Feeling the Love

Jewish educators reflect on receiving prestigious Diller Family award

On May 23, the Federation was thrilled to honor and celebrate four outstanding local teachers with the Helen Diller Family Awards for Excellence in Jewish Education: Jody Bloom (Day School), Sarai Shapiro (Informal Education), Jodi Gladstone (Early Childhood Education), and Tikva Farber (Congregation/Community School).

The Helen Diller Family Awards for Excellence in Jewish Education were established at the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund in 2001 in order to recognize and honor teachers who have made an extraordinary impact on the youth of our community. The winners each receive $10,000 individual awards, as well as a $2,500 award for the institutions in which they teach. We’ve asked the 2016 awardees to share what receiving this award means to them:

Jody Bloom, the Brandeis School of San Francisco (Day School)

I was so honored to receive the Diller Education Award. It was fabulous to meet all the members of the committee and to feel instantly connected, as they knew so much about me. It felt so special to be recognized and honored in front of such a wonderful group of people. It was exciting to meet my peers who had also been honored, to be able to speak in front of my colleagues, to be introduced by Irina [Kovriga, committee member] in such a lovely way, and to hear Rabbi Ed Feinstein speak. It was great to talk to Rabbi Feinstein and have the chance to meet him. It was an amazing experience that I will relive in my head for months to come.

Jody Bloom accepting her award

Sarai Shapiro, Wilderness Torah (Informal Education)

It was such an honor to receive the Hellen Diller Award for my work with Wilderness Torah in helping to design and be a primary mentor for our B’nai Mitzvah wilderness program for youth.

It is remarkable to me that I was recognized for excellence in Jewish education through offering programs that are primarily based in and embodied by nature-based learning rather than classroom-based book learning. This shows me that our world – and the Jewish community – has come a long way to embrace the new and ancient approach we are taking outside of the physical walls of the Beit Midrash.

Why do I do this work? I have found that nature, soul, and village-based Jewish education foster an incredible state of connection that is starkly missing in our modern world. Our disconnection from the earth, ourselves, each other, and our ancestral traditions is at the root of some of our biggest dysfunctions, individually and in society.

As we draw from the stories of our Jewish culture that arose in other lands, and connect our roots to the land we are now living on, we find ourselves living inside of an ever-evolving, breathing, rich, and vital world at the intersection between the ancient and now.

Big gratitude to the Hellen Diller Family Foundation, Zelig Golden and Julie Wolk, who graciously invited me into this work six years ago, and to all of my amazing co-conspirators, mentors, and friends, whom I have the honor of calling my community, and without whom nothing I have offered would have been possible.

Sarai Shapiro accepting her award

Jodi Gladstone, Beth El Nursery School (Early Childhood Education)

It's an honor just to be nominated for the Helen Diller Award. In my case, having been nominated for this award twice before, I was in total shock when I received the email telling me that I had won. I was in Israel, and all I could think of was ‘oh no, I'm going to have to speak in front of a group of grown-ups!’ For someone who is incredibly uncomfortable with public speaking, the challenge of writing first a speech, and then a blog post, prompted a case of writer's block about the size of stone in the Western Wall.

On a more serious note, this is a big deal, a really big deal. Early childhood education frequently suffers from being seen as mere babysitting, as an undertaking that is cute or sweet or, at best, being seen as a way to lure new families into the shul. But it is far rarer that someone treats the professionals in these classrooms day in and day out with the respect and recognition that the Diller Award confers.

Early childhood educators work with children at a stage in their lives when their brains are growing, wiring, and rewiring themselves at a staggering pace. As an educator, I challenge myself every week to engage, provoke and stimulate students with new ideas, information, and materials. Being a Diller Award recipient is a powerful reward for the hard work that was, and the work still to come. Not just for myself, but for the professionals I work alongside at Beth El Nursery School and all of my fellow Jewish early childhood educators. This is an affirmation of our value to the community and thanks for the impact we have on the next generation of American Jews.

I don't really remember walking up to the podium. Standing in front of the guests at the awards ceremony I felt this energy – I think it was the love and support that filled the room from my family, friends, and colleagues. This energy came from everybody that was in attendance supporting me and others that do this sacred work. This energy elevated me to a place where what had seemed so daunting became so natural.

Jodi Gladstone accepting her award

Tikvah Farber, Congregation Kol Shofar (Congregation/Community School)

It was an amazing experience on Monday evening at the Diller Education Award gathering. I loved sharing the evening with my friends, family, and the people who matter to me so much. I enjoyed meeting Katherine Tick, who guided me through the process, and Molly Stern, who provided me with all the information that I needed. The members of the committee and Board were hospitable, welcoming and friendly. Everyone found the keynote speaker, Rabbi Ed Feinstein, most captivating! I hope to have more opportunities to listen to what he has to say. I am still feeling the gratitude for being given the opportunity to meet exceptional people and to be a part of our Jewish community.

Tikva Farber accepting her award

For more information about the Helen Diller Family Awards for Excellence in Jewish Education, please contact Katherine Tick or call 415.512.6265.

Categories: Endowment, Community


June 20, 2016


Nora Smith