We should have more rachmanus (compassion) on the educator honorees at yeshiva functions.
Think about it - our yeshiva teachers and rabbonim operate in an environment that prizes collegiality, cooperation and community. In teaching our children, they emphasize character traits like modesty and humility.
Yet one of them is asked each year to stand out from their peers, to publicly accept effusive praise, and to see their name bandied about in mass-emailed invitations and news stories (like this one).
It’s not like any of the honorees are not deserving of the tributes. Quite the opposite. They just could do without all the attention.
One fine example is Elana Kurtz, this year’s recipient of the Educator Excellence Award at the scholarship breakfast of the Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva in Edison on Sunday, December 18.
Kurtz, who grew up in the community, is the general studies teacher in the third grade and has previously taught seventh grade girls and first grade in the school. She has taught at the school for over seven years and is considered an influencer among her colleagues, known for her efforts to create a personalized education for each child in her class.
Kurtz worked previously at the Yaldaynu Preschool on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and at Yeshivat Noam in Paramus, where she taught first, second and fourth graders. She is very active in the Highland Park/Edison community, serving as a board member of Congregation Ahavas Achim and chair of their last annual dinner.
Kurtz is also quite dedicated to the yeshiva, having previously chaired the school’s annual dinner and currently serving as the faculty representative for RPRY PLUS.
She knows that the scholarship breakfast is the one annual event on the school calendar that brings together hundreds of community members, raises tens of thousands of dollars, and is laser focused on one goal - to make sure the yeshiva is accessible to families of all means. According to Abby Eserner, a member of the Yeshiva’s Board of Governors, the scholarship breakfast is a decades-long tradition at the school and about 40% of the students currently benefit from some level of scholarship.
Reached by The Jewish Link, Kurtz was gracious about the honor to be bestowed on her. “I love teaching and coming to school each day. I feel like I have created a second home in my classroom and want my students to feel the same. RPRY is really a second family, and the people I work with are incredible individuals who inspire me every day. I have learned so much from my colleagues and we constantly use each other as sounding boards to help us problem solve or create new and engaging lessons. I have so much hakarat hatov to RPRY for providing me with opportunities to grow and learn, after all a teacher should always be a student too!”
As the head of school attests, Kurtz is very well regarded in the school.
“The scholarship breakfast is a vital tradition of RPRY and an important statement about our school’s firm commitment to be accessible to different families with a wide variety of means,” said Rabbi Michael Ribalt, head of school of RPRY. “This year we’re delighted to honor Mrs. Elana Kurtz, our much beloved third grade general studies teacher. We take particular pride in the fact that Elana is not only a teacher at RPRY but an alumna and a parent of three current RPRY students as well. Elana represents the very best of RPRY and we invite the community to join us in honoring Elana’s passion for and multifaceted attachment to our yeshiva.”
Kurtz’s designation as honoree is particularly poignant to her parents, Morah Judy Schwarzberg, who has taught the pre-kindergarten class at the school for decades, and Rabbi Ronald Schwarzberg, the rabbi emeritus of Congregation Ahavas Achim and director of The Morris and Gertrude Bienenfeld Dept. of Jewish Career Development and Placement at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University.
Her parents stated to The Jewish Link: ““We’re so proud to see our daughter, Elana, selected to receive the Educator of the Year Award at this year’s RPRY scholarship breakfast. We often hear from parents of her students how thorough and conscientious she is as a teacher, and how she always finds a way to connect with each and every one of her students. As Elana is a second generation RPRY teacher, this recognition is deeply meaningful for our family. Congratulations to you, Elana, for a richly deserved award!”
Speaking to the function of the scholarship breakfast, RPRY Board of Governors Vice President Dr. Ethan Wasserman of East Brunswick shared: “Over 15 years ago, as my daughters were of age to start school, I had no doubt that they would be attending RPRY. As a resident physician, I knew I would need tuition assistance. The scholarship application process was uncomplicated, private and done in a way that preserved the respect and dignity of the applicants. I was given a scholarship that allowed me to not have to worry about being able to afford a Torah education for my children. Now, thankfully, I am able to give back, and support the RPRY Scholarship Fund, to be able to afford the same opportunity to others. I encourage others to support it as well.”
By Harry Glazer