After 46 years of teaching Hebrew at Sinai Akiba Academy, Rivka Shaked is retiring to spend more time in Israel. She will embark on her first extended visit at the end of this summer to celebrate the High Holy Days in Israel for the first time since her youth.
“Rivka is the teacher who, 20 or 30 years later, students ask about,” said Rabbi Lawrence Scheindlin, head of Sinai Akiba. “They say, ‘Rivka believed in me,’ ‘Rivka helped me see what I am capable of,’ ‘She taught me to care about myself and other people.’ ”
Although Craig Taubman, musician and former Sinai student, was never in her class, he still refers to her as his teacher.
“She was the spirit of Sinai. She gave freely of herself and was open to receiving freely of others,” Taubman said. “Most teachers think that they have to give from the head down, but she gave from the heart up. And she gave and gave and gave. She made everyone feel valued, which is the ultimate gift you can give to someone.”
Shaked was born in Israel, and describes the birth of the Jewish State as one of the highlights of her life.
“I hope to instill in our children the love for our tradition and to educate them to see and feel the depth, the joy and the value of our Jewish heritage,” Shaked said. “I wish for my students to grow and understand the role Israel plays in our lives.”
One of her most tangible accomplishments is the creation of a Hebrew curriculum, “Betzevah Ve’Shir” (“In Color and Song”). She composed 30 songs for it as well as drew each image herself to help the children feel comfortable with the material. Her work was later integrated into the widely used Tal-Am curriculum.
Before her tenure at Sinai, Shaked taught as a volunteer for immigrant students on Israel’s border towns, as an exchange teacher in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, in a Tel Aviv school, and at Temple Emanuel. Then, in 1966, she began teaching afternoon school at Sinai Temple. Three years later, Sinai Akiba Academy was established and she became one of the day school’s first Hebrew teachers, while maintaining her afternoon school job for more than 25 years.
“I saw Sinai go from a few bungalows on the corner of this street to a building that takes over an entire block,” Shaked said.
The Milken Family Foundation recognized her teaching talents in 1999 when she received one of the first ever Jewish educator awards, which included a gift of $10,000.
As much as Shaked looks forward to traveling to Israel, what she will miss most are her students, whom she calls her best teachers.