Nathan Cahn views his work for The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) as nothing short of “an immense privilege.” As a data analyst for the Claims Conference, Nathan assists in negotiating compensation for victims of Nazi persecution around the world. “I had no idea I would ever get a chance to work with survivors in my professional life or that my path would lead me back to work in the Jewish community,” he shared.
While his Jewish education left Nathan confident in his knowledge of Jewish history, his current work has taught him new lessons about the global repercussions of the Holocaust. “Jews are a far more diverse people than I previously understood…I hear survivors of all nationalities speaking in languages from around the world. For them, history is not confined to the past.”
Nathan’s intersecting interests in social justice and data can be traced back to his time at Senesh. He has vivid memories of singing civil rights songs with this fourth grade history class, a unit he remembers having a deep impact on him. Eighth grade social studies was also an empowering course for Nathan; he recalls learning how to access unbiased news and information to stay informed and form opinions.
It was at Clark University and, after, in AmeriCorps that Nathan continued to explore these interest areas. Graduating from Clark in 2010 with a degree in Sociology and Concentration in Race and Ethnic Relations, Nathan moved to New Mexico to become a teaching fellow at Citizen Schools. For two years, Nathan acted as the liaison between the organization’s national headquarters and the New Mexico data leads, supervising data entry and assisting in data-to-action collaboration. It was in New Mexico that Nathan saw the power of data first-hand, where increased grades and scores were used to prove Citizen School’s tangible effect on student performance.
When it became clear to Nathan that analyzing data, rather than providing direct service, was his preferred method for giving back, he began his Masters of Science in Applied Social Research at Hunter College. After graduation, he worked as a data analyst for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, using data to prove the efficacy of progressive policies being enacted by the Office. Nathan is proud of his work to push “Raise the Age” legislation through New York State government to ensure fairer prosecution for New York youth, among other initiatives. His work there and at Claims Conference is congruous with the d’var torah Nathan gave at his Bar Mitzvah – a discussion of flawed humans searching for redemption and justice, which was based on his Senesh summer reading book, Manchild in the Promised Land. The book chronicles a young black man’s coming of age in Harlem during the Civil Rights era. “Those books, those lessons,” said Nathan, ”they shaped my mindset.”
Rebecca Katz ‘02
Rebecca Katz’s career path took her to Chicago and Austin before she circled back to NYC, but the strong Jewish identity and commitment to social justice that she forged at Hannah Senesh have been constants in her life and career. Rebecca was one of the first 14 children enrolled in our school in 1995, and a member of Senesh’s first graduating class in 2002. After studying at Heschel High School (where she was again a member of the first graduating class), she headed to Vassar College, where she majored in American Studies. During her four years at Vassar, Rebecca says, she only went to Hillel once. “I was done. I wanted to try new things. Thanks to Senesh, I knew that my Judaism would still be there. I was in an ongoing relationship with it, and I could move back for a couple of years in college and still reconnect.” After college she headed to Chicago to find a job and a community. One thing she knew for sure: she did not want to be a Jewish communal professional. “As the child of two people who were working in Jewish communal service, I did not want to go in that direction—very adamantly,” she says. But she was searching for connections to other people and ways to get more involved in social justice work. And, of course, a job. She had worked with young people in the past, so a listing for the director of teen programs at the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs was appealing. Rebecca says, “I see that as a turning point. When I took that job, I took all these threads and wove them into one.” Because of her experiences at Senesh, she was surprised to find at her new job that creating pluralistic, inclusive Jewish spaces was really hard. “I was brought up to welcome and celebrate a multiplicity of Jewish expression and practice, and work toward that myself.” At a difficult moment, when some of the teens she was working with felt that their observance wasn’t being honored, she called her father in tears. “He told me, ‘We’re all struggling to do it, and no one has the perfect answer,’” she says. “I became more committed than ever.”
After three years in Chicago, Rebecca moved to Austin, TX, where she spent about two years as director of social justice programs at the Texas Hillel Foundation. And then, just two years ago, she returned to Brooklyn and began a new position as director of education at the Jewish social justice organization Repair the World. “My experience at Senesh is the foundation of who I am in a multitude of ways,” she says. “Senesh gave me ownership of my Jewish identity and my expression of it, and I’m so grateful. The school taught me to have a personal relationship with my Judaism that was not restrictive, that could grow and change.” Rebecca talked about learning to put on tefillin during her bat mitzvah year. “We were all taught to wrap tefillin, no differentiation between boys and girls. It wasn’t framed as something we had to do, but that we had access to and had a right to. Once we learned how, we would have the option to do it or not. That foundationally feminist and pluralistic view of Judaism was really wonderful. “I’ve only worked for Jewish organizations that strive for pluralism. It’s such a powerful framework for me. The idea that any expression is welcome is something I connect with so deeply. Having spent time working professionally in three Jewish institutions and with many coalitions of Jewish nonprofits, I’ve learned that so many organizations are seeking to do that, and it’s what I was given through Senesh.” Rebecca adds, “Senesh gave me a deep intertwining of practicing Judaism and social justice—these were one and the same, and our texts and traditions could help inform how we create change today. That core value, that part of expressing one’s Judaism was working for a just world, never went away.”
Rose Eilenberg is typically multi-tasking. Between attending acrobatic festivals across the country and creating programming for the Pittsburgh Moishe House where she resides, Rose is a Mechanical Engineering PhD candidate at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). While discussing her journey since graduating from Senesh, Rose has code running in the background.
After graduating from Senesh in 2005, Rose attended LaGuardia High School as an art major and spent one high school semester in Israel with the Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim program. During her undergraduate career at Tufts University, Rose discovered her interest in the intersection between science and sustainability – double majoring in mechanical engineering and environmental studies.
After graduating from college, Rose found herself back in New York, working on energy audits for large buildings at Energy Spectrum. After some time, she quit, finding an internship that felt more aligned with her passions. At BioLite, she helped develop their next generation of sustainable cookstoves for use in the developing world. “The topic was so fascinating to me,” Rose recalled. It was by following this newfound interest that Rose was accepted into CMU; an advisor in the Mechanical Engineering department who was researching solid-fuel cookstoves knew Rose would be an asset. Their findings were published last month in the academic journal Atmospheric Environment.
Rose continues to find new and fascinating projects on which to focus her academic research; she is currently utilizing machine learning to forecast air quality. Rose is also preparing for life after graduation – she hopes to pursue a career in science communication, either for a podcast or publication. “I want to be able to talk to a broad audience about science,” she explained.
Outside of her lab, Rose is equally devoted. “I believe it’s really important to have a life and community outside of my schoolwork,” she explained; “there are certain staples to a happy life.” Her dedication is to two communities in particular: her acrobatics group and the Moishe House she lives in. Acrobatics has been a hobby for years, and Rose attends festivals and “acro” camps throughout the year. Her Moishe House is more than a hobby – it’s also her home. Rose lives with three other Jewish young professionals and graduate students and is charged with creating weekly programming for the millennial Jewish community in Pittsburgh. “I feel very lucky to have made friends with people just because they happen to wander into my house looking for something meaningful,” Rose reflected.
Thinking back to her time at Senesh, Rose noted that her Jewish education equipped her with an easier path to connection. “I do have people come into my home who want to be connected to Judaism but don’t have the knowledge, traditions, or content that I have.” Programming in the Moishe House is varied, from themed Shabbat dinners (such as Jewish Christmas in July, complete with Chinese food) to study sessions on queerness in the Torah to social events such as distillery tours.
For Rose, finding a Jewish community was never a concern. “I knew wherever I went there would be Jewish life; when I got to Pittsburgh, I wasn’t even looking for Judaism because I knew I would naturally find it. It’s just a part of my life.”
Editor’s Note: Rose, who lives in Pittsburgh, was interviewed for this profile just two days before the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue. She lives in Squirrel Hill, blocks away from the scene of the shooting. While those tragic events are not the subject of this profile, Rose has since shared a bit about her experience on that day, which consisted of opening up her home to roughly 45 Jewish young adults who “talked, colored, ate soup, drank tea and wine, and generally showed each other love and support. It felt like a shiva house— the way we were all in mourning but coming together to celebrate what it means to be Jewish. It meant so much to be surrounded by people who were going through the exact same thing, but who also refused to be defeated by hate.” Thank you to Rose for sharing about her experience on that tragic day and also about her day to day life.
Sarah Rosen recalls the moment when her professional path began falling into place. It was during an undergraduate Introduction to Anthropology class; as Sarah puts it, “I was blown away. And from there, I just ran with it.”
After receiving her BA in Anthropology with a concentration in Biological Anthropology and Bioarchaeology from State University of New York at Geneseo in 2013, Sarah continued to immerse herself in her anthropological passion. After interning in two labs within the American Museum of Natural History, Sarah went on to receive her MSc in Palaeopathology with merit from Durham University in England in 2016. Now, she is six months shy of receiving her Doctorate in Forensic Anthropology.
For Sarah, forensic anthropology is imbued with hope. Using anthropological methods to crack previously unsolved crimes has the power to provide truth and closure, she explains. As part of her doctoral dissertation, Sarah spent five months in post-conflict Guatemala studying the uses of forensic anthropology in local processes of transitional justice. “After a country undergoes civil war, the survivors crave justice…and one way that this can occur is by gathering forensic evidence from victims’ remains to try and obtain answers for the living.” Her dissertation on the subject is entitled, “We Were Seeds: The Economies of Forensic Identification of Human Skeletal Remains.”
The intersection of forensic anthropology and politics is one of the many topics that Sarah spends time researching and contemplating. Who is given access to forensic services and what stories the anthropologists are allowed to tell is fraught with complication. Often times, Sarah notes, “governing bodies only enable superficial efforts [to identify the dead] and only allow forensic efforts that will situate the violence in the past.”
Discussing her PhD on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Sarah acknowledges that her work, and her inability to shy away from the injustices she studies, is bound up in her identity as a Jew. “Part of having a well-rounded Jewish education is learning about the Holocaust and how that kind of violence continues to dictate narratives today.” Sarah recalls speaking with Holocaust survivors during her time at Senesh, an experience she views as incredibly valuable. “I’m so thankful to have had that opportunity, which future generations will not have. I also recall the trauma that was passed down through their stories. It was very powerful.” This experience, among others, instilled in Sarah a desire to repair. “You get to decide what kind of person you want to be in the face of these lessons. And it became clear to me that, as one person, I could not stop catastrophic events from occurring. What I found was that I could take action by helping survivors find justice for themselves and their loved ones. This was really empowering for me, to realize I could help relieve trauma in some small way.”
Looking ahead, Sarah hopes to stay in the UK after completing her final degree. She has been approved for a postdoctoral fellowship through Durham University and is working to secure funding for her proposed research. Sarah hopes to study human capacity for empathy with skeletons, a topic that has far-reaching implications in forensic anthropology. Some of her old Senesh classmates have written to her regarding her research, sharing their own experiences as they relate to her work.
While Sarah has found a new home in England, her Brooklyn roots and her time at Senesh always resurface. Sarah is regularly featured on BBC One’s arts programming due to her talent as a swing dancer, among other styles. One dress she performs in has history – Sarah wore it during her time at Senesh. “Coming to Senesh in costume was something I loved and did often, although it was definitely not a trend that continued into high school or college. I thank many of my Senesh teachers for letting me explore my creativity during that time. They let me be who I needed to be, and I appreciate that.”
In 2012, while on track to graduate Princeton University with a degree in public policy, Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen won a free ticket to The Metropolitan Opera. Aryeh recalls sitting in the audience of La Boheme as “a truly transformative experience.” The college freshman left the theatre extremely moved. Aryeh describes the aspiration that propelled him forward: “I felt that if there was any way I could do what those singers were doing, I wanted to give it a shot.”
Aryeh’s trajectory began shifting to align with his newfound passion. Winning Princeton’s Dale Sophomore Award, which finances 10 rising juniors’ study of a non-academic subject, enabled Aryeh to enhance his musical skill set. Aryeh spent the summer studying vocal performance and switched his major to history. “My thinking at the time was that if I never gave it a shot, I‘d always look back and wonder if I could have made a career in the arts,” he shared.
Aryeh’s first few months out of college tested his dedication. Rejections from vocal performance graduate programs and fellowships prompted Aryeh to pursue his own course of study. “I still felt that I had something to contribute artistically, and I still wanted to pursue this dream,” he explained. In March 2017, Aryeh entered the Metropolitan Opera competition on a whim and, at 23, was named Grand Finals Winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. The subsequent New York Times review lauding his performance changed Aryeh’s life overnight.
In the past few years, Aryeh has achieved – if not exceeded – his initial dreams. The rising star has been awarded numerous grants, fellowships, and prizes, including first prize in the Houston Grand Opera Competition and the Dallas Opera Guild Vocal Competition. Aryeh’s first foray into commercial recording has also proved successful; a recording of Kenneth Fuchs’ Poems of Life on which Aryeh sings won a 2019 GRAMMY® Award.
Aryeh’s performances are chosen with intention; certain characters whom he brings to life onstage carry special meaning to him. He notes, “The ‘Refugee’s Aria (Dawn, Still Darkness)’ from Dove’s Flight is my absolute favorite aria to sing. To tell the story of a refugee fleeing persecution and the tale of his brother’s death is more important now than ever…every time I sing that aria, it is an honor to tell his story.” Aryeh’s repertoire also includes oratorios based on Old Testament stories, including Handel’s Saul and Esther. Being able to celebrate and amplify the stories of biblical giants has a unique significance to Aryeh, who recalls studying their lives and legacies in his Senesh Judaic studies courses.
Prior to his days portraying King David, Aryeh was thrust onto Senesh’s smaller stage as Captain Hook in his 8th grade performance of Peter Pan. Aryeh notes, “I got my first experiences on the stage at Senesh, and I definitely caught the stage ‘bug’ early…I’ll always look back fondly on that experience.” Aryeh recalls Senesh as a place that provided a crucial educational foundation as well as a familial atmosphere. The school’s strong communal bonds are evinced in one of Aryeh’s early musical memories — it was at a Senesh classmates’ karaoke birthday party that a fellow parent noted Aryeh’s vocal talent to his mother, who subsequently enrolled him in a youth chorus. Indeed, from peers to teachers, Aryeh remembers being surrounded by a chorus of support at Senesh. He states, “I cherish my time spent at Hannah Senesh.”
Seven months into her time at Hebrew Union College’s Jewish Institute of Religion, Lauren Roth has found a soft spot for Biblical grammar. It’s one of the nine courses she is currently enrolled in as part of her cantorial ordination degree program, sandwiched between courses that include daily nusach, music coaching, and Hebrew ulpan. Lauren’s journey to becoming a cantor is just beginning; her anticipated graduation year for her Cantorial Ordination with a Master’s Degree in Sacred Music is 2024, and Lauren is already considering a second master’s in religious education. She intends to use her degree to “bring people in” — helping all people find a home within Judaism.
From the Hebrew Union College campus in Jerusalem, Lauren can view the Kotel. It was at this historic Jewish site that, in the summer of 2018, Lauren led Shabbat services for her Birthright group. “During Birthright, I was surrounded by Jews who were discovering their Judaism for the first time, and so I found myself in a teaching role, answering their questions about holidays and leading services. It was during this time that I realized I could do this for the rest of my life.”
Lauren began reflecting on the centrality of her Jewish identity while studying at Rutgers University, where she graduated in 2015 with a degree in voice performance after attending LaGuardia High School’s voice program. It was a guest speaker at college who prompted her to consider the salient themes and identities in her own life that might inform her professional future. “At the time, I was preparing for a career as a classical singer, but I kept having a reoccuring pull towards Judaism and music. And I think at that point, I started listening.”
After college, Lauren spent four years as a religious school educator at Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn. Her time creating curriculum, leading classes, and guiding programming for lower school, middle school, and high school students as well as co-leading High Holy Day and Shabbat services struck her deeply. “The best part of being an educator was seeing the students at this beautiful, young age where they were starting to find their own Jewish identity and connection,” Lauren recalls.
In cantorial school at Hebrew Union College, the Jewish foundation Lauren received is evident to her. “During Senesh and beyond, my Judaism was something that I absolutely took for granted,” she notes. Now, she gratefully utilizes the skills she acquired at Senesh, reciting the prayers she learned, which come back to her naturally. “My classmates are impressed by the ease at which I can recall the birkat and tfilot, and I have found a new appreciation for Senesh for instilling them in me.”
Lauren recalls the differentiators that separated her Senesh experience from that at a typical Jewish school, including the unique sense of community and religious diversity of the student body. “Having families in our school that ranged from Modern Orthodox to Reform let me learn about new customs that I would not have been aware of if our school had been attached to a particular movement…during Senesh and beyond, my Judaism went through ups and downs, and I questioned a lot, but now the things that challenge me within Judaism also make me want to come closer, and that is something I want to help give to other people, whether as a Jewish educator or as a cantor.”
Eva Stern-Rodriguez ’08 sees a clear connection between her work at Google and Senesh Chumash class. As a user experience researcher at Google during the summer of 2019, Eva designed and executed a slew of studies to better understand the functionality of Google products among a broad user type. Her goal: provide a qualitative and quantitative basis for product improvement.
Eva’s passion for digital experiences is rooted in her interest in human-computer interaction. “User experience research is about having real conversations with people about their problems and how technology can improve their lives — it’s about empathizing with another’s lived experience, whether that is the challenge of being a new user or something greater, in order to design the best possible product.”
For Eva, the act of creating connections and considering foreign perspectives hearkens back to Middle School Chumash class at Senesh. “Reading Biblical texts was about learning to make distant stories and unfamiliar struggles relatable…it was an early exercise in empathy that translates to my current work. In the present, I have to imagine the impact of a problem I have never personally dealt with or see a product through the eyes of a potential user’s unique set of needs.”
Feminist design methodology is one of many design frameworks that Eva uses when examining user interaction. Keeping aspects of a user’s identity in mind — including gender — is central to building better technology, she explains. Eva first encountered design frameworks at Cornell Tech where she obtained a graduate degree in Information Systems in 2018. At Cornell Tech, Eva mastered new aspects of human computer interaction and machine learning algorithms and applied them to real-world problems, including combating unemployment among new immigrants in New York City and information dissemination disruption in the news.
Eva’s foray into the world of user experience began with a high school painting class at the Williston Northampton School and a first year coding class at Wellesley College. It was an interest in the amalgamation of these disparate fields that influenced Eva to major in Media Arts and Sciences, an interdisciplinary major at Wellesley that aimed to blend the two disciplines. During college, Eva began working on design-based projects, including developing experimental interfaces and virtual reality experiences as an undergraduate research assistant in the MIT Media Lab. Eventually, Eva realized that it was human interaction with technology rather than technology design that interested her most. Her time at Google has let her explore the questions she is most captivated by: what draws people to interact with a specific technology and how to implement effective digital experiences that fit the needs of unique users.
Eva has not only considered the impact of digital experiences on human lives — she has also done some reflection on the influences on her own. Eva sees her time at Senesh as invaluable, both in the skills she gained and the community by which she was surrounded. She appreciates the greater historical and textual understanding she can bring to her family’s Seder table and noted that many Jewish rituals would feel more distant and emptier without her Senesh education. “I feel Jewish all the time because my family and some of my oldest friendships from Senesh are mixed up in that identity. Being at Senesh was like being part of a family — it was the most carefree and comfortable that I have ever been in my entire life.”
Alexander Amir is one busy guy! He’s a Pre-Law student at Macaulay Honors College at Hunter studying Economics, Public Policy, and Music. On top of that, he volunteers as a Macaulay Student Ambassador—helping to recruit high school students and working open house events—and as a peer mentor. Over the summer, Alexander will intern in the criminal justice division of the New York County Supreme Court and begin pursuing his teaching certification for violin. Ultimately, he hopes to find a career in sports management.
Upon entering high school, Alexander felt further ahead academically than many of his peers. He believes that his time at Hannah Senesh helped set him up for success. He relays, “Senesh provided me with a very individualized approach which influenced my overall passion for learning” and adds that, had he been in a bigger atmosphere, he may not have developed the same appreciation for knowledge.
Alexander, keep us posted! We’re excited to see what you do next!
During high school, Elijah recalls adhering to a strict Friday schedule. Dismissal was followed by his weekly IntegrateNYC leadership committee meeting and a hasty subway ride home for Shabbat dinner. His commitment to sitting at the Shabbat and leadership table alike stemmed from a sense of duty. “I was instilled with an obligation to contribute that I attribute to my upbringing – to the camp, the synagogue, my family, and of course to my years at Senesh.”
As a current sophomore at Cornell University, Elijah’s commitment to activism and connection to his value system has not wavered. A candidate for a bachelor’s degree in industrial and labor relations, Elijah views his current justice-related work inside and outside the classroom as central to his professional aspirations: a career in public policy. “My studies are focused on recognizing some of the greatest social and political struggles that Americans are facing today,” he explained. “I believe labor is the issue of our time, in many ways.”
Elijah’s affinity for workers’ rights and politics was bolstered during his high school years, when, to accrue mandatory community service hours, he interned for Brooklyn City Councilmember Brad Lander. After completing his community service, Elijah stayed on for two years, shadowing the councilman as he spearheaded school diversity legislation, among other initiatives. It was during a roundtable discussion hosted by Mr. Lander that Elijah encountered student activists from IntegrateNYC who were advocating for more equitable classrooms and schools in their wider New York City community. “They invited me to join them, and that was it…it was exactly what I wanted to be doing,” said Elijah.
As the Co-chair of IntegrateNYC’s Board of Directors, Elijah can elucidate the mission of the organization with ease: “IntegrateNYC is a youth-led organization advocating for integration and equity in New York City public high schools.” The need for such an organization became clear to Elijah when he began public high school, where he cultivated an awareness of New York City’s public high school landscape and started voraciously reading on the topic. “Contemporary segregation looks very different from historical segregation because it’s far more insidious. Laws mandating integration exist but there are so many factors keeping the system segregated,” Elijah explained. Elijah is immensely proud of the traction of IntegrateNYC’s messaging; the organization’s “Five R’s of Real Integration” — a framework designed by the student activists themselves — has been adopted by top city officials, high-profile advocacy groups, and governmental advisory groups alike.
One of the youth organization’s latest undertakings has garnered particular attention: a public hackathon to tackle the placement algorithm currently used by public high schools to match applicants with their top ranked schools. The current algorithm, IntegrateNYC argues, is color-blind, not accounting for built-in biases. Elijah is optimistic about his organization’s work to create a more equitable alternative, noting how inspiring it was to welcome a group of education and data experts to join IntegrateNYC as thought partners in the recent hackathon.
This summer, Elijah is heading back to Councilman Lander’s office as an intern, where he will be closer to his family’s Shabbat table, his IntegrateNYC team, and his home community. Reflecting on the values impressed on him by his Jewish community, Elijah notes “my upbringing was grounded in the values of the Torah…Senesh instilled in me and my classmates an appreciation of our Jewish community, of our lifelong participation in that community, and of Tikkun Olam…That concept was at the center of so many classes and the rhetoric of our teachers and administration. This was such an important foundation because it could be taken in so many directions; [my classmates and I] can all adhere to the values of Tikkun Olam and impact the world in so many different ways.”
As the vice president of Electronic Equity Sales at Bank of America, Alex Wells has had to overcome a unique obstacle: applying his background in physics optics to his current work in the finance industry. Alex credits his nontraditional path and professional pivot to the skills he built at Senesh.
Alex, who received his B.A. in physics from Columbia University and his MPhil in physics from the University of Cambridge, was initially interested in using his science background to teach. “I really enjoyed distilling complex concepts and translating them for a wider audience,” he noted.
After learning more about the physics optics technology powering financial trading software, Alex became intrigued by the intersection between finance and physics. “I began to see that there was a disconnect between financial clients and the trading tools provided to them,” he explained. Thus, Alex found a new opportunity to teach — explaining complex trading algorithms and advanced financial data transmission sequences to a variety of consumers within a client-facing role.
For Alex, transitioning from a background in the hard sciences to a role that required a command of financial structures and systems required tenacity and strong sense of self. “I ended up choosing an incredibly non-traditional career path; I don’t know anyone else with a scientific background who is pursuing the work that I do, and the learning curve was intense…I was lucky to have many mentors along the way.”
Alex immediately thinks of his sixth grade math class at Senesh when considering the growth and personal development that enabled him to pursue this atypical path. “It was the first time I remember being encouraged to blaze my own trail and pursue something that I was interested in no matter how difficult or impossible it seemed,” Alex recalls. He remembers being proactively assigned extra work outside the curriculum and reviewing it with his math teacher, Geneva Reventlow, during her spare time. “I don’t think I was even aware that I wanted more; she simply recognized that I was ready to go deeper.” For Alex, this growth marked a shift; he began to feel confident pursuing work that brought him joy, no matter how far outside his comfort zone it took him.
Senesh provided Alex with additional takeaways that have impacted his personal and professional journey. As part of the school’s first-ever graduating class, Alex witnessed a generation of Senesh parents whose deep involvement in school life ensured the doors remained open. Alex’s recalls his mother, Tina Wells, delivering and distributing pizza each Wednesday for school lunch. “Keeping our school running required the investment of each parent and watching that happen solidified the concept of community for me — Senesh was an extended family,” Alex explains.
Alex was heavily influenced by the community he encountered at Senesh. “My understanding of the communal aspects of Judaism and how constructive and valuable community is in one’s life was something that came initially from Senesh,” he explained. From meeting and connecting with his wife, Nejla, to raising their one-year-old daughter, Edie, Alex has used his Jewish values to inform his decision-making. His Senesh graduation ceremony marked a particularly poignant memory of communal connection. He recalls how each student was introduced and praised by a teacher who had closely witnessed their development and growth. “Looking back, it was amazing to think that that kind of connection was possible. It’s incredibly profound.”
When Marisa Miller graduated Hannah Senesh in 2010, she had no idea she would return as a faculty member in the fall of 2019. Throughout her time in Leon Goldstein High School of Math and Sciences, she spent time babysitting, working in summer camps, and engaged with children, but wasn’t sure she wanted to work with children long term. Marisa felt a lot of pressure surrounding her career and was looking to find her own path.
At Susquehanna University, Marisa was looking for a flexible field that would allow her to learn as much as possible and share with others and decided to major in education. Once she completed her degree, she was also looking for a new environment, something different from where she grew up, and moved to New Orleans. There, she accepted a position in public schools with 2nd and 4th graders and she realized how much she enjoyed teaching. Although she enjoyed her work, she didn’t feel at home in the strange city, and came back to New York to pursue a PhD.
When the opportunity arose to work at Hannah Senesh, Marisa says she was excited to be back in the community she grew up in, but also to be part of a growing and evolving school that has changed since her time as a student. Unexpectedly, her first year at Senesh took a big turn when the school closed in March due to COVID-19. Marisa said “the administration and staff really demonstrated growth and flexibility in a challenging time.”
Marisa was able to get creative with new methods of learning and interacting with students. This year, as we reopened our school for in-person learning, Marisa has her own “pod” of first grade students every day. The experience of the past few months has definitely shaped her into a more dynamic teacher. “While it’s hard to interact with masks on, the smaller pods make it easier to help the students one-on-one and approach them for a more personal conversation, while of course staying safe,” she explained.
Marisa is excited to get her kids involved in the Senesh how buddy system, which fosters a network of students across different ages and grades. “That always helps us feel like one big community, instead of individual classes or grades.”
In reminiscing about her time as a student, Marisa fondly recalled Senesh having a sibling school in Uganda where they sent clothes, letters, and other goods to another school across the world that felt more like neighbors. Marisa says the support of the faculty during her time at Senesh has helped shape who she is today, and that joyful learning is still as much a part of the school as she remembers. She is thrilled to be working alongside some of her own former teachers and continues to learn from them. Marisa said that Senesh teachers are “genuine, helpful, kind, creative, know how to manage a classroom, and filled with joy.” Senesh is proud of all Marisa has accomplished since graduating, and all she will continue to accomplish as a faculty member teaching future Senesh Alumni!