Growth in Judaic Studies department means more teachers, more connections


Ezra Fax

SPIRIT: Students from all grades spend Friday lunchtime singing under the ‘rakez’ tent on the roof, led by Rabbi Tsaidi, at left, and Rabbi Block.

Six faculty members, most part-time, have joined the Judaic Studies team this year, as school officials try to provide more role models and “points of connection” for Shalhevet’s expanding student body.

School officials said the increase would help the school fulfill its mission of strengthening ties between teachers and students who can emulate and learn from them.   

“If the mission of the school is to develop close relationships for the purpose of personal growth, then we need the right people and the right number of people to be doing that,” said Principal Reb Noam Weissman.

The new teachers are replacing two full-time faculty who did not return this year:  Mrs. Atara Segal, who has taken a sabbatical to attend the Yoetzot Halacha program in Israel; and Ms. Ruthie Skiaist, who taught and ran the chesed (community service) committee, who left to pursue a passion for painting and does not plan to return.

At the same time, enrollment grew from 227 to 247 students.  

Head of School Rabbi Ari Segal said there weren’t enough teachers to get to know so many.

“We have a lot of talent in the Judaic Studies realm, but it’s hard to have every faculty member doing everything, which is what we were doing before,” Rabbi Segal said in a meeting with Boiling Point reporters Sept. 8.

Four teachers, three of them new, have been assigned specifically to get to know every student in the school.  The male rakazim, or spiritual mentors, are responsible for getting to know all of the boys, and the female rakazim are focusing on either ninth-and-10th or 11th- and 12th –grade girls.

Reb Noam Weissman said more student-teacher connections could also ease feelings of favoritism.

A Boiling Point poll of Shalhevet students last year found that 83 percent perceived favoritism at Shalhevet, defined as “preferential treatment given to one student or group of students over another.”

“Real or perceived, it doesn’t matter,” Reb Noam Weissman said. “What the rakazim program does is no matter what, there’s a connection point from different faculty members.”  

The rakazim are Mashgiach Ruchani Rabbi David Block, who is in charge of the programming, Rabbi Yagil Tsaidi, Mrs. Carolyn Tsaidi, whose focus is underclassman girls, and Ms. Ilana Wilner, a returning teacher whose focus is upperclassman girls.

“Because we’re specifically tasked with this, no one feels like they are being stretched too thin,” said Ms. Wilner in an interview. “We wanted to infuse the culture of the school, and I really like being part of that.”

She said the rakazim would dedicate all of their breakfasts and lunches at school to meeting with students to learn or just talk, and also are responsible for hosting and facilitating onegs and other Shabbat meals.

They also have started a weekly Friday chabura, or learning session, on the roof, which has been growing in attendance.  

Each of the new Judaic hires is adding something unique to the staff, Reb Noam Weissman told the Boiling Point.

“It’s people who ideologically want to be here and want to contribute something to the table,” he said.    

In addition to Rabbi Block and Rabbi and Mrs. Tsaidi, the new faculty are Ms. Sara Smith, who is teaching Ms. Segal’s ninth-grade Tanach curriculum; Mr. Jeremy Shine, who is teaching Jewish History along with Ms. Tove Sunshine; and Mrs. Sarah Leah Gormin, leading chesed.

In all, that’s six new Judaic faculty.  Rabbi Segal told the news conference he hoped this would lead to a more focused, hands-on, and diverse staff, and satisfy “the need to be able to reach students on a religious, emotional level.”