February 8, 2001
Jewish Educator Q & A
A rabbi's son combines a passion for Judaism and his "immaturity" to relate to kids.
With this issue, the Journal launches a new feature, Educator Q & A. We will be featuring regular interviews with teachers, school administrators and others involved in public, private and Jewish education in the greater Los Angeles area. Through their answers, we hope to shed light on the people behind our children's education, their challenges, their insights and their contributions.
Dan Schochet, 34, is a labor law attorney. For the past six years he has taught religious school at Temple Isaiah, earning the Lainer Distinguished Educator Award. Schochet also met his wife, Taly Peretz, at Temple Isaiah -- she teaches fifth grade there. His father is Eli Schochet, who for more than 30 years was the rabbi at Shomrei Torah in West Hills.
JJ: Isn't your brother married to Andi Schochet, the teacher at Maimonides Academy who just won a Milken Jewish Educator Award?
DS: Yeah, my family was sort of sucking up awards there for about a week.
JJ: You were in the first graduating class at Kadima, a Conservative day school. Then you studied at Emek Hebrew Academy, connected with the Orthodox movement. Now you teach at Temple Isaiah, a Reform congregation?
DS: I consider myself ecumenical when it comes to Judaism. I'm equally comfortable in almost any type of temple.
JJ: Why did you start teaching religious school?
DS: It sounded like something I'd be good at, and so I just decided to give it a shot.
JJ: But you're also a full-time attorney.
DS: That's my vocation. One of the reasons I enjoy teaching so much is it's fun for me. That one afternoon a week and Sunday morning are some of the most rewarding parts of my leisure.
JJ: You teach fifth-graders. Do you find your kids distracted by other demands on their time, like schoolwork, soccer and music lessons?
DS: I'm often amazed at how busy kids are these days. Sometimes their schedules seem even more hectic than my own. But as a general rule attendance is great. They enjoy coming to Hebrew school. They have a whole social group outside of their regular school that they enjoy spending time with. The most important thing for me is that they see the temple as a place they're welcome, a place they belong to.
JJ: As a male Hebrew school teacher, do you have to fight the perception that you're something of a wimp?
DS: I recognize the fact that most Hebrew school teachers tend to be female. I think my being male offers something different for the students. And the wimp thing is nothing I've ever thought about.
JJ: What allows you to be on the kids' wavelength?
DS: I think it's my sense of humor. Or maybe it's my immaturity. But it's knowing their television shows and their music and sports. Because I have some of the same interests as the kids, I think they can relate to me.
JJ: Do they come to you with tough questions?
DS: Sometimes I do get very difficult questions, concerning 'Why is this important to students today?' What I try to do is to share my passion for my religion and my culture, and how I feel that completes me as a human being. In regard to tough questions about the Holocaust, I don't have those answers myself.