After 45 years in Twin Cities, educator is ending tenure as Head of School
By JOEL RIPPEL
Susie Chalom came to Minneapolis in 1970 with the plan to finish a degree in speech pathology and go back to Israel. However, God had other plans.
“I had taught English as a second language in Israel and saw a job at Talmud Torah as a way to stay connected to the Jewish community and finance my tuition,” Chalom told the AJW.
After a year as librarian, she was offered a job teaching elementary school and realized she loved teaching more than she wanted to be a speech pathologist and that was the beginning of a 46-year journey in Jewish education.
On May 22, in its annual Yom HaMorim (a day to honor teachers) event, Talmud Torah of Minneapolis will recognize Chalom for her distinguished career. Chalom is ending her tenure as executive director of the Talmud Torah. Chalom, who has been head of school since 2006, also spent 27 years as education director at Adath Jeshurun.
“Susie has dedicated her life and career to Jewish education in our community. She is the consummate life-long learner and educator. She is the teacher’s teacher,” said Mary Baumgarten, Beth El Synagogue Education director and Talmud Torah teacher. “Her spirituality, honesty and integrity embody the very values that Judaism holds so dear.
“Susie has positively impacted and enriched the lives of so many children and adults in the Minneapolis Jewish community. She leaves her mark of excellence as part of her lasting legacy at the Minneapolis Talmud Torah and in the community at large.”
Chalom, who has degrees in linguistics and literature and extensive training in Judaics, has taught all ages – preschool through adults – in Hebrew language, Torah, theology, Jewish texts and spirituality.
“I have had a life full of purpose and meaning and that’s the best life one could hope for,” Chalom said. “I am very appreciative and respectful of the trust the parents had in me. It has been a privilege to educate three generations of children in this wonderful community.”
Chalom, who serves on the national board of the Jewish Educators Assembly, said the Twin Cities community is special.
“This community has always heavily invested in education,” said Chalom. “The Talmud Torah of Minneapolis is 120 years old. Even during the Depression, when money was being diverted to social work, the community kept alive its investment in education. That has helped create a very literate Jewish leadership in the community.”
Chalom mentioned the late Frank Schochet z’l and Mort Kane among the visionaries who invested in teachers.
“I myself have benefitted from learning at the JTS, Melton classes, Harvard School of Educational Leadership, Pardes, the Conservative Yeshiva, The Hartman Institute and the Institute of Jewish Spirituality where she is part of the Chevraya,” Chalom said. “I hope the community continues to invest in its educators since that is the best way to ensure excellence. I am very grateful.”
During her first tenure at Talmud Torah, Chalom and colleague Israela Kolsky started the innovative Mekhina program that used music, games and immersive Hebrew to introduce Hebrew and Judaism to 1st and 2nd graders. This program has evolved and continued under the leadership of Missy Lavintman, who student-taught under Chalom in the first year of her career.
When Chalom moved to Adath Jeshurun, she restructured its existing small preschool and turned it into the innovative Gan Shelanu that won the national Solomon Schechter Award two years after she took it over. When Adath started building its new facility, she worked closely with the architect to design the educational wing with the first Jewish Infant Daycare program in Minneapolis, specially designed learning centers for Gan Shelanu and the Shabbat Morning classrooms with their special configuration.
When she was asked to apply for the executive directorship in 2006, she thought it fitting that she return to Talmud Torah, where her journey began. She has had a productive and creative 10 years.”
After restructuring the Bet Midrash (High School) so that students would have more flexible hours and more choices of classes and have their own Kehilla for each grade, she brought new programs to Talmud Torah – among them, Passageworks, (for graduating seniors), Adopt A Survivor, HaZamir, the Israel Leadership Fellows and Etgar.
“I found wonderful collaborators in this community, like the JCRC and JFCS that worked with us to make those programs successful,” said Chalom.
Chalom’s tenure at Talmud Torah is ending but she isn’t done teaching. Chalom will team with David Alter, PhD, to present classes and retreats for adults, called “Ageless Wisdom for Wise Aging”
“This is based on the Wise Aging course (developed by Rabbi R. Cowan and Dr. L. Thal),” Chalom said. “It’s about making the most of the ‘third chapter’ of life. We want to continue to study and grow, discover and learn, to enrich life.”
At the Yom HaMorim event, Talmud Torah will also recognize Lavintman, who has been a teacher at Talmud Torah for 40 years. Lavintman, a Talmud Torah Bet Midrash graduate who has taught Hebrew and Judaica in the school’s elementary and high school departments, is teaching the Dalet (4th grade) classes this year. Lavintman was the recipient of the Vivian Mann Educator of the Year Award and the Grinspoon-Steinhardt National Award for Excellence in Jewish Education in 2004.
(American Jewish World, 5.6.16)