Schechter Chai-lights is a brief monthly newsletter for parents of alumni, alumni, current families, and friends of Schechter connecting you to all things SSLI, the latest news, events and more.
We hope you will share your thoughts and stories with us.
December 18, 2020 / 3 Tevet 5781
Mai Chanukah

The Mishnah famously asks the question, “Mai Chanukah?/What is Chanukah?” My question in response is why the question? In other words, what is it that troubled the rabbis? One answer is that Chanukah more than other holidays has competing miracle-narratives, one nationalist and one religious in nature. The nationalist tale recounts the miracle of the Maccabees defeating the Seleucid army with their far smaller numbers. The religious story is the one about the miracle of the cruse of oil that lasted eight days, enabling the menorah to remain lit until more could be produced. The rabbis emphasized (or perhaps “created”) the religious story to ensure that God remained front and center as the basis for all miracles, asserting Divine rather than human agency as the reason for the holiday.

To me though, the Maccabees are perhaps not such a bad group to praise or at least to emulate. They were after all not simply warriors, but priests. Warrior-priests are a pretty good model I think for all of us who strive to maintain a religious core, while living in the broader society with its inherent conflicts and influences.

This issue of Chai-Lights features many of our own warrior-priests, graduates of SSLI who have gone on to lead lives of influence in both the Jewish and secular worlds. The values inculcated in them during their years of Schechter have helped to guide them on their life-paths ever since. Reflecting on their success reminds us that the word Chanukah comes from the same root as chinuch/education. It is the gift of an excellent Jewish and secular education that seeds lives of meaning and purpose. Ken yirbu, may the gifts of our graduates continue to increase.
Chag urim sameach! Happy Chanukah!
 
Rav-Hazzan Scott M. Sokol, PhD
Head of School
Development Updates
#Giving Tuesday

#GivingTuesday took place on December 1 and we really felt the love. Not only did we hit our goal of raising $18,000 – we surpassed it! With your belief in our mission and the generosity of our extended Schechter LI community, we raised in excess of $40,000.

Many thanks to those who spread the word on social media and shared their Schechter story – Esther D. Schechter faculty member, Max H. Schechter alumni, Robin S. Schechter Parent of Alumni and current grandparent, and Jordan W. Schechter Alumni and current parent. This could not have been accomplished without your efforts.
Virtual Art Auction

Boulanger, Ansel Adams, Peter Max, Romare Bearden and many more artists were represented at our first Virtual Art Auction on November 19. With participation from more than 60 families, bidding was lively and our own Schechter parent, Matt Fineman was an engaging and quick-witted auctioneer for Marlin Art. Looking for every opportunity to safely gather and connect, many grades hosted chat rooms prior to the start of the evening’s auction. Special thanks to our dedicated Chairperson, Lori Kantorowitz and to those who donated additional items to the auction:
  • Len Marx Photography
  • Genia Taub
  • N & S Electric Supply and Lighting
  • Arielle Stanger of "Spinkles and Chips"
  • OFD Office Furniture Direct
CHAMPIONS FOR CHARITY 

Though we were unable to have our usual kickoff party, patrons of Champions for Charity could be found shopping socially distanced at the Americana Manhasset and Wheatley Plaza from December 3 - December 5. Ben's Deli in Greenvale graciously delivered pre-ordered meals to the school campus on both Thursday and Friday making it easier for families to shop and know that dinner was already prepared. 

We want to thank Jill Kiewe for once again chairing the event, for her creativity and reaching out to so many in the community. We are appreciative of the students, alumni and parents who participated in photo shoots as part of our Passport to Shopping campaign. 

We know this has been a very different year for all of us and a difficult time for many. Given the challenging circumstances we are even more grateful for the Schechter spirit and commitment that brought our supporters to Champions.
STEM @Schechter
Computer Science Education Week

Computer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek) is an annual call to action to inspire K-12 students to learn computer science, advocate for equity in computer science education, and celebrate the contributions of students, teachers, and partners to the field.

As part of CS Education Week, Schechter K-5 students participated in the Hour Of Code. The Hour of Code started as a one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify "code", to show that anybody can learn the basics, and to broaden participation in the field of computer science. It has since become a worldwide effort to celebrate computer science, starting with 1-hour coding activities but expanding to all sorts of community efforts.

Schechter students coded with Scratch and Code.org.
Chanukah at Schechter
Spotlight On Alumni

Our focus this month is on those who have chosen to dedicate themselves to professional careers as clergy or work in Jewish organizations, agencies, federations and philanthropy. These Schechter graduates have energy, wisdom, an appreciation for community, shared values, and have elected to work for a common good – serving our people.  
Data reflects that we are at a crossroads. Young people are not coming into the field in sufficient numbers to meet the needs of the community. The need for professionals who are ready to inspire, teach, raise funds, and support the larger collective, and the causes of our people is growing. We are fortunate to have alumni who see their choice to work in the Jewish Communal Network as not just an occupation but a calling.  
Rededication
I’m not quite sure if I would call my situation a homecoming or even full circle. Rededication feels most fitting. I began my Schechter experience in the Fall of 1988 as a 4 year old Ganster at Solomon Schechter Day School of Suffolk County. I graduated from SSHSLI in 2002 and now, in the year 2020, find myself a proud parent with two of my three children at the lower school of Schechter Long Island. In some ways, Schechter is a different place now, the physical space has moved over the years from Commack and Jericho, to Hicksville, Glen Cove and now in Williston Park. The Schechter mission has evolved and the curriculum has changed along with our world. Of course, important school figures, teachers and administrators have come and gone (though some last forever.) All that being said, my decision to come back to the Schechter community does feel like a rededication, a Chanukah. It is a recommitment to the belief that Schechter is what my family needs to uphold our Jewish and secular values of loving kindness, Torah, and justice. Choosing Schechter is a rededication to the Schechter cause.
Incidentally, Chanukah has the same shoresh, or etymological root of the word chinuch, education. How very perfect that I find myself at this exact moment linking some of my most formidable education to my childrens' with this Schechter rededication. It is my belief that education, chinuch, should not just be knowledge. True chinuch should include warmth, compassion and nourishment - all things I have received and hope to give my children through our experience with Schechter. This Chanukah is a complicated one as the world and our communities have undoubtedly experienced a year of significant upheaval. Painful times though, can offer moments of reflection and in a weird way, sharpen our awareness of sources of pride and gratitude. I am so very grateful for Schechter, past and present, and proud of my rededication. 

Chana Topek Diamond (SSHSLI '02) is a licensed clinical social worker and works as the Director of Intake for Adult Residential at The Jewish Board. Chana is also a labor and birth doula and certified lactation counselor. 
When I started at what used to be called the Solomon Schechter High School of Long Island, I had already begun to think about becoming a rabbi but it was far from decided. By the time I graduated in 2001, I knew that was my life’s path. I absolutely loved high school and as much as anything else it helped solidify for me that I did want to be a rabbi. I left high school feeling that it was wonderful to be excited about learning and teaching all while still being interested in life outside the classroom. Without question, what enabled this feeling inside me is that I made amazing friends from day one. I lucked into a group of 9 th graders who were similar to me in both background and lifestyle. We had parents who were leaders in Jewish organizations – some professional and some volunteers – and all of our families made Jewish observance a priority. For whatever reason, the same group of us were in almost all of our classes together – we went from math to science to chumash and navi then into English and social studies basically all of us together all the time. Not only did we learn but we laughed and a lot of the time the teachers were laughing along with us. We supported each other and were comfortable being ourselves around one another. It allowed us all to grow and allowed me to feel comfortable saying out loud that I knew I wanted to be a rabbi.
As it turned out I had a chance to do some practice teaching myself when my Spanish teacher, Senora Cahn (Bonnie Cahn) asked me for a favor. Her son’s Bar Mitzvah was coming up and she wanted to read Torah at the service but didn’t know how. In the months leading up to the Bar Mitzvah we would sit at lunch and practice her Torah reading almost every day. By the time of the Bar Mitzvah, she was more than ready and my Spanish had also greatly improved. This was my first time teaching an adult, something which I now do every day of my life. It was an experience that exemplified for me what Schechter is all about and helped me hone skills that I have used every day since.
My years at Schechter also taught me that planning to be a rabbi did not mean that my interests had to be restricted to Judaism and all topics Jewish. There is an entire world out there and participating in it makes for a better, more well-rounded person. I was in the play all four years of high school and spent many exciting times on the basketball court competing against my classmates. We debated each other in Mr. Trupin’s AP Government class during our senior year which began in the fall of 2000. On election night each of us had a state to report back on the next day, mine being Florida. What turned into an ongoing project sparked an interest in politics and led to a second major in college that has been invaluable in my pulpit work.
It was a great four years and my time at Schechter put me on the path to a year in Israel on Nativ and then Brandeis University where I met my wife. After Rabbinical School we spent seven years in Orlando, FL and we now live in Columbus, OH with our three children. Especially in these pandemic times we all look for things for which to be grateful. For me it is not a stretch to look back and be grateful for my experiences in high school and see clearly how that shaped the person and rabbi I am today.

Rabbi Hillel Skolnik (SSHSLI '01) currently serves as Senior Rabbi of Congregation Tifereth Israel in Columbus, OH.
Chanukah is about finding the light in times of darkness. As we celebrate Chanukah 5781, I can’t help but think about how this past year has been filled with such darkness as our world faced unprecedented challenges with COVID-19. As a Jewish communal professional working at UJA-Federation of New York, I work at an organization that is ensuring that the increasing needs of the community are being met. From guaranteeing that those who have passed can have a Jewish burial (regardless of financial means), to providing over 180,000 Passover essentials to those in need, to ensuring that PPE and cash assistance are accessible to those who need it (Jewish or not), I have felt immense pride working at an organization that leads by Jewish values, but in fact ensures that all people in need, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or disability, have the support they need to make it to the other side of this pandemic. The principle of living a life rooted in Jewish values, but helping all people in need is certainly something that was instilled in me during my time at Schechter. I specifically think back to the many tziburim and courses led by Mrs. Eilenberg that prompted us to think about our collective responsibility and the importance of not just giving monetary donations, but showing up with our feet and our words.
 
While Schechter taught us how to give Tzedakah as children, many of us are now starting our philanthropic journey’s as young adults. As we celebrate the festival of lights, I hope that we can all find a way to give back and spread the light, in whatever ways you find meaningful. Chag Sameach! 
 
Rachel Goldrich (SSHSLI ‘07) is a Manager in the Wall Street & Financial Services Fundraising Division at UJA-Federation of New York.
My studies at Schechter taught me to love Jewish learning, sparking a passion that grew during my gap year with USCJ and, currently, my classes at JTS’ undergraduate school. Only two and a half years out of high school, I am unsure what path my career will take, nor do I need to know. Yet, at the moment, I enjoy exploring what life would be like in the Jewish communal world, whether that means devoting myself to my summers at Jewish camp or merely devoting myself to learning more in my JTS classes and becoming a more knowledgable Jewish community member. Last year, in a perfect Schechter connection, I taught at a Hebrew School in Manhattan under the leadership of Schechter Alumna, Sigal Hirsch and saw what it was like to work in a congregational setting. This coming semester, I will attend the Nachshon Project in Israel, a program designed to help students interested in pursuing careers in the Jewish world. I guess from the fact that every item on my resume is something Jewish, it would not surprise me to end up working in the Jewish communal world. Yet I will continue searching, with the passion for Jewish learning and living that Schechter inspired within me.
 
Jeremy Kohler (SSLI ’18) is a student in the Joint Program between Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary, studying Economics and Jewish Texts & Interpretation, respectively.
Solomon Schechter was a big draw for my family to move to Long Island. I was born in Maine, a little known fact about me, where my father served as a congregational rabbi. When it became clear that the community surrounding us was not welcoming to Jews, my parents made a bold decision.  They sold their beautiful colonial home, moved farther away from their New England centered parents and set up shop in Plainview, NY. What sold them? It was a visit to the Solomon Schechter Day School of Nassau County. 
At the time my family visited SSDS, the school was conveniently rehearsing for the zimriyah. Imagine my ziontist parents, with a 1, 7, and 9 year old, walking into a building hearing a chorus of beautiful high pitched Jewish voices singing “Kachol v’lavan.” It was like experiencing Torah m’Sinai. 
This community become our second home and both my parents eventually became teachers there. This was the school that stuck with me when the Aleph Bet did not come so naturally. These were the classes that challenged me to create a little song to memorize all of the books of the Torah (including Neviim) which I can still recite to this day. Schechter’s educators and administrators taught me that compassion and curiosity were as much a part of Judaism as Mishnah and Midrash.
Fast forward to 2013 and it is my turn to decide where to move. I had just graduated Rabbinical School and I was looking for a new place to call home. As much as a unique pulpit opportunity in Japan was calling my name, there was a shul in Bellmore that won my heart. I moved 20 minutes south of where I grew up and began serving as the lucky spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Ohr. 
I have been at CBO for over 7 years now and those skills in Midrash and Mishnah are definitely coming in handy. SSDS’s emphasis on menschlichkeit have guided me towards serving the Jewish people in various ways within my role as CBO’s rabbi and beyond. 
There is a teaching about Rabbi Zusya that has supported me in the different twists and turns of my life. “Before his death, Rabbi Zusya said "In the coming world, they will not ask me: 'Why were you not Moses?' They will ask me: 'Why were you not Zusya?”It’s because of texts like this that, with encouragement from teachers, family and friends, I have made bold moves that may not have been “traditional,” but were authentic to who I am. I believe that when we dare to be ourselves, it creates greater freedom for everyone around us. I may not have a beard, a baritone voice, or wear a traditional suit when I lead, but my form of leadership welcomes, nourishes, and challenges those who learn with me. 
I have learned over the years that empowering all individuals to live lives of expression without shame has translated to many of my professional endeavors. Not only am I a rabbi, but I have trained and serve the Jewish community as a life coach for bold sassy Jewish women who want to live with power, ease, and joy all at the same time. So often, we feel like we need to suffer in order to get “it all done” and we beat ourselves up in the process for being human. I am here to show women and all people, that happiness, peace and influence are within reach. I bring this focus on one-on-one empowerment to every interaction as a teacher, coach, and pastoral counselor. 
You never know when one moment can alter the lives of those around you. The decision to take that tour of Schechter in 1985 changed the trajectory of my family’s life. I am so grateful to include many of its teachers and students as my chosen family and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Feel free to reach out to me if you want to learn more about the warm and welcoming Congregation Beth Ohr, or if you are curious about how working with me might help you get unstuck in your lives.

Rabbi Dahlia Bernstein (SSLI '03) is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Ohr in Bellmore, NY.

Coming

In

January
Our January issue will focus on on Tu b’Shvat and themes associated with the holiday such as sustainability. Sustainability is a popular and growing field that attempts to integrate social science, environmental science and civil engineering. Now, more than ever, the need is great for highly educated professionals to study and implement more sustainable practices that will provide sufficient amounts of energy and resources for today’s world without undermining environmental integrity or draining future resources. If you are an alumni working in a “sustainability or green profession” please reach out to Eileen Bohrer at ebohrer@schechterli.org or 516.935.1441 ext. 1131 and share your story.
MAZAL TOV
Mazal Tov to SSLI Athletic Director Courtney Athenas, her husband Garrett and son Mason on the birth of their daughter/sister Madison Jane.
Mazal Tov to SSLI parents David and Jessica Beyda and daughter Lyla on the birth of their daughter/sister Mia.
Mazal Tov to Josh Meyerson (SSLI '12) and Danielle Rosen on their wedding surrounded by their families.
Mazal Tov to Emily Pellman (SSLI '10) and Julian Waksal on their wedding surrounded by their families.
Mazal Tov to Omer Neutra (SSLI '19):

Over the course of what began as a gap year, Omer, together with Israeli youth participated in a Mechina (army leadership prep program). There he immersed himself in Israeli culture, language, and society, studied, met with political and army leadership and volunteered in local communities. COVID- 19 sent him home to NY for a month and a half in the midst of the program, but he returned to Israel to complete the program. After many conversations and deliberations over the course of this year, Omer decided he wanted to continue and join the IDF. Over the summer he officially made Aliyah, and joined Garin Tzabar, a program that facilitates service in the Israel Defense Forces and provides a support system for Israelis and Diaspora Jews who do not have parents in Israel.  Finally, 3 weeks ago, he enlisted in the IDF where he now is going through basic training in the Armored Corp (Tanks/שריון), and is looking forward to a meaningful experience.

This months tributes:
In Honor/ in Memory

If you would like to honor a person's memory or mark a celebration with a contribution to Schechter LI, you may make an online donation, or send your donation to the Development Office. The family will be notified of your contribution.
To discuss making an end of year 2020 donation to Schechter LI, please email Eileen Bohrer, Director of Institutional Advancement to ebohrer@schechterli.org or call 516.935.1441 ext.1131.