Hebrew name: Aviva bat Chaim Yisroel v’ Leah
Job: Hebrew and Judaics teacher, Epstein Hillel School, Marblehead
Currently living in: Somerville
Alma maters: Binghamton University (bachelor’s degree in Jewish Studies), Boston University (master’s degree in Education)
Favorite food: Salt beef sandwiches in London
Favorite travel destinations: London and Seoul
Favorite Jewish holiday: Pesach
Favorite North Shore spot: Castle Creek Mini Golf, straight from my childhood
Tell us a little about your Jewish background.
I grew up in the North Shore here and I went to day school at Cohen Hillel Academy [now Epstein], where I work now. I went to Temple Sinai for my bat mitzvah and I grew up in what I would call a traditional household. We keep kosher in the house, separate pots, pans, and everything. We keep the chagim (holidays) and Shabbat. That’s really how I grew up and I continue to live the same way now.
How did your journey sort of take you back full circle to Epstein Hillel teaching there?
When I finished eighth grade and was 14, my family moved to Atlanta. My mother, who worked at Hillel for many, many years, became the principal of a Modern Orthodox school in Atlanta. So we moved there, and I was there for high school at the Jewish high school in Atlanta.
After my bachelor’s degree, I came home to Atlanta for two years and decided I wanted to get my master’s. So I came back up to Boston to go to Wheelock at BU for education. I had gotten in touch with Amy Gold, the head of school at Hillel, to pick her brain for a paper I was writing on Jewish day school teacher attrition and retention.
And in the course of the call she said, ‘I need someone right now to come work as a maternity cover. Would you be interested? You’d be working with Laurie Armstrong.’ She was my first-grade teacher. At the time, I was working part-time at Maimonides in Newton. But I said of course and dropped everything. I think that was November of 2020 and I’ve been there ever since.
What was appealing to you about becoming a teacher?
I grew up in the day school life and my mother who had been at Hillel for 28 years. I grew up knowing that school like the back of my hand, knowing the teachers, them coming to my bat mitzvah. So education was always a big part of my life and it was also a passion of mine working with children through Jewish education.
I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. I would work at my mother’s school in Atlanta whenever I had breaks in college. But I didn’t really think I’d ever go back to Hillel. I hadn’t thought about it or even tried to. So when it happened, I was just ecstatic. It’s just wonderful.
The biggest joy right now is that I’m teaching the children of my mother’s students. It really is a L’Dor V’Dor kind of thing. And I think education is such a holy profession. I want to give back to students what I got as a child.
What do you like most about being a teacher and giving back to students?
Well, my favorite thing is that I know that I’m contributing to Jewish life in the world and in America. I think it’s important that we don’t just help to teach students, but we really try to help them become good people. Ethical, smart, and educated students, about Judaism and the Jewish world, not just life in general. These are gonna be the leaders of tomorrow. To be a part of that you really are leaving a mark if you are involved in helping to shape the next generation. So that’s what I love about it.
You mentioned starting in November of 2020, which I imagine was still a very challenging time in the earlier days of the pandemic. How was the school running then?
When I got there, obviously everyone was wearing masks. The interesting thing about working at a day school, which is a private school, is that we have a bit more wiggle room in terms of how we function as opposed to public schools that have to go by what the state says. At that time, most public schools were all still virtual.
It’s challenging for younger students because in early childhood you want them to be able to see your faces. Being able to see a teacher’s face is a huge part of learning language, understanding emotions, and social referencing. That was tricky as well as not being able to do all the different projects and events that we’ve done in the past, like kindergarten breakfast, like having birthday snacks, all these things.
But, these students are very resilient. Children are very resilient, and they didn’t really know anything else. They didn’t know this wasn’t how kindergarten was supposed to be. Now those kindergartners are in second grade and they’re phenomenal and have done amazing. It definitely was different, but I still learned a lot during that time.
What enticed you to come back home to the North Shore community and get involved in a very similar way to when you were younger?
I never thought I would necessarily come back, although I very much wanted to follow in my mother’s footsteps and become an educator. I didn’t think it would happen in the same order that she did it, and yet I went to the same graduate school that she did. And then how I got the job was very similar to how she got the job at Hillel.
Her principal at the time, Dr. Bennett Solomon, of blessed memory, met her by chance and offered her a job. And Amy Gold did the same thing and took a chance on me. I’m very cognizant of how it all happened the same way. Once I realized that although many things have changed in the community here, what has stayed is this wonderful idea of building a community, and of families coming back. Θ