Home August 2011 Familiar Face, New Place

Familiar Face, New Place

“It’s very powerful to work with children,” said Robin Hoffman, the new education director at Congregation B’nai Israel.  “They have a unique way of interpreting Torah, and it never gets tiring.”

Hoffman added, “The most important thing is that this position is all about children and what they leave with, how they develop a positive identity, become mensches, feel good about being Jewish and understand how Judaism works in their lives.”  She wants her students to understand the ritual and the calendar and for them to “want to do the right thing in the world.”

According to its website, “Congregation B’nai Israel’s Jewish Education Program, integrating school curriculum with home and synagogue life, provides its students with a love of G-d and desire to live Jewish lives.  To fulfill this mission in a creative, stimulating, and enjoyable way, our program will incorporate: a strong Jewish identity and belonging to a people who live in covenant with G-d, a foundation for love of Jewish learning, service to G-d, acts of loving kindness and holiness.”

For Hoffman, who grew up in a secular household and began her quest for Jewish education as an adult, her new position is that and so much more.  Motivated by her own personal seeking of spirit and faith, she is delighted to be part of a “warm, welcoming and vibrant community,” where lifelong learning is valued and embraced.  She is also happy to be doing it in her own neighborhood and continuing her professional development at the same time.

“I feel like this job was meant to be,” she said.  “It’s amazing how much goes on here.  There are so many ways for people to get involved.”

Hoffman said that her first priority is to solidify the curriculum by building on the established foundation.  She wants to reach children of all ages by developing programs that affect all of them.  She is delighted with the social action culture that took students to Washington for the AIPAC conference and to meet with legislators, and she wants to emphasize such social programs as gleaning and ecology.  Hoffman also thinks Jewish history is important.  “We have to understand what we’ve overcome and take pride in our continuity, so we can understand the reasons why we keep going,” she said.

In addition, Hoffman looks forward to working with Rabbi Elie Spitz and Cantor Marcia Tilchin, both active teachers in the religious school, and is “excited to develop curriculum with them.”  She also looks forward to working with CBI’s preschool director, Lisa Heller, and youth director, Barbara Sherman, in a collaborative effort.

“We are a community,” Hoffman explained.  “We maintain a lot of the kids post-Bar and Bat Mitzvah through the USY program.  There’s a focus on leadership and leadership training through the teaching assistants program to develop future educators.”

Committed to transforming lives through Jewish education, CBI has developed the Mercaz Hadracha (Jewish Leadership Center) to provide practical training and leadership skills for students in grades 8 to 12.  Students may choose four six-week workshops annually on topics such as community service, Israel advocacy, confronting anti-Semitism, responding to missionaries, youth leadership and prayer leadership.  The students have the chance to join their friends and peers and learn from the rabbi, the cantor and other educators and community leaders.

Hoffman also looks forward to expanding adult education and family education in an environment where “that kind of cultural change is in place already,” she said.  “Adult learning sets an example for children and enriches our own souls.  There is so much to learn in our tradition.  We have to take the time to learn it and understand it.”

Hoffman would know.  She had an adult Bat Mitzvah with her mother 22 years ago, and that sparked an interest in more learning.

A native of Orange County, Hoffman began her journey of studying and teaching Judaism 16 years ago.  She met Irma Moskowitz, retired director of education at Temple Beth David, who became her mentor.  Hoffman has taught in two synagogues, Temple Beth David and Temple Beth El, where she specialized in family education programming as well as teaching Hebrew, Torah, Holocaust studies, holidays and life cycles, history and theology.  She credits Moskowitz, Linda Kirsch (education director at Temple Beth El) and her colleagues at the Jewish Education Association for being supportive.  She is most proud of the work she did as the Jewish studies director at Morasha Jewish Day School where she served for seven years and where her daughter, Marisa, now 16 and a junior at Beckman High School, attended.

Hoffman clearly regards Marisa as her greatest success in Jewish education and otherwise.  “She has a positive Jewish identity, and she’s a mensch,” Hoffman said.  “She’s a counselor in training at Camp Mountain Chai, and she loves coming to services.”

In 2002 Hoffman received her Master’s Degree in Jewish Education from Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in Chicago.  She is currently entering her fourth year of rabbinic school at the Academy for Jewish Religion in Los Angeles, and she did her rabbinic internship at Temple Beth David.  After completing a few more classes and her dissertation, Hoffman is on track to receive her rabbinic ordination in June of 2013.

“I would be thrilled to become a rabbi educator after that,” she said.  “Being a rabbi is being an educator, and I would be more than happy to continue doing that right here.”

Congregation B’nai Israel’s religious school classes start on Sunday, September 11.  For more information on the program, contact Robin Hoffman at RHoffman@cbi18.org or (714) 730-5161 or see the website at www.cbi18.org.

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