Tag Archives: Education

Jews of the Week: Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin

Levin and Feinberg

Mike Feinberg (b. 1969) graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1991, while Dave Levin (b. 1970) graduated from Yale the following year. The two met in a Houston school where they were both teachers. Despite each having just two years of teaching experience, they started a new education program called KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) in 1994. The program was geared towards children living in poverty, and aimed to increase the number of such students that graduate and go on to college. Students would go to school six days a week, with longer days and shorter summer breaks. There was a lot of homework, but also a lot of teamwork; strict discipline, combined with music and travel. The result was spectacular. Impoverished students were succeeding at unprecedented levels, and enjoying it, too. Feinberg and Levin won ‘Teacher of the Year’ awards, then opened two official KIPP schools, one in Houston, and one in the Bronx. By 1999, these were among the best schools in their regions. In 2000, KIPP got a $15 million donation from Don and Doris Fisher (the founders of GAP, and former Jews of the Week), to expand KIPP into a national network. Today, KIPP has 200 schools across America with over 80,000 students. It is the largest and most successful charter school system in the US. About 96% of students are either black or Hispanic, and 87% from struggling households. 90% go on to graduate high school (compared to the national average of 80%, and 69% for black students), and 45% get college degrees (compared to the 9% national average for impoverished students). So many people want to get into KIPP schools that students are selected through a lottery. Feinberg and Levin have won multiple awards and honourary degrees for their work, including the prestigious Charles Bronfman Prize, for “Paradigm-Shifting Vision in Education”, and the National Jefferson Award for Greatest Public Service by a Private Citizen. Their story is told in the bestselling book Work Hard, Be Nice: How Two Inspired Teachers Created America’s Most Promising Schools.

Words of the Week

The Torah commands: “Six days shall you labor, and do all your work.” But is it possible for a person to do “all their work” in six days? Rather, [it means to say] rest on Shabbat as if all your work is done.
– Mekhilta

Jew of the Week: Dalia Itzik

Dalia Itzik, Israel's First Female President (הצלם אלכס קולומויסקי וידיעות אחרונות)

Dalia Itzik, Israel’s First Female President (הצלם אלכס קולומויסקי וידיעות אחרונות)

Dalia Itzik (b. 1952) was born to an Iraqi-Jewish family in Jerusalem. She studied literature and history at the Hebrew University before becoming a teacher. At the young age of 21, Itzik was a co-founder of Jerusalem’s Katznelson School, where she taught for 17 years. In 1984, she became the chairwoman of Jerusalem’s Teachers Union. Due to her vast experience in education, Itzik was elected to the city council in 1989 and took over its education portfolio. From there, she rose to the position of Jerusalem’s deputy mayor. In 1992, she ran for the Knesset as a member of the Labor Party and won a seat. She would go on to serve in Israel’s parliament for nearly twelve years, and during that time filled the roles of Minister of Industry and Trade, Minister of the Environment, and Minister of Communications. She sat on the Finance Committee and the Education and Culture Committee, among others. In 2006, she became Israel’s first female Speaker of the Knesset, and shortly after, Israel’s deputy president. The following year, President Moshe Katzav took a leave of absence, making Itzik Israel’s first female president (though only in an interim position). Since leaving politics in 2013, Itzik has served on the board of Hadassah International – one of the largest women’s organizations in the world – and as the chairwoman of From the Depths, an organization which strives to preserve the memory of the Holocaust. She was also nominated for Israel’s presidency in 2014.

Words of the Week

Fundamental to our faith is the belief that every event in a person’s life is by Divine Providence. So expressions such as “If only I had…” or “If only I hadn’t…” smack of heresy.
Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch (1860-1920)

Jew of the Week: Sarah Schenirer

The only known photograph of Sarah Schenirer, taken for a passport

The only known photograph of Sarah Schenirer, taken for a passport

Sarah Schenirer (1883-1935) was born in Cracow, Poland to a Hasidic Jewish family. She left her elementary school at age 13 due to her family’s poverty, and took on a job as a seamstress. Meanwhile, she envied her brother’s opportunities to study Torah, and dreamed of creating similar opportunities for women. One by one, her girlfriends assimilated and left the Orthodox Jewish fold. Troubled by this development, Schenirer understood that girls were losing their connection to Judaism primarily as a result of ignorance. She resolved to start a Jewish girls’ education network, and in 1917 opened a girls-only kindergarten for Jewish studies. The school was called “Beit Yakov”. (The name comes from a Biblical verse, referring to God’s command to Moses at Mt. Sinai to instruct the women along with the men.) The idea flourished quickly, inspiring a “Bais Ya’akov” movement across Jewish Europe. By 1923, Schenirer had to establish a teachers seminary to train new instructors, who taught young girls both Torah and secular subjects. The movement gave rise to camps, clubs, a monthly magazine, international conferences, and even its own publishing house to print textbooks. Sadly, Schenirer passed away from cancer, childless, at the young age of 52. At the moment of her passing, over 200 Beit Yakov schools were operating in Europe and beyond, with 35,000 girls studying diligently. Many of these girls referred to Schenirer as Sarah Imenu – “Sarah, our Mother”. Schenirer had a reputation as a wise and caring pioneer, as well as a modest and holy woman. She did not allow photographs of her to be taken, saying “I don’t need anyone to remember what I look like, I want them to remember my vision.” Her vision is alive and well today, with hundreds of Orthodox Beit Yakov girls schools still shining all over the world.

Words of the Week

God is the ultimate oneness, and everything Godly in our world bears the stamp of His unity. All evil derives from the distortion of this oneness by the veil of divisiveness in which God shrouds His creation.
– Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch