Mazel Tov DeLeT Cohort 20: Leading Classrooms Across California

DeLeT Cohort members

Lauren Applebaum, Ed.D.
Director, DeLeT

On July 22nd, we celebrated the accomplishments of DeLeT Cohort 20 and blessed them as they head off to lead their own classrooms in Jewish day schools across California.  We are so proud of the eight members of our graduating cohort! We also welcomed the eight newest members of the DeLeT community this summer; Cohort 21 is now launching their school year as teaching residents.

In the spirit of celebration and blessing, please enjoy excerpts from the two student speakers at our culminating siyyum:

Arie Finkelstein
Cohort 20, you’ve heard me say this before; Einstein’s theory of relativity posits that the passage of time is relative to our frame of reference. Time is relative. So, it’s been thirteen months, or… has it? What have these past 13 months felt like to you? From the time we started this program until now, we have collectively worked over one thousand two hundred hours in our public school placements, and spent a majority of our almost four hundred hours of DeLeT class time on tiny zoom boxes in a variety of settings. Some of us have moved houses, or experienced other life events. We’ve done all this, while working a full-time job at our respective schools and some of us working various side gigs as well. And yet, with all that, from my frame of reference, these past 13 months, especially the past 5 weeks, have flown by. So, Cohort 20, here we are; graduating. And as I look around this room, I see 8 empathetic, passionate, resilient, and amazing teachers who also happen to be, what I consider, some of my closest friends. In all sincerity, thank you for helping to make this year of teaching one that I will look back on fondly. I’d like to also say a huge thank you to my mentor teacher and my clinical educator for not only giving me the most helpful feedback and reflection on my teaching practice, but also helping me channel my authentic self into my teaching style and rekindling my passion for this profession at a time when I thought the desire to become a teacher had been extinguished.

On behalf of the cohort: to our friends, family, and significant others, I know a lot of our time has been dedicated to this program, so thank you for your patience, understanding, and support through it all. Another thank you goes out to the HUC faculty, admin, guest teachers, and alumni that taught us this year, we have truly learned so much. Lastly, thank you Bonnie Sharfman for spending an unimaginable amount of hours supporting us through the credential process, especially the Teaching Performance Assessments.

Finally; Cohort 21. We wish all the best for you and hope that this year is a wonderful beginning or continuation of a lifelong journey of teaching and learning.

Brooke Smallson
I am very excited that I have the honor of giving this short drash today, a drash being some words of wisdom from Jewish scripture that I get to share with my cohort and with all of our families, guests, and colleagues.

I grew up going to Jewish day school my entire life so I’ve heard hundreds, maybe thousands of these little speeches. They always start with “the Torah teaches us…” or “there’s a great saying in the Jewish tradition…” I feel like I’ve got a million of these openers, and a million Jewish teachings I could apply to my feelings about this moment. But choosing just one was really difficult.

I thought that I could bring up the word hineni, a Hebrew word that my cohort knows I love, that means Here I am. I could talk about how when the phrase is used in the Bible, it’s always by those who were or would soon become leaders. By people who had the courage to step up in the face of some of life’s most challenging situations and take on the responsibility of guiding others. That sounds like pretty good advice for new teachers, right?

But then I thought that I could also mention the hero, Nachshon. As the Jewish people fled from Egypt in the story of the Exodus, Jewish commentary tells us that Nachshon was believed to be the first person who jumped into the Sea of Reeds. His literal leap of faith was the catalyst that encouraged the rest of the Jewish people to follow along, to trust in the support of something bigger than themselves. And then, we are told, God parted the sea and the Jewish people were able to make it to safety. Nachshon represents fearlessness, a willingness to take chances, and, in my mind, a great example of modeling. He saw that the people were afraid, and he showed them, Look! I’m okay! And you can do it, too! That would’ve made a pretty good speech right?

So what did I finally decide on? Last week, we read a portion in the Torah called Balak. Balak was a non-Jewish King who hired a non-Jewish prophet named Balaam to put a curse on the Jewish people. After three separate attempts and failures to go through with his job, Balaam arrives at this mountaintop where he looks down over the desert encampment of the Jewish people. He gets ready to finally give this curse, but all that comes out is a blessing. He says these words, “Mah tovu, ohalecha yaacov” “How lovely are your tents, people of Jacob.” I’m not claiming to be a prophet, but I am sort of looking down from up here, mounted on the wall at HUC, and I do understand this feeling of looking out at a group of people and seeing something so good and so wonderful that it’s all I want to talk about. So as I stand here, I remember how easy it is to start thinking negatively. To want to let the hard days consume you, and to feel like you could crumble under the pressure. But I want to remind my fellow graduating teachers, that we have been on a journey of many long months, and many grueling hours, to reach this mountaintop where we can look down at everything that’s brought us here and everything that lies ahead of us and say, Wow, I’m looking at something really good here. Cohort 20 I love you so much, I’m so proud of us and I look forward to all the goodness that our futures hold. Thank you!