By Edwin Folven, 9/27/2012
Rabbis and teachers at Jewish schools receive $15,000 awards
Loud chants of “Mazel tov” could be heard Monday as Rabbi Baruch Kupfer, head of school for the Maimonides Academy near West Hollywood, received $15,000 as part of the annual Jewish Educators Awards.
Kupfer, who has been with the academy since 1984, was speechless as he walked into a room filled with excited students who had been told minutes earlier that their rabbi would receive the award. Students and staff danced and cheered in celebration, and Kupfer remained visibly surprised by the announcement.
“When you look at the young men and ladies [at the school], to see them grow and develop into young adults who are dedicated, committed and have bright futures ahead of them, and will be contributors to the Jewish community, there is nothing better than that,” Kupfer said. “To be recognized for helping them to do that … it’s wonderful.”
Kupfer was one of four teachers or administrators at Jewish schools in Los Angeles who received the awards through the Milken Family Foundation. Since 1990, the foundation has selected four recipients each year in conjunction with the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE), which oversees 39 schools in the Los Angeles area. The recipients are chosen for their commitment to education and dedication to students, according to BJE director Dr. Gil Graff.
“Education is at the center of our lives and is imperative for the future,” Graff said. “Rabbi Kupfer has shaped a school of excellence. Beginning at the school a quarter century ago, with a fledgling student population of perhaps 150 students, he has helped the school grow to more than 500 students. The excellence, thoughtfulness and attention to education that he gives to children from the earliest age through the eighth grade is worthy of appreciation.”
Kupfer was credited with continually working to improve the school’s curriculum, and encouraging personal and professional growth among its teachers. Maimonides Academy, located on Huntley Drive near La Cienega and Beverly boulevards, serves students from age three through the eighth grade.
Awards were also presented during separate ceremonies to Lidia Turner, of the Saperstein Middle School at the Milken Community High School; Rabbi Usher Klein, of Mesivta Birkas Yitzchok School; and Mary Itri, of the Stephen S. Wise Temple Elementary School. Turner is credited with playing guitar and using music as an innovative approach to teaching her curriculum on Israel and Hebrew. Klein, who founded Mesivta Birkas Yitzchok in 2006, was described as being a hands-on educator who takes a personal approach with students. He is known for helping students with the difficult texts in the Talmud, and often hosts Sabbath meals and ceremonies for students in his home. Itri teaches fourth through sixth grade students, and is credited with nurturing creativity and encouraging individual development. She also directs the school’s spring musical, and spends summer breaks raising support for the production.
The recipients each receive a $15,000 award, and can use the money as they wish. Richard Sandler, executive vice president of the Milken Family Foundation and board chairman for the Los Angeles Jewish Federation, said the money is a deserved reward for the hard work each recipient does in shaping young lives.
“One of the vocations we feel we do not recognize enough in society is teachers,” Sandler said. “We at the Milken family Foundation believe wholeheartedly that the reason we are all here is to make the world a better place. This award is a recognition of excellence, a recognition of someone who has achieved a lot in the field of education.”