Press Releases


October 10, 2016

It's Going to Be a Honey of a Year for Four Stunned Recipients of $15,000 Jewish Educator Awards

Milken Family Foundation honors exemplary educators in BJE-affiliated Jewish day schools

SANTA MONICA, CA (October 10, 2016) Four talented Southern California Jewish day school educators recently got the surprise of their careers:

  • Ilana Ribak, kindergarten and Hebrew immersion teacher, Sinai Akiba Academy, Los Angeles;
  • Fruma Ita Schapiro, Torah studies teacher and extra-curricular activities coordinator, Ohel Chana, Los Angeles;
  • Rabbi Chaim Trainer, 4th grade Judaic studies teacher, Yeshiva Rav Isacshon, Los Angeles; and
  • Tammy Shpall, 9th-grade history teacher and grade-level dean, deToledo High School, West Hills

During individual schoolwide assemblies ostensibly held to herald the High Holy Days each recipient was caught off guard with a 2016 Milken Jewish Educator Award (JEA), an unrestricted $15,000 financial prize and cheering students. The announcements were made on September 26th and October 10th by Milken Family Foundation Executive Vice President Richard Sandler and BJE: Builders of Jewish Education Executive Director Dr. Gil Graff.

"These educators exemplify the Jewish day school mission to prepare our youth for successful lives in the context of our values as a people," said Sandler, who has been involved with JEA since its inception in 1990. "Through their intelligence, scholarship, commitment and compassion, each in their own way motivates students to achieve their academic potential, improve our communities, and embrace the joys and responsibilities of their Jewish heritage."

About the 2016 JEA Recipients

  • Ilana Ribak, the Judaic studies kindergarten teacher at Sinai Akiba Academy, immerses her students in creative language instruction that is both rigorous and playful. She involved the entire school in a lesson about the "missing dreidel," in which Ribak's students questioned faculty and staff in Hebrew as they searched for the Hanukkah toy. Many kindergarten students enter Sinai Akiba with little exposure to Hebrew language, but Ribak makes her language instruction visual and memorable. She mentors other primary grades teachers and leads tefillot and holiday celebrations like the Kindergarten Havdalah Program, filled with songs, dance, art and tradition.

  • Project Resolve, the conflict-resolution curriculum created by Rabbi Chaim Trainer, focuses on behavior modification to address bullying, fighting and other conflicts. Trainer, the 4th grade Judaic studies teacher at Yeshiva Rav Isaacson, has presented his materials in workshops for the Bureau of Jewish Education and will share them at the National Association of Hebrew Day Schools' annual conference. He teaches his students music and crafts and involves them in hands-on projects like the school's Mitzvah Fair and Model Mishkan.

  • At Ohel Chana High School, Fruma Ita Schapiro's students delve into the texts and historical themes of the Prophets, examine world history from a Jewish perspective, and explore faith, Jewish ethics and the essence of Torah. Schapiro, a Judaic studies teacher, engages her students and develops pride in their roots by connecting history and tradition to daily life. As the school's extra-curricular coordinator, Schapiro serves as creative director, playwright and lyricist for Ohel Chana's biennial production, for which students work behind the scenes composing, choreographing, making props, designing scenery and costumes, and working the lights and sound board, as well as performing on stage.

  • As the 9th-grade dean, Tammy Shpall ensures that the 100-plus freshman students at deToledo High School in West Hills receive a top-quality education, both Jewish and secular. She helps students with the transition into high school, provides expert guidance for the range of social-emotional challenges faced by young teens, and prepares them for the academic and personal growth ahead as they continue through high school. Shpall also serves as a parenting expert, calmly helping parents learn to understand and deal with their teenagers. As deToledo's dean of grade-level deans, Shpall provides the same high-level counsel to her colleagues. Shpall also teaches one U.S. history class, into which she seamlessly infuses Jewish values, wisdom and community.

These four educators will be celebrated, together with their families and community leaders, during an awards luncheon at the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel on December 14, 2016. The event is known for its inclusiveness, bringing together people from the most secular to the most Orthodox in the Jewish community.

The Jewish Educator Awards initiative was established by the Milken Family Foundation, in cooperation with BJE: Builders of Jewish Education, to provide public recognition and unrestricted $15,000 cash awards to teachers, administrators and other education professionals in the Greater Los Angeles area who have made significant contributions to excellence in BJE-affiliated day schools.

Award recipients are selected by a committee of educators, professional and lay leaders from the Jewish community, according to the following criteria:

  • Exceptional educational talent and promise, as demonstrated by outstanding practices in the classroom, school and community.
  • Evidence of originality, dedication and capacity for leadership and self-direction.
  • Commitment to influencing policies that affect children, their families and schools.
  • Strong long-range potential for even greater contribution to children, the profession and society.
  • Distinguished achievement in developing innovative educational curricula, programs and/or teaching methods.
  • Outstanding ability to instill in students character and self-confidence.
  • Outstanding ability to develop Jewish children's understanding of the connections between their religion, their classroom activities, and their activities beyond the classroom.
  • Commitment to professional development and excellence and the continuing Judaic and/or secular study necessary for it.
  • Personal involvement in responding to the needs of the Jewish and secular communities.
  • Criteria for administrators also include outstanding ability to attract, support and motivate committed education professionals.


CONTACT: Bonnie Somers, (310) 570-4770 or bsomers@mff.org