I spent nine years as a student at Cohen Hillel Academy (now Epstein Hillel). I followed my passion for Jewish education, in the very place it was sparked, by coming back to teach. Although I am not the first alum to return as a teacher, my experience is different because I am living the very words that are written on the front of our school: L’dor v’dor (from generation to generation).
My connection to Hillel is older than I am. In 1979, my mother, Leah Pearl Summers, had driven her friend to an interview with then head of school Dr. Bennett I. Solomon z”l. After speaking with my mother and hearing about her passion, background and experience, Dr. Solomon offered her a job on the spot. Fresh out of her master’s program at Wheelock College, for the next 28 years she served as everything from kindergarten teacher to co-head of school, her tenure spanning five different principals (herself being one of them) and three campus moves.
Much of my childhood was connected to Hillel. Not only were my mom and dad set up by the parents of a student in her kindergarten class, but they even named their first child, my older brother, Benjamin (Beni), after Bennett. I was babysat by students, spent summer faculty days watching movies in the hallway and knew every nook and cranny of the building. Once I was a student here, I used to wake up super early just so I could go to school with my mom to help open up the building. I would disarm the security system and run through the hallways turning on lights and opening classrooms. During my nine years as a student, I was there so often in the early morning that I knew which teacher would arrive when. I would not change a second of that experience.
In the fall of 2019, I returned to Boston to do my master’s at Wheelock College. In my final semester, I reached out to head of school Amy Gold to pick her brain on teacher attraction, retention and attrition at day schools. Midway through our talk, Amy suddenly asked me, “Aviva, do you want to come work at Hillel?” My mouth hit the floor. “You’d be teaching with Laurie Armstrong in first grade.” I could not believe my ears. This was my dream! For context, Laurie Armstrong, who is known to her students as Mrs. A, was not only a hiree of my mother’s, but my first grade teacher and, along with my mother, one of my teacher role models. In fact, I wrote my admission essay for graduate school about Laurie. Almost exactly 40 years after Bennett gave my mom a chance, Amy gave me mine.
I have now been at EHS for a year-and-a-half and am happier than I could have ever imagined. I’m not only doing what I love and growing as an educator, but I am carrying out L’dor v’dor to the fullest by teaching the children of my mother’s students. One current alumni parent, when they found out who I was, said to me, “Your mother was such a big part of my childhood. I’ll always love her. I’m so happy my daughter gets to have you.”
For me, it is an honor and privilege to be able to give our students the same wonderful Jewish educational experience that I received. What has amazed me working here is that so many of the most memorable projects and units from my childhood have remained part of the curriculum: the kindergarten trip to Israel, the kindergarten wall song, the Purim costume parade across the stage and so many more. These are the moments that I know, from personal experience, are impactful to a child.
I am also lucky that I work alongside another alumni teacher. Beth Tassinari, ’78, graduated from Hillel the year before my mom started. She and I both feel indebted to what the school gave us and we know first-hand what it was like to be a student here. While Beth holds the title of the first alumni teacher to send her children to Hillel, I am the first teacher whose parent was also a teacher. Our commitment to teaching at Hillel speaks volumes as to the deep impact Hillel had on us, even decades apart.
In my eighth grade yearbook, I was voted most likely to become a rabbi and move to Israel. Well, my peers got pretty close with that prediction. Becoming a Jewish educator and working at Hillel is not that far off. While a lot has changed since I was a student at Hillel—the name has changed, lockers have replaced cubbies in the upper school, the stage is no longer carpeted and the beloved vending machine is no more—what has lasted, and will continue to do so, are the people. Be it former students who choose to enroll their own children, or teachers whose own dedication influences students to take up the work of teaching themselves, the Hillel community is so strong and its alumni so devoted that assuredly, from generation to generation, our school will go on.
Aviva Summers is a graduate of the class of 2007 and is currently the assistant Hebrew and Jewish studies teacher in kindergarten and first grade at Epstein Hillel School.
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