Milken family recognizes Jewish educators, YULA rides, ADL honors

The Best of L.A. — Milken Awards for Jewish Educators

(From left) Lowell Milken, Milken Family Foundation chairman and co-founder; Richard Sandler, Milken Family Foundation executive vice president; honorees Dena Wolmark, Suri Nowosiolski, Malka Clement and Debra Schaffer; Dr. Julius Lesner, Milken Family Foundation senior vice president and senior adviser; and Gil Graf, executive director, Bureau of Jewish Education.Photo courtesy the Milken Family Foundation

When Dena Wolmark first found out that someone at Bais Yaakov School for Girls would receive one of four Milken Family Foundation Jewish Educator Awards earlier this fall, the general studies administrator at the Orthodox high school organized an assembly where the unnamed teacher would be surprised with a $15,000 check. Surprise indeed: the winner turned out to be Wolmark.

“All I could feel was complete disbelief,” Wolmark said at the Luxe Hotel Sunset Boulevard Dec. 11 before a luncheon celebrating the honorees. “I was prepared to stay behind the scenes. When they turned the spotlight on me, it was a shock.”

Shock was something all four winners said they felt — along with joy, gratitude and pride — when they were announced as award recipients in September during surprise assemblies at each educator’s school. Presented by the Milken Family Foundation and the Bureau of Jewish Education, the awards also honored Debra Schaffer, English teacher at Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School; Malka Clement, Hebrew/Judaic studies teacher at Stephen S. Wise Temple Elementary School; and Suri Nowosiolski, Judaic studies teacher at Yavneh Hebrew Academy.

The annual Jewish Educator Awards, now in their 19th year, aim to recognize four “often-underappreciated educators” working to further Jewish learning in L.A.’s day schools, said Richard Sandler, executive vice president of the Milken Family Foundation.

“Tradition tells us to revere the competent teacher,” Sandler told a room packed with Jewish community leaders, school administrators and teachers. He then thanked the four women for “choosing the noblest profession of all and imparting your wisdom to your students.”

Among the guests were Jewish Federation Chairman Stanley Gold and President John Fishel; Israel Consul General to Los Angeles Jacob Dayan, along with a delegation from the Israeli Embassy; and Milken Family Foundation Chairman Lowell Milken.

Clement, in an emotional acceptance speech, said sharing a classroom with her 4th to 6th grade students is her passion as well as her profession. “I have the conviction that teaching from the heart can truly transform,” she said.Wolmark dedicated her award to her students at Bais Yaakov.

“The girls were so excited when this was announced. To see that excitement on their faces was worth it,” she said. “It’s not just me winning the award — it’s like the whole school winning it.”

— Rachel Heller, Contributing Writer

YULA Boys on Bikes

YULA’s ninth-grade boys stop for lunch at mile marker 23 along the 38 miles they biked to support JobKatif.

Call it exercise-for-a-cause: Thirty ninth-grade boys from Yeshiva University High School biked 38 miles to raise money for JobKatif, an Israeli organization that helps former Gaza residents find employment elsewhere in Israel. Rabbi Eliyahu Stewart has led this effort for the past seven years, which this year involved at least half the freshman class and took students on a route across the Los Angeles Basin, from Azusa to Seal Beach. “YULA teaches its students that what transpires in the State of Israel has a direct effect on the future of Judaism worldwide,” said Rabbi Heshy Glass. “Our students are instructed to see themselves as partners in this undertaking no matter where they might live and that their active support to ensure Israel’s viability is a requisite part of their Jewish obligations.”

ADL Takes the Stage

UC President Mark Yudof; ADL Regional Director Amanda Susskind; Jurisprudence Award honoree Arthur N. Greenberg and his wife, Audrey; Humanitarian Award honorees Ardyth and Samuel Freshman; and ADL Regional Board Chair Nicole Mutchnik

This year, 700 guests helped the ADL raise $700,000 at its annual dinner celebration Dec. 10 at The Beverly Hilton.

(A formidable figure, but perhaps an ailing economy explains how they were left almost $300,000 short of last year’s $1 million tally.)

Samuel and Ardyth Freshman, community leaders who underwrite ADL’s “Bearing Witness” program for Catholic educators in Los Angeles, received the Humanitarian Award, and lawyer Arthur N. Greenberg received the Jurisprudence Award.

The content of the evening hinged on ADL’s “Protect, Investigate, Educate” theme, where various volunteers and participants highlighted their experiences working with and for the ADL.

One such account, related by John Torres, special agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, revealed ADL’s assistance during an investigation of an alleged conspiracy by white supremacists to assassinate then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Mark Yudof, President of the University of California, called the ADL “a light of the Diaspora” and emphasized scholarships for higher education as fundamental to the Jewish tradition.