Over 260 students and staff at Shalhevet High School gathered in the gymnasium to cheer on Rabbi Abraham Lieberman as he received the Jewish Educator Award and a check for $15,000 during a surprise ceremony on Oct. 7.
Lieberman, who teaches Jewish studies at the school, located at 910 S. Fairfax Ave., was shocked when Executive Vice President of the Milken Family Foundation Richard Sandler called out his name.
“Thank you. Thank you for taking on the responsibility of educating young people,” Sandler said. “Thank you for what you have chosen to do with your life. We know you did not do it because you wanted to be thanked. We know that you get as much out of it as your put in it. We want you to know that we recognize the importance of what you are doing.”
The rabbi stood up and immediately hugged Rabbi David Stein, another teacher at the school, before making his way to the stage. Students offered high fives and congratulations.
“I feel like this is a joke,” Lieberman said. “I am going to wake up and someone is going to say, ‘Whoa! That was an amazing dream.’ I am afraid to blink.”
Lieberman and three other Jewish teachers – Eric Hartung with Pressman Academy, Michelle Andron with Emek Hebrew Academy and Nelly Wisner with Beth Hillel Day School – were chosen for the award after an extensive process by the Milken Family Foundation and the Builders of Jewish Education.
Every year, the Milken Family Foundation, a private foundation, honors teachers across the country with the Educator Award during a surprise assembly. The awardees are later welcomed to a state luncheon to honor them, where they will receive a check that can be spent however the educator desires.
In 1990, the foundation paired with BJE to recognize Jewish educators in the 38 Jewish day schools throughout Los Angeles with the Jewish Educator Award.
“[The Milken Family Foundation] believes that education is fundamental to the well-being of the individual and of the society at large, and central to education is teaching,” said Dr. Gil Graff, the executive director of BJE.
The four Jewish educators are chosen through a three-step process. The heads of each school – Rabbi Ari Segal for Shalhevet High School, for example – submit a nomination letter to the BJE for a teacher that they feel should be considered for the award. The letter highlights why the head of the school selected the teacher and how the teacher has impacted the school, students and surrounding community.
The recommended teachers are then observed in action by BJE staff, though the staff visits multiple teachers to keep the chosen teacher a secret. The staff writes a report on the teachers and submits it to a committee.
The last step is for the committee to review the top tier of candidates and select the four educators before they start planning the surprise assemblies.
“The students don’t know, and the teachers don’t know,” Graff said.
Lieberman has already thought about spending the money on his “book obsession.” He has over 10,000 volumes in his library.
“I love that the Milken Family Foundation and the BJE invest in this way, and our students see that it is great to be a teacher,” Segal said. “I think it is really important for the students to see and important for the colleagues to see. We are very excited. It is a big honor for [Lieberman] and for the school to have him here.”
For information, visit jewisheducatorawards.org.
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