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Jewish Educator Awards Surprise Two Teachers Who Prepare Students for 21st-Century Success plus Tradition’s Age-Old Values

Milken Family Foundation presents $15,000 checks
to teacher-leaders at Valley Beth Shalom and Brawerman Elementary


October 14, 2014

SANTA MONICA, CA – Heading into school today, little did two LA-area Jewish day school teachers know that they would each end the day $15,000 richer! The wealth wasn’t just monetary, however, as they were honored with the Milken Jewish Educator Award before their entire schools for being role models of excellence for students and colleagues at Valley Beth Shalom Harold M. Schulweis Day School (VBS) in Encino and Brawerman Elementary School in West Los Angeles.

Ariela Nehemne 029399

Ariela Nehemne wears multiple hats as a kindergarten teacher, peer mentor and technology leader at VBS, a Conservative Jewish day school for grades K–6 in Encino. Kindergartners enter the year with little if any Hebrew background; yet, speaking only Hebrew, Nehemne brings the language and Jewish heritage to life through music, art, cooking, drama, movement and literature. Whether students explore a classroom transformed into a Persian Shushan castle at Purim or lead a Passover seder by performing the story in Hebrew, they are building a foundation for success in school. Nehemne also mentors the entire VBS staff in best practices to achieve Hebrew proficiency, in curriculum mapping, and by integrating diverse forms of technology into the curriculum.

Barry Schapira 099417

Physical education coach Barry Schapira joined the team at Brawerman Elementary School West—a reform Jewish day school campus of Wilshire Boulevard Temple—back when there were only two grades. Not only did he develop the successful afterschool program, but the athletic program has also grown to include 15 teams of fourth-through-sixth graders that compete in the Coastal Canyon League of independent schools. A past-president of the league, Schapira’s leadership is also felt at Hebrew Union College where he lectures on incorporating Jewish values into physical education. While fitness and teamwork are obvious goals, Schapira’s integration of Jewish values is exemplified by a “spiritual scoreboard” that records how well students conduct themselves win or lose. Then again, with a role model like Schapira, everyone comes out a winner.

During all-school assemblies at each campus, Milken Family Foundation Executive Vice President Richard Sandler involved students in the presentation, together with BJE Executive Director Dr. Gil Graff. Two more educators will receive the award in the weeks to come.

In summing up the important message of the day’s first notification event, Valley Beth Shalom Rabbi Ed Feinstein told the chapel full of VBS Day School students and faculty that “according to the Torah, the most special thing you can do in the world is become a teacher.”

The Jewish Educator Awards initiative was established in 1990 by the Milken Family Foundation, in cooperation with BJE: Builders of Jewish Education, to provide public recognition and unrestricted $15,000 cash awards to teachers, administrators and other education professionals in the Greater Los Angeles area who have made significant contributions to excellence in day schools affiliated with BJE.   

According to Sandler, “The Jewish Educator Awards call upon others in the profession to emulate the high standards of those we honor today—educators whose intelligence, scholarship, creativity and compassion help guide children to greater success, while preserving the heritage that gives meaning to that success.”  

Award recipients are selected by a committee of educators, professional and lay leaders from the Jewish community. To be eligible for consideration, educators must teach a minimum of 15 hours per week at the kindergarten-through-12th-grade level; they must have been teaching for a minimum of seven years in a BJE-affiliated school; and they must hold a class "A" or higher scale rating (for Judaic teachers) or a state teaching credential (for general studies teachers).

Criteria considered for the selection of Jewish Educator Award recipients include:

  • Exceptional educational talent and promise, as demonstrated by outstanding practices in the classroom, school and community.
  • Evidence of originality, dedication and capacity for leadership and self-direction.
  • Commitment to influencing policies that affect children, their families and schools.
  • Strong long-range potential for even greater contribution to children, the profession and society.
  • Distinguished achievement in developing innovative educational curricula, programs and/or teaching methods.
  • Outstanding ability to instill in students character and self-confidence.
  • Outstanding ability to develop Jewish children’s understanding of the connections between their religion, their classroom activities, and their activities beyond the classroom.
  • Commitment to professional development and excellence and the continuing Judaic and/or secular study necessary for it.
  • Personal involvement in responding to the needs of the Jewish and secular communities.
  • Criteria for administrators also include outstanding ability to attract, support and motivate committed education professionals.

Recipients, together with their families and community leaders, will be honored during an awards luncheon in Los Angeles on December 16, 2014.  The event is known for its inclusiveness, bringing together people from the most secular to the most Orthodox in the Jewish community.

For more information about the Jewish Educator Awards, visit www.jewisheducatorawards.org.

CONTACT: Bonnie Somers, (310) 570-4770 or bsomers@mff.org