From the Rabbi

Rabbi Mark

“V’Shinantam L’Vanecka” You will teach (love of G-d) to your children” Deuteronomy 6

In keeping with the 60th anniversary of the Temple, I thought I would look at how things have changed since I got here in 1986 with regards to the school and pay honor to the teachers we have had in the past, and the present

The first Temple Beth Emet teacher I would like to recognize is Rabbi William Kramer. He was a teacher par excellence and one of his teachings we still do here at Religious School every Sunday. To call the school to order at Kiddush time, we sing Shalom Aleichem right from the Friday night service.  I learned that from Rabbi, “Rather than yelling shhhhh, start singing,” Boy was he correct in that.  But one thing he was not so correct.  He would have the students memorize the entire Torah service that they were going to do on their Bar or Bat Mitzvah.  Everyone had to prepare the same Torah portion, the Ten Commandments from the Book of Exodus.  Now, each student must read and chant most of the prayers as well as learn their own Torah portion based on the date of their Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Why am I so strict about reading and chanting fluently?

Many years ago, when I was teaching at another synagogue, I was invited to a student’s Bar Mitzvah. He sounded great, everything was read perfectly until a Fire Truck, siren and all, went driving by. The sound so unnerved the Bar Mitzvah, that he lost his place in the Torah. If he had been truly reading, he could have found it, but because he had memorized the entire service, including Torah portion, he could not find where he was. It became more comical when the Rabbi of that congregation could not find it either.

At the party after the service, everyone complimented the student on the job he had done, but you could see in his eyes that he knew that he had been found out. I decided when I came to Beth Emet that I would  make sure that the congregation was witness to an honest example of how well our students have been taught to read Hebrew and understand the power of hard work and achievement. To that end, I have hired teachers who believe in the power and majesty of education. Shirley Kirshenbaum and I have taught together since 1973. She has taught more students, not just our own but at many places throughout the valley. Hayley Woods, one of our current Pre-school teachers was Shirley’s preschool student several years ago. Over the years, teachers have come and gone. Lynn Berheim left us and became the Principal at Temple Ramat Zion in Northridge. Her sister Sherry Rudman taught with us for several years. Truly, it was a pleasure to see them come to school together and regain their childhood friendship.

Another early member of our faculty was Aaron Hassman. Aaron enabled me to see the value the leader ship of Temple Beth Emet places in its faculty. Aaron was falsely accused of striking a child. A faculty meeting was held before Aaron,Temple  President Norm Goodman and  myself , were to meet with the father and the child. Norm addressed the faculty as follows, “We at Temple Beth Emet believe in our teachers. If Rabbi Mark says this (the accusation) is not true, then, rest assured we believe it is not true and we support you.” That was in 1987. I had come from another Temple where the Board had made it clear that the teachers were on their own if there was a complaint. Our Temple and the Education committee has never once waivered since in its support for its faculty.

On a lighter note, that same year the teachers came to me and were upset at the lack of discipline amongst the students especially after Kiddush. This was an easy fix. The school had been serving Graham Crackers and Fruit Punch and wondering why the kids were running through the halls. We now serve grape juice and Hallah and the only loud noises are coming from Robyn’s music classes.

Also, Rabbi Kramer did not want to do discipline, so a Board member had to be on campus each school session. As you all know, I do school discipline. I don’t think it has made me a less effective Rabbi, more like the ancient prophet than a modern administrator. Judging by the quality of our students’ performances, I think we are doing well.

Perhaps, my favorite hire wasn’t actually a hire it was a volunteer. Nate Mellman, Phyllis’ husband, volunteered to TA in the school. He did so for two years and what he gave was so much more than Hebrew Reading. He gave his heart to our kids and they gave it back to him. According to Phyllis after he died,” Those two years were 2 of the happiest of his life.”

Other teachers from my early days of TBE, Mahnaz Termechi, Yonat Silvers, Jack Dangoor, Yehudith Dangoor, Esther Dangoor, Laurie Lassman,Robbo, Mirit Neiman, Shahriyar (Ezra) Forouzan, and Cindy Karubian and others have all made this school what it is today.  Thank you all!

Now to today’s faculty, Robyn Kreisberg came to us as a parent. She was accompanying our Junior Choir to a music Festival at Valley College and our then Lay Cantor ended up not making it. She led the group and I knew I had a Music teacher. She has been with us ever since and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t marvel at her creativity.

Barbara Lux came with teaching experience at another Temple. We are glad to have her because she is always coming up with new ways to challenge her students. Laura Goldstein and Britany Amster came to Temple as part of my Adult B’Nei Mitzvah class, one as a student and one as an observer. When I had openings I tapped them both.

Over the years, I have had many TAs. Some have used working with us as spring boards to careers in education. We have lost a few when those assignments came through. Our loss is BUSD’s gain.

We have lost teachers to multi-day synagogue schools or even to full time jobs, however, when I have needed their assistance, Roni Razankova, Joshua Sobel and Tanya Mishkanian, have stepped forward eager to help. Temple Beth Emet is in their blood. We know that they will do well, for we adhere to  the axiom,” You can take the teacher out of Beth Emet, but you cannot take the Beth Emet out of the teacher”. Wherever our past faculty members are we wish them well.

What of the students who graduated from our school? How are they doing? I apologize for not keeping better track, but from time to time our former students come and ask if I can do their wedding or for a baby naming ceremony or enroll their children in our school. I will probably see former students sooner now that we have a preschool.

I know that I am getting older because I have actually Bar Mitzvahed 2 generations of one family’s members. I wonder how soon it will be when I Bar or Bat Mitzvah three generations of the same family. One thing I know for sure that I did not do it alone but with the assistance of many talented, committed and, most of all, caring and loving faculty members. Who were cared and Loved by the ‘most loving congregation in the whole, wide, world’.

Kol Hakavod-Every Honor to you, faculty member!!!!


Rabbi Mark