December 28, 2006
Betty Neymark: Second Career From a Second Language
She and her daughter, along with friend and reading specialist Evelyn Stecher, promptly began a program at their Reform synagogue in Tarzana.
On the first day of registration in January 1990, Neymark thought no one would show up. Instead, she encountered a line of people stretching past the Temple's driveway. Fifty students registered, and Temple Judea's all-volunteer ESL program was born.
Today that program boasts 150 students, 25 volunteer teachers and five administrators, including Neymark. While her daughter has begun a new career and Stecher has moved away, Neymark remains.
"I just love it. I meet wonderful people. It enhances my life," said Neymark, who previously worked as a human resources administrator in two school districts.
Those "wonderful people" include the students, primarily from the former Soviet Union, Iran and South America. Most are 50 or older, and they are both Jewish and not. Many are new immigrants. A few have lived here as long as 20 years.
Neymark also has great affection for the teachers, who range in age from 21 to 89. Only two are new this year, and 18 of them have been with program 10 years or more.
The classes are small, with four to seven students. They meet for two hours twice a week, from September to June. In addition to English, students learn about American culture.
"Students come in with no English and then are able to function in society and make their lives better," said Neymark, noting that many go on to become citizens and to vote.
Temple Judea provides the classroom space. The program is free; students pay only for their textbooks. Donations and a corporate grant cover other expenses.
"I call myself a coordinator," said Neymark, a 47-year temple member who won't reveal her age. She registers new students, evaluating their English proficiency and placing them in one of six homogeneous classes, ranging from beginning to conversational English. She also arranges for new teachers to receive 12 hours of training each fall.
Additionally, she publishes a newsletter twice a year for the teachers, holds two faculty meetings a year and organizes the annual faculty party.
Neymark is reluctant to take credit for program's accomplishments.
"It runs itself," she said, emphasizing that it's a team effort. She also refers to her husband, who does all her computer work, as her "secret weapon."
Hilda Fogelson, a retired Los Angeles Unified School District teacher who has taught in the program for 16 years, said, "Betty is very organized and very professional. That's why the program is so successful."
Neymark feels a responsibility to continue to support Temple Judea and the Jewish community.
"I'm not going to fade away any sooner than I have to," she said.