If you went through Talmud Torah as a student anytime since 1970, you are probably well-acquainted with Susie Chalom or Missy (Tamar) Lavintman. Between the two of them, they have more than 65 years of experience teaching at Talmud Torah Minneapolis.
On May 22, those two outstanding educations will be honored at the Talmud Torah annual Yom HaMorim2016 dinner at Beth El Synagogue. The event starts at 5:30 p.m.
Lavintman is a national award-winning educator, who currently teaches Hebrew language and Judaica to 4th graders. In the 40 years that she has been teaching at Talmud Torah, she has taught all ages, from Mekhina through high school. Her classes incorporate her many talents, including the use of theatre and drama. Missy has been a proud supporter of Talmud Torah, having graduated from the Talmud Torah Bet Midrash program. In fact, her entire family, including her husband, Joel, and her five children, are proud to be Talmud Torah Bet Midrash graduates.
Chalom is retiring this year after being the head of school since 2006. However from the time she moved to Minneapolis from Israel in 1970, she began teaching at Talmud Torah. Chalom was honored last summer with the Leon and Sylvia Sorkin Jewish Communal Professional Achievement Award. Below, with the courtesy of Ann Miller, is the speech she gave in honoring Chalom with the award last August:
It is with great pleasure, bittersweet gratitude and to be honest, a little bit of anxiety, that I get to present this year’s Sorkin Jewish Communal Professional Achievement Award.
The pleasure part comes from the fact that nobody is more deserving of this award than this year’s recipient, Susie Chalom…more on that a little later.
The bittersweet gratitude part comes from the hole that my Great Aunt Sylvia Sorkin left in this community when she passed away just a couple of weeks ago. I am grateful to have known her and loved her and for the legacy that she and my Uncle Leon left in creating a community so rich with Jewish heritage and learning.
The anxiety comes from having to follow in Aunt Sylvia’s footsteps at this podium. Nobody gave a speech like my Aunt Sylvia…she could bring the house down without saying more than one word. For those of you that didn’t have a chance to know her, let’s just say she make Donald Trump look politically correct…and yet, unlike the Donald, beneath the racy and inappropriate color my Aunt provided was a kind, caring, passionate and dedicated woman who cared about this community more than anyone I know. When I chatted last week at shiva with her children Bonnie and Elliott, I shared my anxiety with them. Would Auntie Shay want me to start with a dirty joke? Should I say something inappropriate about this year’s recipient? Maybe I should roast a staff member at the Federation to put them in their place? To which Bonnie said to me…I think Sylvia would want you to be yourself.
And after reading through the numerous nominations and kind words written about tonight’s recipient, I realized that Susie just “being herself” is what earned her this esteemed award this evening.
In full disclosure I should also mention that Susie and I have a special connection spanning nearly 35 years. She was my own Mechina teacher at the Minneapolis Talmud Torah, teaching me my Aleph Bet and instilling a love for Judaism that would blossom into my adult life. We met again when I became a parent and she was an important presence during the preschool years at the Gan and again as Head of School at Talmud Torah. In more recent years, I’ve sat across from Susie in many board rooms as well, and watched her lead this community with the same zest and passion she led my Mechina classroom 35 years ago. And the connection that is less well known, perhaps even to her, is that I had a crush on her son Allon that began where else…on the Talmud Torah bus.
But that is just my connection. My guess is that most of you also have a Susie Chalom connection as well. If you’ve ever been a child in this community, raised a child in this community, or cared about a child in this community, chances are that Susie has helped shape that child’s Jewish identity and their love for learning.
In the words of Talmud Torah president Mike Greenstein “Susie has touched the lives of thousands in this community as a teacher, Adath Jeshurun’s Education Director and Talmud Torah’s Head of School. It is because of her commitment to providing a quality experience that students come to appreciate what it means to be Jewish and embark on a lifelong journey to live a meaningful Jewish life.”
Susie was a gift from Israel into our Minneapolis community in 1970. She began her career here as a teacher at the Talmud Torah of Minneapolis, and since then has taught ages from preschool to adult in Hebrew language, theology, Jewish texts and spirituality. Rabbi Harold Kravitz called Susie a “master teacher and dedicated life-long learner” whose innovative curriculum has been recognized nationally as other communities strive to recreate Susie’s vision.
In 1987, Susie joined the Adath where she went on to hold roles overseeing the Gan Shelanu preschool and the Shabbat Morning Program. Both programs thrived under Susie’s leadership and her innovation to mix ages in learning for optimum results.
In 2006, Susie was approached to apply for the Executive Director position back where she started…at Talmud Torah, an opportunity she couldn’t decline. In the last ten years, Susie has been the visionary behind Talmud Torah’s evolution into a new generation of families and learning models. During a period of intense change and transition over the last ten years, there was no barrier that Susie couldn’t knock down…no challenge she couldn’t overcome…no teacher she couldn’t groom and no student she couldn’t reach. She has truly come full circle as she nears retirement of a remarkable career later this spring.
In the words of her fellow educator Mary Baumgarten, “Susie Chalom has devoted a lifetime to Jewish education in Minneapolis. She has impacted lives in our community from the cradle to the grave, and done so with grace, passion and dedication.”