Press Releases


October 30, 2000

Five Outstanding Jewish Educators Surprised with $10,000 Awards

Milken Family Foundation Recognizes Excellence in Los Angeles Jewish Education

Five outstanding Jewish educators in the Los Angeles area were named Oct. 26 as the latest recipients of individual, unrestricted $10,000 financial awards during the 11th annual Milken Family Foundation Jewish Educator Award notifications. The honored educators are:

  • Kathy Reynolds, science teacher, Milken Middle School, Los Angeles;

  • Andi Schochet, second grade Judaic studies teacher, Maimonides Academy, Los Angeles;

  • Rabbi Philip Wachsman, Torah studies principal, Emek Hebrew Academy, Sherman Oaks;

  • Elaine Wasserman, kindergarten teacher, Temple Israel of Hollywood Day School, Hollywood;

  • Ginny Zemtseff, fourth grade teacher, Sinai Akiba Academy, Los Angeles.

(Biographies of these educators can be found below.)

The five recipients were surprised by this prestigious award, for which they cannot apply. The educators did not know they were being recognized until their names were announced by Milken Family Foundation officers Dr. Julius Lesner and Richard Sandler, together with Dr. Gil Graff, executive director of the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles, during school assemblies held throughout the day.

"These awards celebrate in a very public way a commitment by each of these educators to excellence in education and to the values of our heritage," said Lowell Milken, co-founder and chairman of the Milken Family Foundation. "For each educator is fulfilling an enormous responsibility and challenge of not only informing the intellect, but also informing the identity, so their students understand who they are, where they come from, and what is expected of them."

The Milken Family Foundation Jewish Educator Awards were established in 1990 in cooperation with the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles (BJE). Each year, the program offers major financial recognition to teachers, administrators and other education professionals who have made significant contributions to excellence in education in day schools affiliated with the BJE. To date, 55 awards have been presented to Los Angeles-area educators. The Milken Family Foundation also provides Jewish day school scholarships annually to hundreds of children.

Selected by a committee of educators and community leaders who have a long-standing concern for and involvement with education in Jewish schools, award recipients reflect the highest ideals of Jewish and secular education, fostering the lifelong pursuit of knowledge and nurturing a value system that can guide students through adulthood. They also demonstrate an outstanding ability to develop Jewish children's understanding of the connection between religion, classroom activities and life outside of school.

According to Gil Graff, the first Jewish schools were established in ancient Judaea more than 2,000 years ago, and soon extended to all places where Jews resided. "The vitality of Jewish life has been sustained and furthered by Jewish education, and Jews have, through education, contributed significantly to diverse societies and fields of learning," said Graff.

In Los Angeles today, nearly 10,000 students are enrolled in the region's 35 BJE-affiliated Jewish day schools, and more than 20,000 students attend part-time religious schools or early childhood education programs.


Biographies of 2000 Jewish Educator Award Recipients


Kathy Reynolds

Middle school science teacher Kathy Reynolds brings science to life at Milken Community High School in Los Angeles by engaging her students in a range of innovative programs.

Several of her students have won awards while mastering scientific inquiry and technology skills through their participation in the NASA Student Involvement Program, a nationwide competition in which students develop projects integrating math, space science, satellite technology, the Internet, writing across the curriculum, environmental awareness, geography, and teamwork.

Mrs. Reynolds's students also take part in GLOBE, an international network of students, teachers, and scientists working together to increase scientific understanding of the earth while enhancing public awareness of environmental issues.

As a committed and practicing Jew, she integrates her knowledge of Israel and Judaism into the teaching of science.

Recently, she became a participant in the partnership between the Milken Community High School and the Technion, Israel's Institute of Technology.


Andi Schochet

"It would be my greatest pleasure if you would grow up and be teachers," said second grade Judaic studies teacher Andi Schochet upon receiving her surprise Milken Jewish Educator Award.

Mrs. Schochet, who was once a student herself at Maimonides Academy in Los Angeles, begins each school year on a positive note by welcoming her students with a "Teacher and Me" photo and frame.

Always looking for ways to make learning mundane issues exciting for her students, Mrs. Schochet has developed a variety of materials, including review games, signs and bulletin boards, that help students learn and retain everything from prefixes and suffixes to vocabulary words.

Her method of teaching and reinforcing beginning chumash skills also builds students' reading and vocabulary skills. She closely monitors the progress of each child, clearly communicating homework objectives to parents and expressing concerns regarding her students' progress, emotional or spiritual well-being to administrators.

Mrs. Schochet frequently attends professional development workshops and seminars and incorporates the innovative instructional approaches she has learned into her classroom.

"I'm hoping all my children (actually my students, but I think of them as my children) will grow up to teach their own children the beautiful laws and customs of our people."


Rabbi Philip Wachsman

Teaching principal Rabbi Philip Wachsman has made instructional leadership and professional growth integral to the culture of Emek Hebrew Academy in Sherman Oaks.

Whether observing a class, demonstrating teaching strategies, or substituting for an absent teacher, he models best practices and inspires the school's teachers to surpass their own expectations and truly reach every child.

Under Rabbi Wachsman, staff meetings have evolved into important staff development opportunities where teachers share successful instructional ideas and work together to solve problems.

Rabbi Wachsman is also the school's most enthusiastic "cheerleader," coaching its boys' basketball team, roller-skating with students on Chol Hamoed, and promoting a spirit of camaraderie and mutual respect.

He strengthens the school community by partnering school families with each other to celebrate services together and maintains an open-door policy that facilitates communication with parents and the community.

An instructional leader, cantor and man of meticulous religious observance, Rabbi Wachsman commands the respect and affection of the community.

By being awarded the Milken Jewish Educator Award, Rabbi Wachsman made history as being part of the first husband-and-wife couple to receive the award. His wife Debbie Wachsman also teaches at Emek and became a Milken Jewish Educator in 1995.


Elaine Wasserman

One windy spring day, kindergarten teacher Elaine Wasserman took her students outside the classroom at Temple Israel of Hollywood Day School in Hollywood, where she tied colorful streamers to their wrists to teach them about the wind. This is an example of the creative, active ways in which Mrs. Wasserman instructs her students.

She creates an environment that is stimulating and creative, challenging without being frustrating, and overflowing with the sheer joy of young learners. The ever-evolving learning centers and lessons she prepares each day provide her students with dynamic hands-on experience, boosting their confidence while teaching them critical lessons.

Former students and their parents frequently visit Mrs. Wasserman, eager to recount the moments in their kindergarten experience when she made them feel good about themselves as they acquired many new skills.


Ginny Zemtseff

Ginny Zemtseff, fourth grade teacher at Sinai Akiba Academy in Los Angeles, uses a wide variety of instructional approaches that empower her students to take responsibility for their learning.

In language arts, for example, her students read and analyze novels, keep diaries from the perspectives of book's characters, and publish a newspaper reflecting the setting and events of the novel.

Using manipulatives, historical simulations and field trips, Mrs. Zemtseff provides hands-on, highly contextualized lessons to help students achieve subject mastery.

As the school's math coordinator, she worked with her fellow teachers to establish a school-wide math curriculum. She has served on the school's Conflict Resolution, Advisory and Education Committees, and establishes strong supportive relationships with parents and colleagues.

Though she herself is not Jewish, Mrs. Zemtseff knows all of the daily services by heart, joins in reciting the Tefilot during services, and works hand-in-hand with her Judaic Studies partner to integrate Jewish values in her instruction.

In shock over receiving the Milken Jewish Educator Award, Mrs. Zemsteff said, "Teaching means everything to me. As wonderful as this financial reward is, I'd do it even if I didn't get paid. My students give me as much as I get from them and more."