Rabbi Lieberman wins $15,000 Milken Jewish Educator Award


Kate Orlanski

HONOR: Rabbi Abraham Lieberman, who has been teaching for over four decades, accepted the Jewish Educator Award from Mr. Richard Sandler, executive vice president of the Milken Family Foundation.

Students were already wondering why a last-minute special schedule had been posted when Rabbi Segal announced on Schoology that there was a “very important assembly” that all students would be obligated to attend Monday morning after davening. 

On Oct. 7, during first period and after, rumors were spreading around the school as to what the mysterious assembly was for. Some speculated it was a change in faculty, or perhaps a serious talk, but no one — not even the person the assembly was scheduled for — knew the truth. 

Just the environment of the class and the way that he is — he’s a very humble person with his knowledge, but he knows so much and he is just able to really make us feel as if we’re smart, just in the way he teaches us and makes us feel.

— Natalia Shabtay, 12th grade

When everyone was in their seats, Rabbi Segal took the microphone and introduced two speakers, one from the BJE — Builders of Jewish Education — and the other from the Milken Family Foundation.

A few moments later, one of them presented the foundation’s annual Jewish Educator Award.

“This is an individual who is committed themselves to education, to Torah, to making the world a better place,” said Mr. Richard Sandler, Executive Vice President of the Milken Family Foundation. 

“This is an individual who teaches teachers, teaches students and is a lifelong learner themselves.” 

“This individual, who I’m sure you’ll agree with me is deserving to be a representative of excellence in our community, is none other than your very own Rabbi Avraham Lieberman!” 

The Jewish Educator Award includes a $15,000 check and is given each year to four teachers who teach at Jewish schools in greater Los Angeles. 

After the winner was announced, the entire student body and faculty erupted in applause and a standing ovation — some students were crying — as Rabbi Lieberman made his way to the center of the room, giving handshakes to students as he walked to where Mr. Sandler handed him the envelope. 

Wiping away tears himself, Rabbi Lieberman accepted the award in shock. 

“I feel like I’m going to wake up and someone’s going to say ‘Whoa, that was an amazing dream,’” Rabbi Lieberman said on the podium. “Is this for real? Dr. Graff? Let’s put it this way: I, who can always speak, is lost for words.” 

Rabbi Segal then led everyone in a Jewish nigun, or melody, and students walked out of the gym to see boxes of Krisy Kreme donuts to celebrate the award. 

Rabbi Lieberman came to Shalhevet three years ago, after having been the Head of School at YULA Girls High School since 2008. This year he is teaching two 10th-grade Modern Jewish History classes, two 11th-grade Tanach classes, one 11th-grade Advanced Gemara shiur, and one 12th grade Talmud class.  

Kate Orlanski
CONGRATULATIONS: Many students from various grades approached Rabbi Lieberman after the assembly to wish him a mazal tov and congratulate him.

In an interview with the Boiling Point later in the day, Rabbi Lieberman said he had absolutely no idea he was going to win the award, nor had he known what the assembly was for. 

“I’m still in shock,” he said. “It’s pretty prestigious, and I’m pretty shocked that I got it. I really was wondering if I was having this dream and soon I was going to wake up soon and it was just a nightmare, but this was for real. There’s a lot of good people here who are also deserving.” 

As for what Rabbi Lieberman’s going to do with the money, he said he plans to spend it on more Jewish books to “feed his addiction.” 

Senior Natalia Shabtay, a student in Rabbi Lieberman’s Talmud class, suspected he would be the recipient once the Milken officials started describing the award.  She even cried a bit when they announced his name.

“Just the environment of the class and the way that he is,” said Natalia, “He’s a very humble person with his knowledge, but he knows so much and he is just able to really make us feel as if we’re smart, just in the way he teaches us and makes us feel.  He’s just an all around great teacher, you don’t get bored in his class.” 

Hebrew department chair Mrs. Mickey Rabinov won the same award in 2013.

Because she knew the assembly usually was scheduled for this time of year, she correctly guessed what the secretive assembly was about. Having worked with Rabbi Lieberman for three years now, she believes he is very deserving of the award. 

“He’s an amazing human being,” Mrs. Rabinov said. “He’s a real mensch, always helping students, always kind to people, always responding and cares about others.” 

Previous recipients while at Shalhevet are Ms. Katya Malikov, then math department chair, who won the award in 2014; Ms. Melanie Berkey, English Department chair, who won in 2009, and then-Hebrew chair Vered Hopenstand, 2001. 

On the foundation website, Lowell Milken, chairman of the Milken Foundation, and Richard Sandler described who is chosen to receive it. 

“Those we celebrate with this award exemplify the Jewish day school mission to prepare our youth for successful lives in the context of our values as a people,” the website says.

Rabbi Lieberman seemed to fit.

“When they were talking about a person who was really an amazing person, a great teacher, there were a few people that came to mind,” said Natalia, “and I was not at all surprised when they called his name because that’s just the type of person that he is.”