VBSDS Names Head of School, Israel Food Rescue Seeks Volunteers

Notable people and events in the Jewish LA community.
January 5, 2024
Kimberly Schwartz. Courtesy of Valley Beth Shalom Day School

After 16 years at Milken Community School, Kimberly Schwartz, chief curriculum and program officer, has announced her acceptance of a position as the head of school at Valley Beth Shalom Day School (VBSDS), starting in July 2024. For this San Fernando Valley native and former Temple Judea student in Tarzana, it marks an exciting new chapter.

Reflecting on her departure from Milken, Schwartz said, “I met with the Head of Milken, who is a phenomenal leader, to seek her advice, and she was very supportive. It was a bittersweet moment because I’ve been here for so long, and the school means so much to me. My two children, who are in eighth and 11th grade, also study here, and they had mixed feelings about me leaving. It was nice driving together to school and very convenient, but there are also drawbacks to having your mom work at the school you learn at.”

“I am excited to help this incredible school tell its story to the larger community. As a longtime Jewish educator here in Los Angeles, I have always known VBSDS to be a special place where children develop a strong Jewish identity, deep connections to their community, a commitment to Tikkun Olam, and an exceptional academic skill set. VBSDS graduates are ready to tackle the challenges and opportunities of middle and high school and are natural community builders and leaders. I definitely want to tell this story to the larger community and ensure that VBSDS is known as the destination for excellence in Jewish and secular education.”

“I am also excited to work with this talented faculty and staff, who are committed to delivering an excellent future-thinking education and to developing young people who are mensches. Teaching students how to learn Jewishly, in addition to teaching them about Jewish practice, text, values and history, is at the core of my own educational philosophy, and I am excited to share that vision. I believe that Jewish approaches to learning, including chevrutah study (partnership), kushiyot (critical questioning) and machlochet (productive disagreement), can and should be used to prepare our students for academic success across disciplines and both in and beyond the classroom.”

When asked about the best advice she’s received in her career, Schwartz shared, “A close colleague, who is also a working mom, said that people would tell me I couldn’t have it all and that I should remember that I can have it all, just not all of the time. This advice has served me well throughout my career as I have navigated the many roles I have played, the opportunities I have taken and those I have passed up. It allowed me to focus on commitments and see them through without being distracted by the next exciting challenge or opportunity.”

Currently, there are 200 students at VBSDS, ranging from kindergarten to sixth grade. Many of these students go on to graduate and continue their education at Milken. Schwartz believes in the importance of a supportive environment.

“There is a real powerful sense of shared values and history and also a sense of relief when you come to our campuses,” she said. “Parents can exhale for the first time, be in an environment where you can bring your whole self, find space for difficult conversations and grieving, and experience a space for Jewish joy and pride.”

By Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer

Israel Food Rescue volunteers at Moshav Beit Ezra.
Courtesy of Israel Food Rescue

A recently formed group dedicated to supporting Israel’s emergency agricultural needs has drawn participants from Beth Jacob Congregation, Young Israel of Century City, B’nai David-Judea and Stephen Wise Temple.

In the aftermath of Oct. 7, members of these synagogues have been traveling to Israel to volunteer saving the tomato and cucumber crop at Moshav Beit Ezra, a farming community in southern Israel, according to Rabbi Randy Brown, founder of Israel Food Rescue. 

“A lot of people are tired of pressing buttons just to donate,” Brown said in a phone interview from Washington D.C. “They want something tangible and substantial to do.”

The group, launched in response to the Hamas attack on Israel, is recruiting volunteers ages 30-80. Participants have included Sharon Spira-Cushnir of Stephen Wise Temple as well as L.A. community member David Gardner. The latter was among a large Southern California contingent that, over two weeks in Israel, worked hard picking tomatoes, pruning cucumbers and sorting through persimmons. 

“Everyone just wanted to pitch in,” Gardner told the Journal. 

Brown, for his part, said the community has shown unwavering interest in the new program. 

“My voicemail has been full, and I’ve gotten very little sleep since Oct. 7,” Brown said. “This is a mitzvah project I just felt compelled to do.”

The group is seeking additional volunteers. For additional information, visit israelfoodrescue.com.

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