The radiance emanating from a hilltop south of Boston during the evening of March 13 reflected a resplendent celebration of a Maimonides School education.
More than 300 Maimonides seniors, parents, teachers and administrators, graduates, friends and supporters convened in the banquet facilities at Granite Links Golf Course in Quincy for the school’s Annual Gala. The theme of the Gala was “community,” intended to reflect the school’s underlying commitment to service, responsibility and enlightenment.
This event, a tradition that began in the 1940s, was centered this year on Maimonides School students, past and present. From the introduction of the Class of 2011, senior by senior, to the art project in the lobby, the focus was on the school’s core mission.
Recognition was a highlight of the Gala, as the school honored Rabbi David Ehrenkranz and Robert A. Wolff with Pillar of Maimonides Awards, emblematic of exemplary service to Jewish education.
Rabbi Ehrenkranz, a respected and beloved Judaic studies teacher, is also coach of the girls’ softball team and a teacher in Hebrew College’s Prozdor supplemental school. In his acceptance remarks, he noted, “I have come to realize that this is an unusual community in the sense that there is serious thought given to how to nurture, not only the minds of the students, but also their souls.” He observed that “the unifying feature of all the teachers and that was -- and is -- the idea of helping each student contemplate his or her own role in this world through the thorough examination of ideas, concepts and actions.”
Mr. Wolff, a 1959 graduate who has served on the school’s Tuition Committee for more than two decades, told the assembly that although scholarship awards are confidential, Maimonides is “a school where the majority of every past, current and future students will need some form of financial support. My parents never forgot and none of us should forget what Maimonides has done for us.”
The three seniors who serve as presidents of the Student Council spoke consecutively about the theme. Betzalel Kosowsky-Sachs pointed out that “the mitzvot of Purim literally bring the Jewish community together…. This theme behind the mitzvot of Purim is truly reflected in the student experience at Maimonides.”
Batya Franklin talked about the central role of the faculty. “At Maimonides, the relationships between students and teachers are unlike those at any other school I know. As funny as it sounds, our teachers are our friends. They know more about us than our skill levels in their classes. They genuinely care about helping us accomplish our goals, both in and out of school.”
Elan Baskir’s focus was on chesed as part of the school’s culture. “This community has been so generous in all the chesed projects I have undertaken in my Maimo career,” he said. “Maimonides encourages chesed for everyone.”
Following the seniors, seven Maimonides graduates described their community-centered professional and charitable activities and how the school influenced their choices.
Speakers were Dani Baronofsky ’04, who teaches emergency medical skills; Rebecca Jacobs ’74 on serving as a Jewish Big Sister; Tova Katz ’01, who worked for several years with the Foundation for Jewish Camps; Sarah (Lamport) Lee’03, who is a social worker for the deaf; Melody Michaelson ’07 on presenting music to the elderly; Ezra Waxman ’06, one of three U.S. delegates to an international peace conference; and David Zizmor ’99, a life-saving stem cell donor.
Also on the Gala itinerary were two selections by the Elementary School Choir, including the school song that was written by an English teacher during the 1950s.
Acceptance remarks, Pillar of Maimonides Award
By Rabbi David Ehrenkranz
If someone had made a bet with me when I was a child, growing up in New York that I would deliberately, consciously and willingly surround myself with Red Sox fans in the future, that person would have made a lot of money.
Let me explain why I would now be happy to pay out that fictitious wager. Like most New York Jews I believed that, next to Yerushalayim, New York was the center of the spiritual and cultural universe. After all, we had beautiful shuls, many yeshivot, Central Park, fine museums, Broadway and a variety of kosher restaurants. Ilyse and I had no intention of moving.
But life has a way of broadening our perspectives. While working for Rabbi Avi Weiss in Riverdale, NY, I was charged with teaching public school children on Sundays who wished to have more of a connection to Judaism. The program was called Pardais and one of its components was to expose the students to other children their age in various Orthodox communities.
In 1995, we took the Pardais children to Newton for a Shabbaton. I don’t remember all the particulars of that Shabbaton, but one thing I do remember is that on Shabbat morning when the Pardais students entered shul and were beginning to show signs of anxiety because they were disoriented and confused regarding the davening, the Maimonides students who were part of the Shabbaton sat down in between each of the Pardais students and directed them through all the davening of the day. At the end of davening I asked two of the Maimonides students if their parents had told them to do this and they responded by saying, “no…it is just the right thing to do.”
Thus began my changing perspective on Red Sox fans. I was later privileged to teach those Maimonides students the following year after I was hired by Rabbi Shapiro, whom I cannot thank enough for giving me that opportunity.
Let me explain what I mean when I use the word privileged. I like the fact that I can come to school on any given day and walk into the math office and have an enlightened conversation about English grammar and syntax. I like the fact that I could walk into the science department and talk about the United Nations or sports. I like the fact that I can walk into the history department and discuss the weekly parasha even though we don’t all worship in the same houses. And in each case I leave the office with new ideas I hadn’t thought of.
But I love the fact that I can walk into any class and discuss the past and present with my students and understand together how it affects our future. I love the fact that when the students leave the classroom they say “thank you” even if you had just handed back tests or essays and I love the fact that when I walk around the hallways, the students say “hello” and ask you how you are…..and mean it! I have come to realize that this is an unusual community in the sense that there is serious thought given to how to nurture, not only the minds of the students, but also their souls. And I had the good fortune to learn how this unique community achieved this goal while teaching at Maimonides.
During my first year at Maimonides I would walk around the hallways during my free periods and I would listen outside the classrooms of the veteran teachers carrying out their lesson plans. I discovered that though there were differing pedagogical methodologies there was one unifying feature of all the teachers and that was (and is) the idea of helping each student contemplate his or her own role in this world through the thorough examination of ideas, concepts and actions.
Our children are not groping in the dark at Maimonides to find answers to their questions. They are given various kinds of powerful flashlights in order to assist them. Some flashlights are fashioned by the Socratic method, some are fashioned by cooperative learning, some are fashioned through acting, some are fashioned by bumper stickers and yet others are fashioned through a dialogue that never seems to end, even after the bell rings.
My colleagues, through their methodical work ethic, natural curiosity of the world, compassion and their creative powers, which are outstanding, help our children to transform at their own individual pace into noble and dignified human beings. I say this not only as a Maimonides teacher but also as a Maimonides parent of five children who have had the great fortune of learning from the most talented human beings I have ever had the honor to work with.
My children, who have great respect for their teachers appreciate every precious moment of the learning process, whether it occurs in the classroom, in the gymnasium, through emails, on the phone, or through chaperoned trips to Shabbatonim, Model UN, plays, museums and a myriad of other places. The creative process that occurs in your classrooms has not only touched my children but also all the children of the Maimonides community that continues to echo in their journey through life.
And wherever Maimonides students travel, their journey is not complete without you. As one student once told me, “I wish I could take Mr. Schockett to college with me so if I am ever confused by the professor, Mr. Schockett can explain to me why I am confused and what I can do to better understand what is going on next time.” From the bottom of my heart I want to thank all of my colleagues for the sacrifices you make for our children, the dignity you instill in our children, your tireless efforts and the professionalism you consistently maintain day in and day out. Thank you.
I would also like to thank the parents for sending me students who have taught me that not every difference of opinion is a difference of principle. Our students do believe in God and Torah and love their parents. Their challenging questions are motivated by the innate desire to have the courage and confidence to become closer to all they hold dear, which of course, is what we hold dear. They appreciate the halachic system and understand that halachic knowledge triumphs over diversity of habits and over myopic thinking. And once they fully understand this, they hold their heads up high and take that self-respect and Divine respect with them the rest of their lives.
Now I have a slight problem with the last person I would like to thank as she does not like to be talked about, especially in public, but I would be remiss if I did not mention the person who has allowed me to develop into the teacher I have become. I want all my students, past and present (and God willing, future as well) to know, that any lesson I have taught you that has inspired you, any complex halachic question that I was able to answer and any insight that you have found profound in my class is due solely to my wife Ilyse.
I do not know how one person can consistently and efficiently manage to organize the household, our five children and the maelstrom of life that occurs on a daily basis. Ilyse has allowed me the precious gift of time that I needed in order to prepare all of my lessons. The extra hours that you give me, Ilyse, on a daily basis can never be repaid but please take pride in the Torah you have taught to so many children during our 20 year marriage. On behalf of all my students I thank you.
By Robert A. Wolff ‘59
Thank you for this honor and your kind words. Let me begin by acknowledging my family members who have come to this event: My true ezer kenegdo, my wife, Gladys; My sister, Marian Gutman, class of 1963; My son, Danny, and his wonderful wife, Chaviva, and their daughters, Shira, Leora, and Tali. The rest of our family could not be here because neither Egged nor Mega Bus have yet established an easy route from Jerusalem to Boston.
My dear wife, Gladys, recalled a true story concerning our son, Josh, then a junior high school student at Maimonides. It is not apocryphal, but it might explain why I am standing at this podium tonight. Back in 1985 or 1986 when Maimonides undertook to build a magnificent new library and a number of additional new classrooms, Josh was telling his mother about the construction project which he and his friends were watching during recess and he described this huge hole in the ground. Gladys told him not to play close to that area because, she said, “do you know what could happen if you fell in that hole?” Josh, never at a loss for words, said “Then I’ll be a pillar of Maimonides!”
So, while Josh was a pillar in his own right, I stand here tonight because I couldn’t say no to Naty’s offer, and back in about 1985, I couldn’t say no to Mr. Joseph Solomont, a”h, who had totally immersed himself in the welfare of Maimonides School .
When my esteemed colleague, mentor, committee chairman, and previous honoree, Mr. Joseph Abelow, congratulated me on receiving this honor, I asked him if I could borrow his speech. Joe said, “I just spoke about my father.” I replied, “That’s fine, I’m going to speak about my mother.” The history of my great-grandparents, grandparents, and extended family in Germany is one of organizing and running the Orthodox minyanim in their home cities. I have in my personal papers copies of obituaries written about them in the 1930s.
Fast forward to the United States and circa 1950. For the annual Maimonides scholarship campaign led by the Rav’s wife, Dr. Tonya Soloveitchik, a”h, my mother became a solicitor for the Ad journal, traveling by public transportation to downtown Boston, Chelsea, and who knows where else, to scrape together whatever amounts she could collect from local businesses to help the school – my school, my sister’s school, our school My mother outlived most of her clients, but for nearly 40 years, she pursued whoever she could locate, to do what she believed was the proper hakarat hatov for the school that gave us our education.
I’ll never know if we were a scholarship family. Students never know if they are beneficiaries of tuition support. But let me say to this year’s graduates, their parents, and any other parents and graduates within earshot: Maimonides is not some amorphous entity. It’s a school where the majority of every past, current, and future students will need some form of financial support. My parents never forgot and none of us should forget what Maimonides has done for us.
The strengths of academic leadership and faculty provided all we needed to pursue advancement in almost any area. Under the leadership and guidance of the Rav and Rabbi Moses J. Cohn, my principal, Rabbi Wohlgemuth, Rabbi Simon, a”h, and Rabbi Stefansky; Rabbi Abrahm Shonfeld, may he live and be well, my third and fifth grade teacher, and our general studies faculty, featuring Mr. Ralph Thomas Tucker, our English teacher for six years, we learned and we thrived.
I am confident that virtually every student who has graduated or spent any significant number of years at Maimonides would echo these sentiments. The parent and student body should be eternally grateful.
So, while I thank the school for tonight’s recognition, I have to thank the school more for the education it provided to my sister and me, my boys, and, at least for a few years, my grandchildren. May Maimonides continue to fulfill its mission for many more years to come.
Introductory remarks by Student Council presidents
By Betzalel Kosowsky-Sachs ‘11
This year’s theme for Gala (as you all probably know by now) is community. With this theme, the Gala could not have been held at a more appropriate time. Purim is just one week away, and as such many of us are already busy making preparations for what is arguably the most community oriented Jewish holiday of the year.
The mitzvot of Purim literally bring the Jewish community together. Everyone comes to shul together to hear the Megillah reading (twice), we exchange mishloach manot with all of our friends, and we even ensure that everyone in the community is included regardless of financial situation, with the mitzvah of matanot la’evyonim.
This theme behind the Mitzvot of Purim is truly reflected in the student experience at Maimonides. As a 13-year veteran of the school, I can attest to the strong communal environment that is fostered at Maimo. Rabbi Ehrenkranz, one of tonight’s honorees, exemplifies this quality. Rabbi E is not the kind of teacher who leaves his ties to the Maimonides community at the door when he leaves the building at the end of every day. Rather, he hosts Shabbatons for his classes, attends grade trips, and shows support at numerous sports events throughout the year.
He also devotes his time on Shabbat -- the one day a week he gets off from teaching -- to be the rabbi of the Young Israel of Sharon Teen Minyan, which is comprised mostly of Maimonides students. And to seal the deal, Rabbi E will be hosting the entire senior class for a Purim Seudah next Sunday, a tradition that he has held for years. Thank you Rabbi E.
By Batya Franklin ‘11
It’s the fall of 2007. A group of freshmen sits in Talmud, having just arrived to class. The rabbi begins with the usual discussion of his newborn baby. The students comment on the absolutely adorable infant pictured on the rabbi’s laptop, which is projected onto the whiteboard. The rabbi brags modestly about how fast the baby has been discovering her toes, fingers, and nose. “But enough about babies,” he announces. “Next on the agenda: a bit of housekeeping. We need to pick a date for you to come to my house for Shabbos.”
One girl, new to Maimo, sits in shock, sure she has misheard her teacher. First of all, how could everyone in the class come to the rabbi’s house in Brookline for a Shabbos meal? After all, this particular student hails from the far-away land of Providence, RI – practically light years away in most students’ minds. Clearly, this girl has not yet grasped the concept of ‘staying over in Brookline’ or Newton, for that matter. Next on her mind, why is he inviting us over? He’s a teacher, and we’re students. Our relationship exists within the walls of this classroom and on our online class Wiki. Other than that, why would he want us at his house?!
Firstly, I’m sure you can all guess by now who that new-to-Maimo girl was: yours truly. Second, I don’t have to explain to you what had to be explained to me four years ago: that it’s actually quite normal for a Maimonides teacher to invite their students over for a Shabbos meal, a Purim seudah, or even a weekday dinner. At Maimonides, the relationships between students and teachers are unlike those at any other school I know. As funny as it sounds, our teachers are our friends. They know more about us than just our skill levels in their classes. They genuinely care about helping us accomplish our goals, both in and out of school.
Flash forward a year and a half. A teacher leaving Maimo to pursue her Ph.D. tells me I will have forgotten about her by the following September, and I swear to her that she is wrong. Come September, she and I have a running thread on Facebook – catching up about our respective school experiences, families, friends, and other details.
To this day, I regularly refer back to a packet that very same teacher gave us in one of the last weeks of sophomore year. The packet includes effective methods to de-stress, including, “Treat yourself: Eat a chocolate bar.” She recommends Twix, but says that if you don’t like caramel, Kit Kat is definitely the way to go. She goes on to reference an episode of The Office, one of my personal favorite TV shows. Later in the packet are, “Make a list of things that you’ve done in your life that no one can take away from you, no matter what happens,” and “Put yourself in a healthy environment.”
As someone who often finds herself under extreme stress, this packet has gotten me through multiple near-mental-breakdown situations, and helped me refocus onto what’s truly important. Coincidentally, I’m the girl who gets called to the College Counseling office on a regular basis, sometimes more than once a day, and often simply to vent to Ms. Gelb about senior year stress.
Without our fantastic teachers, I honestly can’t imagine what kind of high school experience I, or any of my classmates, would have had.
A famous writer once said, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” Regarding Maimonides teachers, this statement does not only highlight academic education, but also the education that involves demonstrating to us what it means to be true menschen.
The Maimo faculty includes some of the most intelligent, dedicated, and compassionate people I have ever been fortunate enough to meet; it has been a privilege to learn from them. They teach us chagim-related songs that we can’t stop singing, chaperone our Shabbatonim and truly enjoy the time they spend with us, give us life advice, and on top of all that, are leaders in their fields of academia.
I truly believe that each member of the Class of 2011 owes more to our team of teachers than we could ever imagine, realize, or give back to them. As we approach the end of our years at Maimonides, we all express our appreciation to them. We look forward to applying to our lives all that they have taught us. And I hope that, as we draw on their teachings, they feel rewarded and fulfilled for how they have helped us become who we are today.
By Elan Baskir ‘11
When people join the Maimonides community, they do so for just thata community.
I love the warm Maimonides community. I came to Maimo in ninth grade from Schechter. Even before the school year started, Maimo decided to end vacation early for soccer tryouts. All the kids were so friendly that by the time the first day of school rolled around, all my new teammates (even the seniors) would come up to me to talk about the upcoming season and see how things were going. I felt like I belonged. You know, just like one of the cool kids.
As anyone in this room that has ever passed through Maimo as a student knows, the most important thing about the first day of school is not finding out which teachers you have, nor is it finding out whether or not there’s a fifth grade gym class during your fourth period free. Arguably, the most important thing is your seat in davening, decided by one of Rabbi Stein’s complex algorithms involving the square root of the third letter of your mother’s maiden name raised to your house number divided by the sof zman kriyat shema on the day you were born. I’m pretty sure that was the algorithm for one of the simpler years. Are you with friends? But most importantly, did you somehow merit a highly coveted armrest?
Anyways, so first day of school, I lucked out: I found myself sitting next to a fellow who introduced himself, “Hello I’m Benjamin Zak.” Each day, we used to say Tachanun together, two freshmen huddled together. It was a small thing, but the small things make this community what it is.
Maimonides encourages chesed for everyone, not just if you’re a chesed rep. Most people don’t even know that a group of students have been disappearing from ninth period every Thursday to volunteer at soup kitchen for the past 15 years. There are so many projects students undertake. Last Sunday, the Maimonides Shul rec league and high school students participated in a Yachad 3 on 3 basketball tournament which raised hundreds of dollars for Yachad, an organization that helps people with special needs.
On Thursday, as one part of the national program America Eats for Israel, through the generosity of the entire community, and all your hungry bellies, we raised over $600 for Meir Panim, which helps impoverished Israelis with a range of food and social service programs. In January, the entire community helped me raise over $5,000 for Yachad when I ran the Miami Half Marathon. And last January, the community, from kindergarteners to seniors, teachers to alumni raised over $10,000 for Haiti to provide tents for about one thousand homeless Haitians, pioneered by the HEART-4-HAITI necklace drive started by my classmate Noah Swartz and myself.
These aren’t just random projects, it is the culture at Maimo. In fact, the Boston Globe even featured an article about the sportsmanship of our athletic program a few months ago.
This culture has permeated six decades of Maimonides School alumni. Hundreds of graduates personify the Rav’s emphasis on chessed, through their professional and volunteer service, throughout the US and Israel. Here are a few examples: Professor Simcha Katz, class of '61, was recently installed as president of the Orthodox Union; Dr. Hanna Bloomfield, class of '73, a research physician with the VA and serves on the Board of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation; Batya Leidner Ehrlich '78 coordinates all of the housing programs for the mentally Ill in Israel; Dr. Chen Reis '90 works on women's issues for the World Heath Organization in Geneva; Josh Perry '95served for several years as a public defender in New Orleans; and
Elie Hassenfeld '99 founded GiveWell, which evaluates charities to help donors decide where to give.