On Yom Hashoah, mixed groups of all grades dispersed to tables spread around the gym and shared their thoughts on memory, connection and the Holocaust. It started with a stack of small pictures and each student choosing one to ponder. There were speeches and discussions, and then, at the end of the assembly, students were asked to stay silent for 5 minutes, while writing answers to questions posed on giant posters on the walls around the room.
Roughly 250 students and faculty all on their feet, reading and writing and walking around the room, for five timed minutes made not a sound.
That was only one of the activities dreamed up and led by Ms. Ruthie Skaist, who is leaving Shalhevet after five years of teaching Judaic Studies, leading the Meditation Minyan and advising the Chesed Committee.
She also has led advisory groups and, more recently, run all-school programs on Yom Hashoah and Martin Luther King Day. Both programs were co-developed with English teacher Ms. Michelle Crincoli.
Big or small, Ms. Skaist’s activities seemed to highlight each individual involved.
“It may not seem logical, but I believe that every person is unique and special, and they need to always remember to highlight their uniqueness,” said Ms. Skaist, known by everyone as Ruthie, in an interview. “Everyone has so much to offer.”
She called leading the Meditation Minyan, which she developed with Rabbi Derek Gordon and Ms. Atara Segal, a “privilege,” and said she thought it was important for each student to choose a way to pray.
“I had the privilege of leading and taking part in meditation tefillah,” Ruthie tells Boiling Point. “Meditation was so meaningful because I think we all need more relaxation, and it makes me happy to see students choose that on their own.”
Ruthie has has taught 9th- through12th-grade Tanach and 9th- and 10th-grade Jewish History. Her students said they felt cared for.
“She is very good at reading the students, when she sees that the students aren’t present in the class, she either does meditation with us or we have a laid back conversation about what we had been learning,” said freshman Bailey Mendelson.
“The relationship she forms with the students is very strong, which enables her to read us,” Bailey said. “I think that it is a very important quality to have in a teacher and what I will miss most about her.”
A trained artist with eclectic interests, Ruthie Is leaving to pursue painting. She originally was interested in fashion design, but decided it would turn her into someone she did not want to be, and changed her focus.
“Art has always been this dream — I never thought I would actually be able to do it,” Ruthie said.
She also never thought she’d be at Shalhevet for five years – originally she had a two-yearappointment — but she has made many close friendships among the faculty and said she would not be cutting her ties. She did not rule out returning one day.
Principal Reb Noam Weissman said he would miss her.
“I loved working with her, and it’s fun when teachers in school are both friends and colleaguesm,” Reb Weissman said. “I will miss her personality, and the dynamic of the school will definitely be different.”
Meanwhile, Shalhevet has already hired new Judaic staff members, including Rabbi David Block, Rabbi Yagil Tzaidi and his wife Caroline, and Mr. Jeremy Shine who take over Holocaust education.