The Milken Family Foundation and BJE (Builders of Jewish Education) awarded four Jewish day school educators $15,000 prizes at their annual Jewish Educator Awards Luncheon last week, a feel-good event that brings out the Jewish community’s top brass and a wide swath of the denominational spectrum.
“This is a great day to be a teacher,” said honoree Dalia Golan, chair of the Hebrew department and a teacher at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy. In accepting the award, she described her role as a teacher to be helping children write the stories of their own lives.
Deborah Cohen, who teaches second grade at Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School, saved her biggest thank you for her students. “They’re the ones who cause me to love every day and reward me with each of their successes,” she said.
Louis “Coach Sam” Schwerdtfeger, dean of students and athletic director at Valley Beth Shalom Day School, offered a taste of the energy and warmth he brings to his students. As he described how he encourages his students to take risks and discover themselves, he stopped and asked, “How am I doing? Am I doing all right? I couldn’t get through this without crying when I rehearsed at home!”
Debra Sokolow, visual arts teacher and founder of the Architecture and Design Institute at Milken Community High School, thanked the school for recognizing the educational value of artistic expression — from video documentaries to a mosaic glass ark wall in the new middle school chapel. “There is no greater joy than watching a person learn the creative process,” she said.
Richard Sandler, chairman of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and executive vice president of the Milken Family Foundation, described, with the help of slides and videos, the emotional impact of the surprise announcements of the prizes at the four schools.
The foundation also recognized two students who won the first Jewish Educator Award Student Essay Contest. Ilan Atri, an eighth-grader at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, won in the middle school category for the essay he wrote about his Jewish hero — his father. Menny Chazanow, a 10th-grader at Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon Chabad, won in the high school category for an essay that highlighted compassion as the defining attribute of a Jewish leader.
The students received $500 each to distribute to a charity of their choice, and their schools won $1,800 unrestricted grants.
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