Beth El and Sinai are now planning to combine forces, and under the leadership of Rabbi Amy Wallk Katz of TBE and Rabbi Mark Shapiro of Sinai Temple, the two temples hope to open a combined religious school in the fall of 2017.

Resnick said she is very excited about the new joint educational enterprise and will be supporting its transition. When the new program begins she will not be the education director, but will continue to work in all of the other educational areas that SKLC encompasses, including holidays and programming.

She said she is honored that TBE is recognizing her at the fundraising event.

“I feel appreciative and grateful,” she said. “What I am most excited about is that so many of my former students are interested in coming. That is the best gift of all!”

SKLC will honor Caryn Resnick on Saturday, April 2 at 6:30 p.m. at TBE, 979 Dickinson St. The evening will include cocktails and dinner, a silent auction, dancing, and musical entertainment by New England Dueling Pianos. Tickets are $75 per person. R.S.V.P. by Monday, March 21. For more information, contact Marie in the SKLC office at (413) 737-0170 or sklc@tbespringfield.org.

CAP: Caryn Resnick and some of her students preparing to make hamantaschen.

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