September 21, 2023
Surprise! Four Los Angeles Educators Receive $15,000 Jewish Educator Awards
Milken Family Foundation honors excellence at BJE-affiliated Jewish day schools
SANTA MONICA, Calif. (September 21, 2023) – Four unsuspecting Los Angeles-area Jewish day school educators have been recognized with the prestigious Jewish Educator Award (JEA) for their outstanding contributions to upholding excellence in education. The Awards, including unrestricted $15,000 cash prizes, are presented annually during surprise assemblies by the Milken Family Foundation (MFF) in partnership with Builders of Jewish Education (BJE). The 2023 JEA recipients are:
- Anna August, General and Judaic Studies Art Teacher, Sinai Akiba Academy, Los Angeles, CA
- Rabbi Avraham Berman, Judaic Studies Teacher, Yavneh Hebrew Academy, Los Angeles, CA
- Sarah Shpall, General Studies Teacher, Wise School, Los Angeles, CA
- Rabbi Moshe Tropper, Vice Principal, Emek Hebrew Academy, Sherman Oaks, CA
Recipient bios are available below this release. Photos from the events are located at: https://jewisheducatorawards.org/photos
“When making the decision to become a teacher, I thought about all the teachers I have had over the years and the impact they had on me. I wanted to provide that impact for other kids and to teach them to love school,” said Jewish Educator Award recipient Sarah Shpall, after receiving her Award presented by Lowell Milken, founder of the Jewish Educator Awards and chairman and co-founder of the Milken Family Foundation. “Each day I want my students to leave feeling good about themselves, learning not only academics, but also how to have a good heart and be a good human.”
Outstanding teachers, administrators and other education professionals in the Greater Los Angeles area who have significantly and positively impacted BJE-affiliated day schools are the primary candidates for the Jewish Educator Awards. The initiative, established by MFF in cooperation with BJE, provides opportunities for public recognition and financial rewards honoring professionals’ proven commitment to education. A confidential committee of educators, professionals and lay leaders among the Jewish community select Award recipients annually according to the following criteria:
- Exceptional educational talent and promise, as demonstrated by innovative 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 empower students’ character and self-confidence.
- Skillful ability to develop Jewish children’s understanding of the connections between their religion and activities both inside and outside of the classroom.
- Commitment to continuing Judaic and/or secular study necessary for professional development.
- 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.
“Teachers should be recognized, celebrated, and honored in our society for preparing students for a bright future—to move on successfully to the next stage of learning and life,” said Lowell Milken. “In a Jewish day school, teachers also prepare students to acquire an understanding of our people’s values, history, destiny, and responsibility to improve the world.”
“Educators have the most important job in our society. We give the awesome responsibility to our teachers to prepare us so that we can take our place in society,” said Milken Family Foundation Executive Vice President Richard Sandler, who has been involved with JEA since the foundation presented the first Awards in 1990. “The Jewish Educator Awards call public attention to the value of educators in our Jewish day schools in making students’ lives better, and shaping their contributions to their communities, culture and the world.”
Community leaders and family members of the 2023 Jewish Educator Award recipients will come together for an Awards luncheon this winter. The inclusive event brings together leaders across LA’s Jewish community, from the most secular to the most Orthodox.
2023 Milken Jewish Educator Award Recipient Bios
Anna August, Sinai Akiba Academy
Every student at Sinai Akiba Academy is a celebrated artist thanks in large part to Mrs. Anna August, the school’s Judaic and General Studies Art Teacher. For more than two decades, Mrs. August’s art curriculum based on Bible interpretations and Jewish holidays has sparked a passion for creativity among her students.
When students need inspiration, developing innovative new art projects is where Mrs. August shines. Her students use several artistic mediums – including painting and drawing, clay, and mixed media – to display their understanding of biblical stories and the study of Tanach. Most notably, Mrs. August has integrated virtual reality into her classroom, allowing students to paint scenes from Exodus virtually. Every year, Mrs. August coordinates an annual art show, making sure each student’s work is professionally displayed across their school and synagogue, celebrating Sinai Akiba’s kehillah (congregation). Additionally, Mrs. August leads after-school classes, facilitates faculty art projects, and annually attends art conferences. Her compassionate, empathetic approach to teaching demonstrates her dedication to excellence in Jewish education and developing independent thinkers.
Rabbi Avraham Berman, Yeshivat Yavneh/Yavneh Hebrew Academy
For the past 15 years, Rabbi Avraham Berman has been the first to arrive every day to lead Morning Minyan for students at the Yavneh Hebrew Academy. His energy, passion and zest for Judaic Studies has set a high bar both inside and outside of the classroom. Like clockwork, his unwavering commitment to students has made him a respected leader at Yavneh.
Rabbi Berman coordinates the “Kol Rom” Tefila Club and is also the point person for the Academy’s Gemara program, enlightening students about Torah teachings and commentaries. Students are introduced to Gemara for the first time by Rabbi Berman in the fifth grade, then return for advanced tracks in seventh and eighth grade. Colleagues celebrate his contagious sense of humor, professionalism, and creativity in the classroom. His mentorship to the boys of Yavneh has undoubtedly helped foster the next generation of exemplary Jewish scholars, leaders and educators.
Sarah Shpall, Wise School
Ms. Sarah Shpall, a General Studies teacher at the Wise School, has been passionately instructing the next great generation of writers, performers and scholars for over 13 years. Ms. Shpall uses her infectious sense of humor, creativity and artistic skills to engage sixth grade students in their daily studies, expertly weaving Torah teachings and Judaic principles into every lesson.
By developing her own interactive grammar notebook, decorating elaborate bulletin boards, co-chairing the writing curriculum review committee, and integrating content of her Judaic Studies partners into her daily lessons, Ms. Shpall sets up her students for success across the curriculum. Outside of the classroom, Ms. Shpall coordinates all grade-level activities, co-directs the spring musical and directs the graduation ceremony. She helped lead the annual sixth grade Israel trip, where students had the unique opportunity to experience teachings from their Judaic Studies firsthand.
Rabbi Moshe Tropper, Emek Hebrew Academy
Rabbi Moshe Tropper has spent over two decades tirelessly advocating for advances in Jewish education and developing innovative learning programs at Emek Hebrew Academy.
After years as an elementary educator, Rabbi Tropper stepped into the role of middle school vice principal in 2021. His newly implemented Kriah learning program allows students to develop their Hebrew reading, decoding and fluency, then use an assessment tool to monitor their progress. Beyond the classroom, Rabbi Tropper builds community through unique educational opportunities whole families can enjoy: a father-son learning program, community sports and learning league, parent volunteer program, Sukkot fair and Chanukah bingo night. Students near and far participate in the rabbi’s summer camp, which offers Jewish enrichment, arts, games, team-building activities, and more. His dedication to education continues to foster a love of learning in hundreds of young Jewish scholars.