NEW TEACHERS 23-24: Falk, Kossack, Lapointe

NEW TEACHERS 23-24: Falk, Kossack, Lapointe
Community-building led new Tanach teacher to become a rabbi
ORGANIZER: Rabbi Falk noticed young Jews like him needed ways to get together. “Let’s create something for these people,” he told his friends. (Ella Hoenig)

Rabbi Gabe Falk, who is now teaching two Tanach classes and directing a new parent learning initiative, is passionate about building communities. 

After graduating from Columbia University, where he studied Economics and Jewish History, Rabbi Falk worked as a financial consultant. Living in the Upper West Side of Manhattan with roommates at the time, he realized that young Jews like him in his area lacked a sense of community, he said in an interview.

Among his ideas were hosting Hakafot, a ceremony performed on the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah where people dance in circles around the Torah, and Eicha, the Book of Lamentations, which Jews hear on Tisha b’Av.

“So I said let’s create something for these people,” said Rabbi Falk in an interview. “So we started building, hosting Friday night meals in our apartment.  Then we ended up hosting Simchat Torah Hakafot for like 400 people, Eicha for 500 people. It was amazing, and I found out that I liked my hobby more than my job.”

This community of hundreds of Jews participating in these events is called Upper West Side Jews, and is still running today, according to Rabbi Falk.

Leading it inspired Rabbi Falk to become a rabbi.

“I really fell in love with teaching Torah and building the Jewish community and bringing people together around Torah,” Rabbi Falk said. “I made a pretty big leap in my life and left consulting to start rabbinical school.”

After beginning rabbinical school at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary at Yeshiva University, Rabbi Falk married Dr. Debra Rosenbaum, a pediatric critical care doctor. The couple lived in Israel for a year and then moved to Cleveland, where she matched for medical residency. They lived there for four years, and Rabbi Falk taught at the Fuchs Mizrachi school, while serving as Assistant Rabbi at the Green Road Synagogue.

They relocated to Los Angeles this summer so Dr. Rosenbaum could complete a fellowship at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

Rabbi Falk is teaching 10th and 12th grade Tanach classes this year, and is directing a parent learning initiative called Torat Shalhevet. 

“My hope is that we can really create a community where there’s a culture of not just students but parents coming together to learn Torah,” he said. “I think we can transform this community.”

Rabbi Falk grew up in Riverdale, New York, where he attended SAR High School and was captain of their floor hockey team.

In his free time, Rabbi Falk likes to read, hike and spend time with his family.

“Most of my free time is spent with my three delicious kids,” he said. Their names are Meital, Elisha and Betzalel. “I spend a lot of time reading five-year-olds’ books and building Legos.”

Childhood in two countries fits at bi-cultural Shalhevet
SUPPORT: Ms. Danielle Kossack brings international experience, having taught the IB curriculum in Moscow. (Ella Hoenig)

Ms. Daniella Kossack, the new education support specialist, can relate to Shalhevet students who have a dual Jewish and American identity because of her own bi-national identity.

After being born in Los Angeles, Ms. Kossack spent her childhood living in both Los Angeles and Russia. With her mom living in St. Petersburg, Russia, and her dad living in L.A., spent a lot of time going back and forth, totalling approximately 12 years living in Russia and 16 here.

“I decided to come back because I have two nationalities,” Ms. Kossack said in an interview. “I identify as both Russian and American. And the time came for me to explore my other half, which is American. And also I wanted to get a bit of education here.”

She attended college at UCLA, where she majored in Italian and Political Science, and then went back to Moscow in 2020 where she worked at an IB school – a rigorous international high school – for around three years. 

She then returned to the U.S. because of Russia’s war against Ukraine in 2022.

“I was in Russia when the war started,” she said, in February of 2022.  “The reason I moved back is because of the war. The country that I really love, which is my homeland, is really not the country I have known, and it is different now and I don’t like it.”

After returning to America, she earned her Master’s of Science in special education and worked   at the Glendale School District before coming to work at Shalhevet.

I think having the background helps me understand their internal struggles with their identity… and helps me better understand where they are coming from.

— Ms. Daniella Kossack, Ed. Support

“I think having the background helps me understand their internal struggles with their identity … and helps me better understand where they are coming from,” Ms. Kossack said.

“My focus is on smoothly transitioning into the school and working with new types of students, with a new type of culture, and figuring out what works best in this community,” said Ms. Kossack.

“The main strategy is developing self-advocacy skills so students can relay their needs,” she added.

Ms. Kossack also plans on using strategies that are backed up by evidence.

“I think that a lot of the things done in special education do not always reflect what science tells us,” said Ms. Kossack.

Outside of school Ms. Kossack enjoys tennis, baking and going to the beach. When she was 15, she participated in professional ice ballet.

She is currently working part time, and said that the best way to reach her is by email or scanning the QR code on her door in the Education Support wing.

New Ed Support specialist loves California
CROSS-COUNTRY: After moving to California from Maryland, Mr. Luke Lapointe worked in special education before joining Shalhevet. (Ella Hoenig)

Mr. Luke Lapointe, one of two new Education Support specialists this year, hails from a small town in Maryland and has always been passionate about working in education. 

Though he comes from the East Coast, he loves hiking and the outdoors, and pretty much everything in California – especially its natural beauty.

“I used to think that living in California was kind of a silly thing to do,” said Mr. Lapointe in an interview. “My impression was that it catches fire every year and it’s kind of slowly sliding into the ocean.

“But I mean, the color is even more vivid here. And the sun is just blasting.” 

Mr. Lapointe grew up and went to school in Havre de Grace, Maryland, before heading to Baltimore to attend the University of Baltimore County, where he majored in psychology. 

In 2021, he moved across the country to Los Angeles and joined LAUSD’s special education staff. Even before teaching professionally, he enjoyed helping and educating kids. 

“I got my first taste of it in Boy Scouts,” said Mr. Lapointe. “I was, for a couple of years, responsible for bringing in the youngest scouts in the troop and making sure they were comfortable, they achieved their first rank and they got put with the kids where they were going to thrive.” 

While there are some changes from his former job in 2021, he is excited about the change from LAUSD schools to Shalhevet because of his ability to reach more students and make a broader impact.

“When people are interested in learning from you or with you, I think it’s really kind of electric,” he said. “It’s wonderful to have that exchange. I see a lot of that happening here.”

Mr. Lapointe enjoys the relaxed attitude of people in Los Angeles compared to what he grew up with in Maryland. 

“What I feel the most is the attitude of people over here tends to be a little – easygoing … like broader minded, a little more loose,” he said. “I’m used to a more buttoned-up attitude … but I just find here that people are very warm and welcoming.”

After his cross-country move, Mr. Lapointe has found some new hobbies, while also maintaining previous interests including tabletop roleplaying games, where the players dictate the actions of their characters through speech. 

In his free time, he bakes and has recently learned to roller skate.

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