The Heart of The Covenant Foundation

Awards Program

2003 Covenant Award Recipient

Zipora Schorr

Zipora Schorr was born in Jerusalem, a sixth generation sabra, to a family with Chassidic and Rabbinic roots. Early in her life, her family moved from Israel to Detroit, where her father served as a pulpit rabbi. One of eight children, Zippy remembers a Shabbat table alive with zemirot and Torah discussions with family and guests alike, actively involved in living Judaism.

When Zippy was ten years old, her father died, leaving her mother to raise the children alone. “Alone,” however, was not a word her mother, the Rebbetzin Kahana, would ever entertain. “Aleinu, nein-ich gei mit der aibishter bei mei rechte hant,” “Alone?” she would say, “Oh, no, I walk with G-d at my right hand.” That faith and unquestioning belief would shape Zippy’s life from then on.

Indeed, it was her mother, of blessed memory, who was the most profound influence on her life. From her, she learned not only faith, but dignity; not only belief, but strength; not only commitment, but substance; not only passion, but understanding. Her mother showed her how much a woman could do, and how much a woman could know, in a culture where women were not encouraged to do or to know.

Zippy began her teaching career at the age of twelve, teaching Sunday School for her big sister, the school’s director. From the Jewish day school she attended in Detroit, she went on to attend Wayne State University, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa at the age of nineteen. Throughout college, she continued to teach English and Math to High School students, priding herself on teaching her young charges to write poetry.

After graduating, Zippy moved to New York, where she attended graduate school at Columbia University and taught at Yeshiva University High School for Girls.

In New York, she met and married Nachum Schorr, a Talmudic scholar and clinical psychologist. They moved to Silver Spring, MD, so that Nachum could complete his doctorate in psychology, and Zippy’s life took a leap forward in two simultaneous directions — her family and her school. While raising her six children, she built Beth Shalom Pre-School and Hebrew School, taught high school and adult education classes, and began to train teachers — one of many areas in which she excels. The school grew to 250 students.

Seven years later, her family moved to Baltimore, MD. There, she became first the Assistant Principal and then Director of Beth Tfiloh Community School, and navigated the growth of the school from 350 students to over 1000, including the creation of Baltimore’s first coeducational Jewish high school. It was at Beth Tfiloh where Zippy found a partner in Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg, the Dean of the school and a dynamic visionary and leader. Today Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School is a nationally recognized Blue Ribbon School of Excellence, which emphasizes Jewish values and K’lal Yisrael, academic excellence, technology, the arts, and athletics. Zippy’s vision and leadership at Beth Tfiloh has spurred model programs in professional development, academic support, educational technology, and adult and family education. Zippy has been recognized for her leadership in Jewish education by the National Council of Synagogue Youth, Bais Yaakov School, and the Baltimore Center for Jewish Education (2001 Birnbaum Award). Zippy is pursuing a PhD in Education at Johns Hopkins University.

Zippy is proud to work in a place that embraces Jews from all backgrounds, that celebrates Judaism and its many access roads, that glorifies Torah study and makes it available to everyone. Her mother would approve.

“I don’t ever remember deciding to become a Jewish educator. I never knew there was a choice; I thought that’s what everyone who was anyone did.

“Our father died when he was forty-six, leaving his wife, newly arrived from Israel to Detroit, MI, with her eight fatherless children. As father and mother, she raised us, with a level of faith and commitment that was passionate. When asked ‘How did you do it?,’ — she always replied ‘me nemt der eibishter tzum hilf (you take the Almighty as your supporter).’ By taking G-d by the hand, she demonstrated a depth of faith, of emunah, that was profound, that was unassailable, and that has informed my siblings’ lives and mine…. Each one of my siblings has run Jewish education institutions that reflect the values of bitachon and simcha — faith and joy, and I can truly say that generations of students are imbued with those qualities.

“I believe in the centrality of Jewish education to our continuity. I believe that excellence and rigor in General and Judaic Studies is the only way to maintain the integrity of our educational institutions. I believe that as Jewish educators, we sanctify the secular, and use our secular knowledge to access the sacred.

“By reaching out to children and adults of all ages, backgrounds, and levels of observance, I believe that we can teach them the beauty of Torah and its relevance to their contemporary lives.

“From the time I started teaching Sunday School at the age of twelve, to today when I teach teachers how to reach twelve-year-olds, I have felt the awesome responsibility that teaching imposes upon us. Chaim Ginott said it best: ‘I’ve come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous.’

“By far the most meaningful accomplishment of my professional life has been the creation of and growth of our high school. From a beginning of twenty-three students in a little two-story house, our high school has grown to nearly 300 students, with children coming from as far away as Annapolis, MD, and Harrisburg, PA, to study here.

“I know I have succeeded when the children of Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform rabbis send their children to our school. I know I have succeeded when there is respectful dialogue between a tzittzit-wearing teacher and the Principal of the High School, who is a committed Conservative Jew married to a Reform woman rabbi. I know I have succeeded when, on one day, one class makes a siyyum for completing a book of Mishna, and another is listening to a presentation from the Institute for Christian-Jewish Studies. I know I have succeeded when I teach my weekly class of thirty women, and they tell me that knowing me destroys their stereotype of an Orthodox Jew.

“As it says in Pirke Avot, ‘We are not obligated to complete the work, nor are we free to desist from it.’ I am never satisfied that my work is complete. I can only pray that G-d gives me the strength, as he has given me the talent, to make a difference.”

“Zipora Schorr is a skilled ambassador for Jewish education. She is a highly respected professional throughout the Baltimore Jewish community and throughout the larger academic community. The relationships she has developed with Jewish leaders and foundations have benefited (to the tune of millions of dollars in grants) not only Beth Tfiloh, but other Jewish day schools in Baltimore as well. She never hesitates to say ‘hineini’ (I am here), when called upon to assume yet another responsibility or to solve yet another problem.”

Cassandra Gottlieb

President, Center for Jewish Education, Baltimore, MD “Her deep commitment to and professional passion for the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual growth and well-being of her students and faculty is exhibited through the inordinate amount of time, energy, insight, understanding, and resources she has provided to the community and to her school. This is complemented by her continued pursuit of educational excellence. Mrs. Schorr, in my opinion, is an ‘educator’s educator.’ Her unique qualities are evident in the manner in which she promotes the concept of Klal Yisrael both from an institutional perspective as well as on the personal level.”

Dr. Chaim Y. Botwinick

President/CEO, CAJE Center for the Advancement of Jewish Education, Miami, FL

“The Talmud states that someone who educates a Jewish child is considered as if he or she gave birth to them. In keeping with this statement, I can say with no exaggeration that Mrs. Zipora Schorr helped give birth to the life-long love of Judaism that led me to become a rabbi. For since my earliest childhood, Mrs. Schorr taught me the beauty and meaning of Judaism through the personal example of her commitment to her heritage, to Klal Yisrael, to her students, and to her vision of Beth Tfiloh as a community school.”

Rabbi Joshua Karlip

Rabbi, The Jewish Center of Kew Gardens Hills

“With seventy percent of our student population from non-observant homes, perhaps Mrs. Schorr’s most dramatic characteristic is the fact that she herself comes from and maintains what today is referred to as a ‘right-wing’ Orthodox home. Indeed, she herself wears a sheitel. This, in dealing with a parent body most comfortable in jeans, shorts and miniskirts. And yet, she has been and remains the major attraction for students to our school. Her genuine commitment to K’lal Yisrael, her ability to deal with and accept people ‘where they’re at’ is truly unique in our day and age. For her, there is Judaism, period — with no labels. She personifies the highest ideals of our faith and heritage and in so doing, has truly uplifted the Baltimore Jewish Community.”

Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg

Dean, Beth Tfiloh Community School