Beth El Hebrew school finds its teachers in Hebrew classes

(Carolyn Conte)
Beth El Congregation of Baltimore (Carolyn Conte)

When Beth El Congregation of Baltimore has been in need of Hebrew school teachers in the past, its staff have not necessarily had to go far in search of them.

In many cases, Eyal Bor, Beth El’s director of education and director of its Rabbi Mark G. Loeb Center For Life Long Learning, has turned to the students in his classes at Towson University.

Out of 21 teachers, 14 have taken Bor’s Hebrew classes or been enrolled in the Jewish education and communal service master’s program at Towson University, where Bor’s wife, Hana Bor, is the director. That number represents 66% of the teaching staff, Bor noted.

“This is a testimony for quality, energized and educated Hebrew School staff,” Bor said in an email.

Aliya Smelkinson
Aliya Smelkinson (Mariana Orellana )

Aliya Smelkinson is one of those teachers. Smelkinson, who lives in Towson, began teaching at the Hebrew school at Beth El in 2018. Though she grew up in Columbia and attended Hebrew school at Beth Shalom Congregation, she had her bat mitzvah at Beth El.

Smelkinson received her undergraduate degree in family sciences (with a minor in Jewish studies) from Towson University and is currently earning her master’s in leadership in Jewish education and communal service through Towson’s Baltimore Hebrew Institute. While Smelkinson was taking Bor’s Hebrew class at Towson, he recruited her to work as a Hebrew school teacher at Beth El.

Jake Shapiro
Jake Shapiro (Courtesy of Jake Shapiro)

Jake Shapiro, who will be teaching his first Beth El Hebrew school class on Sept. 12, grew up in Baltimore as the oldest of four siblings. He attended the Jemicy School and went to Beth El for Hebrew school. He and his family had moved to the Philadelphia area when he was in fourth grade, but he returned to the Baltimore area for high school.

Shapiro received his master’s degree in leadership in Jewish education and communal service at Towson’s Baltimore Hebrew Institute earlier this year. Barak Hermann, CEO of the JCC of Greater Baltimore, recommended the program to Shapiro when he was working at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC. According to Shapiro, Hermann had told him it would be a way to enhance his Jewish education and become a strong Jewish educator.

While at Towson, Shapiro also studied Hebrew under Bor, who often joked that Shapiro should come work for him. Shapiro normally responded with the noncommittal reply of “maybe one day.” That changed around a month ago, when Shapiro received a phone call from Bor.

“‘I’m desperate for a teacher,’” Shapiro recalled Bor saying. “‘You’d be so good at it.’

“Of course I’ll give back to the shul I attend and the shul I went to Hebrew school at,” Shapiro said he told Bor.

Smelkinson and Shapiro will be teaching first grade this year, teaching their students about Jewish holidays and words in modern Hebrew.

Smelkinson has previously taught kindergarten and first grade classes at Beth El. Some of her favorite activities with the students include music lessons, as well as lessons that focus on holiday traditions.

“Being in the sukkah with them is also great,” Smelkinson said. “Any ritual-based traditions that they recognize from home that they’re learning about in Hebrew school is really fun. They seem to be very comfortable and excited because they recognize what we’re doing. It’s not something completely new.”

As for Shapiro, he is eager for his first class with his students.

“I was [at Beth El] the other day, and I was looking around, and I was laughing to myself, because I was like, ‘Man, it doesn’t feel like it changed much,’” Shapiro said. “But I’m really excited, and I look
forward to being on the other end of the stick.”

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