Shalhevet to take a year’s break from Bat Ami program

This year's bat ami, Aviya Cohen, left, and Sara Borenstein, right -- here with juniors Adie Pfeiffer and Danielle Roth -- brought Israeli culture to Shalhevet through activities ranging from holiday observances to movie nights.

Photo courtesy of Sara Borenstein

This year's bat ami, Aviya Cohen, left, and Sara Borenstein, right -- here with juniors Adie Pfeiffer and Danielle Roth -- brought Israeli culture to Shalhevet through activities ranging from holiday observances to movie nights.

Jaclyn Kellner, Community Editor

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When Bat Ami Sara Borenstein and Aviya Cohen said goodbye last week, they took with them a 19-year tradition of Israeli high school graduates infusing Shalhevet with a cultural and personal connection to their country — at least for now.

Shalhevet has had Bat Ami — literally, “daughter(s) of my people” — since 1991, the school’s first year, and was the first in Los Angeles to partake in the program through which Israeli girls who are doing public service instead of the army serve for a year in Jewish day schools around the world. The goal is for them to create a connection to and love for Israel, and they are now part of the program at YULA, Hillel and Maimonides as well.

But according to Judaic Studies Principal Rabbi Ari Leubitz, Shalhevet’s program is being suspended, mostly because with the closing of the lower schools it’s not clear what they would do.

“We don’t have a program in place for two full-time high school Bat Ami next year,” Rabbi Leubitz said. “The decision was partly financial, but it’s more about not being able to articulate a game plan. If we bring them in we need to make sure that they are taken care of and have the stability of knowing what they’re going to do.”

Before the elementary school opened, Shalhevet had four Bat Ami—two in the high school and two in the middle school. They tutored Hebrew and Judaic Studies, decorated bulletin boards and arranged Jewish and Israeli holiday observances.

Back then, they also staffed the “Bat Ami room,” a kind of mini-student lounge in what is now the Hebrew office, where high school students could chill and practice their Hebrew during free periods.

When the elementary school opened in 2004, all four Bat Ami were assigned to the lower schools, two of them also serving part-time in the high school. This year, the school brought only two, Sara and Aviya, and they only planned four events for the high school the entire year.

Aside from those four, the pair planned gradewide events like sophomore movie and malawach night, and they also went on all of the high school’s field trips and Shabbatons. And while they didn’t plan as many events as previous Bat Ami had, and didn’t have as much time to spend in the high school, they got close with a lot of the high school students.

“The first year I came to Shalhevet, I loved having Bat Ami,” said junior Quinn Hastings, who’s been at Shalhevet since 6th grade. “This year, I got to know them personally and they were so sweet and brought so much life to the school. I like how they really engaged with the kids.”

“Sara was definitely one of my favorite all-time Bat Ami,” senior Trevor Brandt-Sarif said. “Not only was she incredibly fun and playful, as Bat Ami usually are, but she was also very thoughtful and intelligent. I had some of my most interesting discussions about God and religion this year with her.”

Without them next year, some worry that school might be different.

“I feel like the school might lose some of its spirit,” said sophomore Yonah Nimmer.

Lori and Jeffrey Meisel, parents of sophomore Josh Meisel and freshman Shirley Meisel, offered to raise funds to remove the Bat Amis’ expences from the school budjet.

“I understand what they’re saying on one hand,” said Mrs. Meisel, “but on the other hand I think the school is just going to lose this Israeli flavor. I wish there would be enough kids and enough parents to complain to bring the program back.”

Rabbi Leubitz said that rather than a change in policy, the school is just taking a year break to reevaluate the program and decide where the girls could be used.

“Having Israeli culture on campus is critical and we’re going to try to work with B’nai Akiva to supplement it, because we are a Zionist school,” Rabbi Leubitz said.

Students say they’ll miss the energetic, Zionistic presence of the Bat Ami.

“I like having Bat Ami because it brings a sense of Israel to our school,” junior Lauren Mohabber said. “Hopefully it’s for the best and they will come back next year.”

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