2005 | Stephanie Rotsky
Stephanie Rotsky grew up in a family where her father actively lived his commitment to and pride in being Jewish. Growing up, he sang the loudest at Shabbat and holiday services and insisted that she and her brothers know where they came from and who they were. Her mother, having experienced the blessings of a large extended family, a love for Jewish traditions, and a desire to contribute to the community, put these values at the core of her family life. Over the years, Stephanie’s three wonderful younger brothers have been her greatest fans and examples in their own right of giving back to the community in powerful ways.
Stephanie had the good fortune of growing up in Beachwood, Ohio, where she was introduced to one of the most powerful Jewish experiences of her life, Camp Wise. Stephanie’s years as an overnight camper ultimately led her to join the staff while she was working toward her teaching degree at Ohio State University. The vibrant community, enthusiasm for Jewish living, and connection to Israel helped shape her Jewish identity and the educator she would become.
After teaching in both public and private schools and spending time in Israel, Stephanie pursued a graduate degree at the Hornstein Program at Brandeis University in 1986. There, Stephanie joined a learning community of classmates, faculty, and Jewish communal professionals and learned how to educate and empower students to effect change in the world.
Rim Meirowitz, founding Head of the Rashi School, invited Stephanie to join the faculty of Rashi after her graduation from Hornstein. Now in her 16th year there, Stephanie spent several years as a second grade teacher. However, for the past six years, she has held the unique position of Social Justice Coordinator. Not only did she create this position, but it is the only such position in the U.S. She works with teachers, students, and families to infuse social justice themes, curricula, and programming throughout the school community. Over the years, Stephanie has created many innovative projects such as a Pesach/Social Justice Curriculum, a ﬁrst-ever Social Justice Artist in Residency, the Tamchui Philanthropy Project, and an all-school civil rights unit of study anchored in Jewish text. Stephanie is currently writing a book about how the Rashi School embodies the concept of tzedek and tikkun olam, with the goal of disseminating her work to other educational environments. Her commitment to connect learning with action has become the hallmark of her work.
Stephanie is happiest working directly in the classroom with teachers and teaching students in grades K – 8. She is exhilarated by helping students of all ages realize their power and responsibility as Jews to pursue justice and repair the world. She responds to many lunch meeting requests from her students who work with her to develop and implement mitzvah ideas and hands-on action projects, ensuring that ideas are taken seriously and translated into efforts to change the world.
Stephanie’s sense of awe and deep love for children continues to be inspired by her six nieces and nephews.
From Stephanie Rotsky’s Statements of Motivation and Purpose:
“I teach who I am. For many years as a classroom teacher I began each Back-to-School Night at Rashi with stories about my family, my childhood, and my journey to become a Jewish educator. Each year I made promises to these families and I kept them: I promised them that their children would be honored and loved deeply, I promised them that I would work very hard to help each of their children uncover their greatness and true self, and ﬁnally, I promised them that they would grow together as a community of families in our classroom and that they would come to know the power of their ideas and actions to help repair the world and make it a better place.
“I ﬁnd myself exhilarated knowing that I am among the many educators who have helped shape the direction of hundreds of students’ lives. To think that I have played some role in inspiring students, parents and teachers to uncover the beauty and wisdom within Judaism leaves me with a feeling of awe.
“I walk down the hallways a lot at the Rashi School. Sometimes I don’t make it to my ofﬁce until much later in the day. I would have never imagined that it would be on these walks when some of my most profound insights would be gained and some of my best learning would take place. A kindergarten student catches up with me in the hall to invite me into his classroom to see how they have arranged all the medicine and ‘stuff’ in suitcases that will be sent on a medical mission to help children in Guatemala. Six third-grade students ask me if we will be keeping our ‘standing’ Tuesday lunch date to ‘ﬁnally’ get started on planning a project to help endangered animals and the rainforest. A middle-school parent ﬁnds me in the parking lot and asks to set up a meeting with her family to talk about an upcoming trip to Costa Rica and how they might be able to participate in a community service opportunity there. Two ﬁfth-grade students are stunned by what they have learned about child labor during their Social Justice unit during Pesach. They want to know more—learn more.
“I have walked the hallways at Rashi for thirteen years, and I never really know just where my daily stroll will take me. In my privileged and unique position as the Social Justice Coordinator of the Rashi School, I know that I am never walking alone with my passion and commitment to bring tikkun, chesed, and tzedek to the world. I am accompanied and often led by students, parents, and teachers on this journey. Every day I walk with others who are eager for my hand, my ear, and my voice, eager for me to take the ﬁrst steps with them and to believe that they can, that they must, make the world a better place.”
From her Letters of Support and Nomination:
“Stephanie has become a resource for schools across the nation. Her motivational force seems unstoppable. She not only believes sincerely in the cause of social justice, she acts on her belief, and she infects everyone with whom she comes in contact with her enthusiasm. Every year, under Stephanie’s leadership and with a dedicated group of parents, a large Rashi School contingent joins the Boston area’s twenty-mile Walk for Hunger. Every Chanukah, the school organizes a tamchui project, where students learn about ﬁve organizations that help children, and then the students and their families are encouraged to donate some of their Chanukah gifts or money to these organizations. Her ability to integrate value education and Jewish education has an enduring effect.”
Assistant Head of School, The Rashi School
“I am continually learning from Stephanie how to teach love for learning and love for social justice. Stephanie teaches these values in her classroom, where Judaism is more than a religious practice. Judaism is an obligation to better the world. In Stephanie’s eyes, each one of her students has the potential to make radical changes in this world. She listens to their ideas about volunteering at an animal shelter or raising money at a birthday party to combat homelessness. She offers them advice on how to proceed. As they walk out of her ofﬁce, she says: ‘I just want you to know what an amazing kid you are.’”
former student “Stephanie Rotsky never stops brainstorming the most meaningful ways to convey to her students the message of Judaism’s mandate to pursue social justice. Through her efforts, she is shaping the next generation of Jewish learners, philanthropists, and activists. She is also transforming the way in which the Jewish communal world has traditionally viewed the role of a Jewish educator. As her partner in developing and implementing a Jewish text-based curriculum that focuses on the root causes of poverty, I am astounded by her commitment and vision.
“Great teachers transform themselves by their own teaching. I have seen Stephanie’s understanding of poverty’s causes develop, her outrage at its prevalence grow, and her sense of her role as a Jew in improving the broader society expand. It is the passion and conviction that she has developed in herself that she now instills in her students.”
Julie Chizewer Weill
Director of Education and Jewish Organizing, Jewish Fund for Justice
“When Stephanie was awarded the Keter Torah from the Boston BJE, we lauded her for the magic of her classroom. Stephanie challenged every child to reach beyond what others believed second graders could do. Her inﬂuence is felt for years after students graduated from her classroom. Stephanie brought Jewish content and values into our homes. She pioneered an annual Shabbat dinner for the entire class. She created audiotapes of Shabbat music for every child. The Shabbat family prayer that our daughter wrote in second grade is still central to our family’s Shabbat blessings.
“Every student at Rashi knows Stephanie, and to know her is to love her. She greets us each morning as we arrive and visits classes to teach Judaics and social justice. She has mentored assistant teachers and Horn-stein interns who have gone on to satisfying and successful careers as Jewish educators. Stephanie is the heart and soul of the Rashi School.”
Barbara Rosman Penzner
Congregational Rabbi, Temple Hillel B’nai Torah