As the new director of JEWELS, I count my blessings every day. Five years ago, I never would have imagined that I would have the privilege of working with a talented and dedicated Judaic teaching staff and collaborating with an incredibly supportive and experienced board of directors. Shaping an innovative program that influences Jewish youth in a multitude of ways was nowhere to be found in my five year plan.
When I was first approached by Cantor Ron Li-Paz and his wife Bronwen to consider taking on the role of director, my initial response was, ‘Why me?’ Most of my recent professional career has been as a math and science teacher. Prior to that, I was a professional health educator coordinating HIV and pregnancy prevention programs for high risk youth in Hollywood. Only recently have I begun to venture into the world of Jewish education.
Raised as a reformed Jew in the West Valley, Judaism meant socializing with my friends at high-holiday services and attending dreaded Hebrew school twice a week. Sure I was Bat-Mitzvah’d and we celebrated the major holidays, but it wasn’t until a few years after I married my secular Israeli husband, Dan, that he and I began exploring the vast wonders of Judaism together.
When we moved to Agoura Hills in 1997, my husband and I were immediately embraced by our local Jewish community. We began attending our neighborhood Chabad shul and, before we knew it, we were celebrating Shabbat every Friday night with our family and friends, we koshered our kitchen, and Saturdays were transformed into a sacred time of rest, re-connection and rejuvenation.
Seven years ago we enrolled two of our three sons in Jewish day school (there was no local option for our eldest son at the time) and we too decided to study Torah and deepen our knowledge of Jewish practices, mitzvot and other spiritual aspects of our new-found religion.
As I became more personally invested in my Judaism, doors began to open up for me. I took on a volunteer position as the PFC-Judaic liaison at my children’s day school. The following year I was offered a position as the Assistant to the Judaic Coordinator of Heschel West, where I found myself immersed in planning for Judaic events and holiday programming under the direction of Rivka Ben Daniel, one of the finest Judaic educators around. I later returned to the classroom at Conejo Jewish Day School where I was surrounded by Ahavat Yisroel and Jewish values every minute of the day.
As I reflect on my personal journey and professional career path, it is no wonder that I find myself as the Director of JEWELS. This position affords me the perfect opportunity to exercise my experience as an educator, develop my skills as a leader and to share my passion for Judaism with the young, vibrant, growing Jewish community of Valley Outreach Synagogue.
My greatest hope is that as a participant in JEWELS, your child will develop a strong Jewish identity, comfort with the Hebrew language, and a deep connection with his/her Jewish heritage. May JEWELS be one milestone on your child’s continued personal life-long Jewish journey.