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‘A part of the family’

Edrys to be honored by Heritage Academy as they prepare to return to Israel

By Stacey Dresner

SPRINGFIELD – Yehuda Edry says that he often runs into former students of his who attended Heritage Academy in Longmeadow.

“The kids who were our students any time along these 18 years, I feel like they never left us. Any time I see students come back, they are still connected. They say, ‘You’re still my teacher.” I will be at the JCC and someone will come up to me and show me their kids. I say, ‘Don’t make me feel so old,’” he laughed.

But that bond is what has made Yehuda and his wife, Tali such valued educators at Heritage Academy.

Now, after teaching at Heritage for 18 years, the Edrys will be leaving Longmeadow to return to their native Israel at the end of the school year.

“It’s bittersweet. It is very hard to put it aside and move on. This is our second home, our family. We have mixed feelings,” said Tali, who added that all of the friends they have made in Springfield are welcome to come visit in Israel.

“As our house here was their house, our house in Israel will be theirs as well. And we’ll be happy to see them all come to visit and stay in touch.”

“There is absolutely no way to quantify what the Edry’s mean to our Jewish community,” says Rabbi Max Davis of Congregation B’nai Torah. “They are among the most remarkable, inspirational, and kindhearted people I have had the privilege of knowing. We will miss them no end, but will enthusiastically continue to count ourselves among their numerous chasidim!”

To thank the Edrys for all of their hard work and dedication to the Longmeadow Jewish day school, Heritage Academy is honoring them at “A 65th Celebration of Our Heritage,” on Thursday, May 26.

The event will not only honor the Edrys but will support Heritage Academy’s scholarship fund.

“Heritage is excited to be honoring the Edry’s at our upcoming scholarship dinner, where many of there past students will be there to honor Tali and Yehuda,” said Sharon Cohen, co-president of Heritage Academy. “My daughters have been taught by both Yehuda and Tali as have a generation of Heritage students.”

Both Tali and Yehuda Edry were born educators.

Tali was born on a Moshav near Rohovot.

“We were not religious. When I was 14 we got a little closer to our roots,” said Tali, who attended a religious high school, then graduated Talpiot in Tel Aviv with a Bachelor’s Degree in Education and Art.

“My specialty was art, that was my major,” she said. “In Israel, I turned my school into an art school.”

Yehuda was born in Dimona. His parents arrived in Israel in 1962 from their native Morocco. His father led a shul in Dimona. Yehuda has three sisters and four brothers. He lost one brother during the Lebanon War in 1982.

Yehuda went to high school at Yeshivat Bnei Akiva in Beer Sheva – “It was like HHNE in a way,” he says, and later served in the Israeli Army as a medic in an engineering unit.

He attended Moreshet Yakov College for Jewish Education and became a “school rabbi.”

“In Israel there is a role that we don’t have here – school rabbi. Every classroom has a rabbi that leads it.”

He worked as an elementary and middle school rabbi and as a Judaic studies high school teacher in Israel.

Tali met Yehuda when she was 20 years old. “My aunt worked with Yehuda at the same school and she introduced us to each other…it was my first date,” she laughed. After six months, they were married.

They settled in Ne’ev Zuf, a settlement in the Shamron area. Tali was still in school at the time and Yehuda was teaching. After a year, their first child, daughter Tohar, was born. After a year and 8 months, their son Yitzchak was born. It was then that the couple decided “we wanted to look into something different,” Tali recalls. “We were both teaching in Israel and thought we could make a difference in other places as well.”

The young couple ended up in Chicago for two years. “Chicago has a huge Jewish community,” Tali recalled. “Coming in as shaliachim, we felt we were going to make such a difference, but it didn’t feel like we made a big difference because of the size of the community.”

“Our contribution was limited to the school,” Yehuda explained.

After two years, they had two options, Tali said – go back to Israel or move on to a different place in the Diaspora. They ended up in Springfield.

“We really felt we had good communication with the head of school who was here when we came, Rabbi Moshe Dear,” Yehuda said. “In Chicago…we were only a part of the school. Here you were actually part and parcel of what the community was all about. We really fell in love with the community.”

Sharon met the Edrys 18 years ago when her daughter Gillian began kindergarten in Tali’s first class.

“They were young energetic educators excited to be a part of the Heritage faculty,” Cohen said. “As educators, the Edrys were willing to teach different levels and subject matter, whatever the school needed over their tenure. One thing I note any time I am in the building or at shul with the Edrys is Yehuda’s distinct voice. When he wants to keep his students engaged he uses his strong singing voice.”

Both Tali and Yehuda have taught at Heritage Academy in different capacities over the past 18 years, but unlike their stint in Chicago, they became full-fledged members of the entire Springfield Jewish community.

Yehuda served as cantor and youth director at Kodimoh Synagogue, one of the three Orthodox shuls that merged several years ago to become Congregation B’nai Torah.

He has taught at the religious schools at Temple Beth El, the former Congregation B’nai Jacob and Sinai Temple, and has taught Hebrew to adults at the JCC.

Besides teaching at Heritage and taking care of their five kids, Tali says that one of her favorite things to do has been sharing with community members the true beauty of Shabbat.

“Definitely, the role for me was really to get the people more connected with the feeling of Shabbat,” said Tali. “I think that understanding the meaning of Shabbat, the gathering and the tradition are important. You focus on your family and you are able to relax and enjoy the great food.”

The Edrys are known for their large Shabbat dinners with delicious Israeli fare – they usually host one or two families on Friday nights, with at least 15 people sitting around their table.

“I love cooking and like to host,” said Tali, who likes to bring her artistic talent into the Shabbat preparation. “One of my favorite things is setting up the table in different ways,” she said. “And we love people. We love the communication and Shabbat is a great opportunity to get together and enjoy.”

One of the things they treasure most are the relationships they have forged with their students – and their parents.

“For me it is making the connection with not just the kids but also their family. Seeing them graduate comfortable with the Hebrew language,” Tali said. “You hear the kids talking with Israeli accents, and that is not something that you see in other places. I think for them learning about their heritage is not the same experience as in afternoon [religious] schools. They are excited about it, happy about it. I feel like you touch so many people in different ways.”

One of the biggest highlights of the Edrys’ time in Springfield has been the biannual trips to Israel that Tali and Yehuda have led for Heritage Academy’s middle schoolers. They have led three of these trips over the years.

“Their love of Israel is entwined to all that they teach from the classroom to our middle school trips to Israel the highlight for all our middle school students,” says Sharon Cohen. “From the kindergarten class going virtually to Israel, preparing Israeli food to celebrating all of the Israeli holidays, our children love Israel and sound Israeli due to the natural accents the Edrys and  our Shlichim bring to Heritage Academy.”

The Edrys are now returning to Israel where two of their daughters are now studying. Two of their children are in New York — one at Yeshiva University and another who has graduated from YU. Their youngest, Yuval, is 10. All attended Heritage Academy.

They will live in their home in Ne’ve Zuf where Yehuda will seek a job in education and Tali, who would like to try something different, hopes to work in the Jewish community at a non-profit organization.

As the school year winds down, friends and members of the community keep trying to get Tali and Yehuda to stay.

“I don’t think the community has digested the idea…Every single day they say, ‘Maybe you’ll reconsider and stay.’ It’s flattering and a good feeling that they don’t want us to leave, but we think that it’s a good idea to leave before you need to leave,” he laughed.

“Our plan originally was to stay for two years,” Yehuda concluded. “It is a huge compliment to the community that two years doubled 10 times, and we looked at them as our family.”

Cohen said that Heritage is on the lookout for the Edry’s successors.

“Our Judaic staff is actively looking for new Judaic and Hebrew teachers to replace the Edrys’ in the classroom, and I am confident we will find amazing educators again,” she said. “As they leave us, the Edrys’ are part of the permanent fabric of Heritage, they are a part of the family and will be surely missed.” n

CAP: Yehuda and Tali Edry with some of their students at Heritage Academy.

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