After 46 years as an educator in the U.S. and eight years before that in Israel, Margalit Moskowitz is going to retire as the education director at Temple Beth Emet in Anaheim. She will manage to keep busy by continuing in her role as director of the Ezra Center — which offers programs and meals to seniors at Temple Beth Emet and Fullerton’s Temple Beth Tikvah — and by spending more time with her new grandson.
Margalit, whose name means “pearl” or “precious jewel” in Hebrew, believes that Judaism starts at home. She has always tried to make students feel connected to the synagogue, which inevitably brings the parents there as well. “The kids love Judaism, and the parents don’t just drop them off for Hebrew school,” she said. “Kids like to come to the synagogue every Shabbat too.”
Moskowitz, who has taught both Hebrew and Judaica classes, said that when she started her career in southern California, students didn’t want to miss religious school when they had secular events. Today, she worries that there is so much competition for time that students may not devote as many hours as they should to Jewish education. She also worries that, for some students, Hebrew is simply a tool for reading the Siddur, not as a live, beautiful language.
Temple Beth Emet produced a lot of Jewish leaders – rabbis, cantors and synagogue officers – who have enriched congregations in Orange County and beyond, according to Moskowitz. She also likes the sense of community there. “When my son was born, I didn’t have to buy him anything for seven years, because people at the temple were so generous,” she said. “It’s a very special place. People really love the temple.”
While she has held her position at Temple Beth Emet since 1999 and been a member of the congregation for many more years, Moskowitz has even deeper roots in the education landscape in the area. She was director of education at Temple Beth Shalom of Long Beach and Temple Beth Sholom of Orange County in Santa Ana. She also served as the only director of education at the communitywide Hebrew High School in Long Beach. In addition, Moskowitz started the school that was the precursor to Tarbut V’Torah in her kitchen.
“I love the classroom,” Moskowitz said. “I get so much in return, especially when people remember me years later.”
Her goals as a Jewish educator are simple. She wants to make the students menschen, make them feel like part of the community and make them feel connected to Israel and Jewish tradition.
It makes Moskowitz proud that she developed a class in which children learned Hebrew through songs and games, instead of reading it before learning to speak it. She also takes pride in the fact that many of her students stayed with the education program through high school and then became active in various Jewish communities.
A real highlight was becoming “a bridge to a Jewish day school” in Orange County in the 1980s. Moskowitz recalled that 30 students were coming to her house for a Jewish enrichment program. Rabbis and parents came together, and the Jewish Studies Institute started at Temple Beth Emet. It moved to the Buaro Street campus of the JFFS (as it was known then) and Jewish Community Center. Eventually, with the support of Irving Gelman and others, the school became Tarbut V’Torah at the Baker Street home of eight Jewish organizations before growing into the large, state-of-the-art kindergarten-through-grade 12 campus it is on the Jewish Federation Campus in Irvine today.
Always an educator at heart, Moskowitz will continue to bring her pearls of wisdom to bear on the people around her. She emotionally related that her sister-in-law had passed away recently, and the sister-in-law’s daughter posted a picture of candlesticks Moskowitz had given her mother, vowing to light them every Shabbat in her mother’s memory. Moskowitz also said that her own daughter-in-law reads a story to her grandson every night and ends with saying the “Sh’ma.”
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Temple Beth Emet will honor Margalit Moskowitz at Shabbat services on Saturday, August 18, at 9 a.m. Kiddush will follow. For more information, contact the synagogue office at (714) 772-4720.