The 33rd annual Jewish Educator Awards luncheon, held at the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel on Dec. 7, recognized Anna August of Sinai Akiba Academy; Sarah Shpall of Wise School; Rabbi Avraham Berman of Yavneh Hebrew Academy; and Rabbi Moshe Tropper of Emek Hebrew Academy.
Each year, the Jewish Educator Award, presented in partnership by the Milken Family Foundation (MFF) and BJE: Builders of Jewish Education, acknowledges outstanding educators at BJE-accredited Jewish day schools in Los Angeles. The four unsuspecting educators are surprised before their entire schools with individual, unrestricted Jewish Educator Awards (JEA) of $15,000.
This year’s JEA recipients were announced this past September. The luncheon formally recognized them before their colleagues and family members.
At the Luxe Hotel, speakers included Richard Sandler, executive vice president of the Milken Family Foundation, and Gil Graff, executive director of BJE. Additionally, the four recognized teachers delivered remarks about their respective careers in education.
Tropper, a third-generation educator, demonstrated the capacity for the career at a young age — second grade, in fact. His then-teacher, who was also his mother, saw that he was more advanced than the other children in the class, so she had him serve as a mentor for his peers.
“I always joke it was my first teaching job,” Tropper, a middle school vice principal and preparatory Talmud teacher at Emek, said to the crowd assembled in the hotel banquet room.
August, a Judaic and general studies art teacher at Sinai Akiba Academy, shared about her longtime passion for the arts. What she loves most is helping to unlock the creative potential in young artists.
Shpall, a Wise School general studies teacher, believes her job includes modeling for her students how to excel outside the classroom.
“Everyone will read, write, add and subtract. But the way you treat and care for others is key to finding success.” – Sarah Shpall
“Everyone will read, write, add and subtract,” she said in her remarks to the day’s guests. “But the way you treat and care for others is key to finding success.”
Berman, a Judaic studies teacher at Yavneh, said the job was most rewarding when his students finally grasp the material. He recalled teaching a particularly tough text to his students, then hearing one of them remark, “Brilliant.”
“There’s nothing I can think of that’s more gratifying than hearing those words,” Berman said at the luncheon.
There are 36 BJE-accredited Jewish day schools in Los Angeles, which educate more than 10,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. To be eligible for the JEA, an educator must work a minimum of 15 hours per week at the K-12 level and been working a minimum of five years at a BJE-accredited school.
The JEA aims to reward outstanding day school educators for the quality of their teaching, increase public support for day school educators and encourage qualified people to consider education as a career.
MFF, in partnership with BJE, established the JEA in 1990 as a complement to the Milken Educator Award. The latter, known as the “Oscars of Teaching,” awards exceptional teachers around the country with $25,000 individual prizes each year.
Milken Family Foundation Chairman and Co-Founder Lowell Milken was raised in the public school system in the San Fernando Valley. His teachers had a significant role in shaping him into the person he is today, he said in an interview, and launching the JEA along with the Milken Educator Award was his way of expressing gratitude.
“I decided to create this award to bring to the attention of the public the critical role educators play, especially in our Jewish communities, where we really have a dual curriculum,” Milken told the Journal. “We’re preparing students to not only lead positive secular lives but also understand our peoples’ history, our destiny, to repair a very broken world.”
The annual JEA luncheon gathers the entire spectrum of the Jewish world, with representatives of every denomination turning out. At the valet line after the luncheon, rubbing shoulders were Bruce Powell, who founded a pluralistic Jewish day school in West Hills, and Rabbi Dovid Tropper, whose son, Chaim, runs a yeshiva on Fairfax Avenue that blends in-person Jewish studies with online secular learning.
“Whether you’re talking about unaffiliated Jews, Reform Jews, Conservative Jews, modern Orthodox or Orthodox, I think all of us can agree on the importance of education,” Milken told the Journal. “And that’s why this particular event every year is so heartwarming, to see the whole Jewish community come together in a very positive way, celebrating education.”