Words from Amy Gold at the Epstein Hillel School Annual Meeting (June 8, 2022)

Erev tov! It’s wonderful to see so many of you here tonight. All together, we represent a community of faculty, staff, Board members, trustees, current, and alumni families.  The last two Annual Meetings of the Board of Directors were held on Zoom. While I am grateful for everything that platform made possible, I am happier to be in person with all of you.  I am grateful to feel the energy that is brimming in this space and time. There are many emotions swirling about as this event marks significant occasions for many people. Each of these special moments are parallel to the many names of  Shavuot which we celebrated last weekend. There are new beginnings for our new Board members – Chag HaBikkurim (festival of first fruits) and there are bittersweet endings for Board members having completed their terms – Chag HaKatzir (festival of reaping), and  Chag Shavuot (festival of weeks), that middle period of counting where goals are met, and anniversaries are to be celebrated for faculty members’ years of service to Epstein Hillel. Shavuot is also known as Zman Matan Torateinu – the time of the giving of the Torah. This year, our students studied and reflected on the midrash about why Mount Sinai was chosen. They learned that Sinai’s modesty merited the receiving of the Torah.  It is no surprise that everyone being recognized tonight possesses that quality, and in truth, they are like Mount Sinai, preferring not to be the center of attention or celebrated for their accomplishments. I’ll say more about these individuals later, but right now I’d like to offer a few thoughts about this school year. 

The first day of school in September fell right before Rosh Hashana 5782. We came back to school with fewer pandemic restrictions, and as months progressed we were able to loosen protocols and emerge after two very difficult years. 5782 was all about emergence. The dictionary defines emergence as the act of coming into view after being concealed, as well as the process of coming into being or of becoming important and prominent. The New England Complex Systems Institute, a scientific think tank based in Cambridge, MA,  defines emergence as the existence or formation of collective behaviors – what parts of a system do together that they would not do alone. I believe that our school has emerged stronger and better than ever from our collective experience. Our community has learned so many lessons about the power of individuals’ actions for the collective good. These lessons were learned not just in classrooms, but also on the stage, the playground and small moments in our hallways. Our students, faculty, and staff saw new possibilities in themselves; working together, they emerged stronger and more confident. You might not expect this year to be filled with so much innovation, but in fact it has been a year of development, creativity, and reinvigoration of our school’s middot, core values. 

The Sulman Innovation Center, up and running in its fullest capacity this year, emerged as the hub of our school. While this space was open last year, it was not until this year that students across all grades were able to use the different tools and machines for curriculum based projects. For example, our 8th graders designed and built Holocaust memorials using resources like the band saw, 3-D printer, vinyl cutter, and laser cutter from the Innovation Center. These memorials reflect students’ learning from the Facing History and Ourselves curriculum and from their experience seeing monuments on their capstone trip to Washington, DC. The Innovation Center enabled them to dream, plan, collaborate, and create; a process that will extend far beyond 8th grade.

Also new this year were programs to support relationship building and leadership development.  We created a Family Photo Gallery to look at diversity in our community, we launched the first ever Passover scavenger hunt when we couldn’t have an all-school seder, we allowed our 7th and 8th graders to organize and plan Lag B’Omer celebrations resulting in spirited and well executed day of competition and team building, and finally we engaged our students in social action through projects like making 171 soup kits for families in Ukraine.  All of these events were done with older and younger buddies working together. Our older students continued to be role models and leaders as they showed compassion, patience, and care while working with their younger buddies. These are lessons that cannot be learned in the classroom but their impact will resonate for years to come.

This year saw the emergence of an after school program that appealed to students of all ages because of the wide variety of offerings. The building was buzzing multiple days a week from 3:00 to 5:00 with students involved in activities such as pottery, Israeli dance, Destination Imagination, soccer, lacrosse, and the American Red Cross babysitting certification course to name just a few.  This program met so many goals – teaching students new skills and developing new interests, fostering school pride, and supporting working parents by providing engaging after school choices. 

New on faculty this year, was the school’s first ever Director of Jewish Life and Learning. What emerged from having Rabbi Samantha Safran at EHS was a renewed focus  on the school’s middot, more opportunities for middle school students to be chanting Torah and leading parsha discussions, and new tefila electives which engaged students in drumming, meditation and reflection. Rabbi Samantha helped us to appreciate and celebrate Rosh Chodesh in new ways by teaching about the Wonder Women of Judaism who have contributed to our history and heritage. Rabbi Samantha has become a thought partner with me for creating meaningful and memorable Jewish learning and experiences at Epstein Hillel. 

In the fall of 2019, EHS opened with 58 students. Two years later, we emerged in September of 2021 with 105 students. Our school is the strongest it has been in more than a decade. 88% of families who came to EHS last year because of the pandemic stayed because their children were so happy and loved learning at our school. Our kindergarten classes have been full the last two years and next fall we will welcome another 16 new students. We are touring families with three year olds and EHS’s reputation in the community is very strong, demonstrated by the response to events like our Fall Festival which was attended by close to 100 families and Generations Day this spring when we hosted 90 grandparents at school. As we look forward to 5783 and the 2022-2023 school year, I am incredibly proud of our school and its emergence and metamorphosis. As I watched the middle school performance of the Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat last week, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of pride for our school and who we’ve become. EHS is a school where students work hard, appreciate one another, and understand that their individual role helps to create something greater as a sum of its parts.  Every student felt valued and knew that their role, whether it was on stage or behind the scenes, was equally important for the success of the show. As I watched the performance, and looked at the audience of younger students, I could see their excitement and anticipation for the day when they are older enough to be part of the show.  This moment was priceless. As the person who has led this change over the last seven years, I can say without a doubt that, the EHS that emerged this year, is the best one yet, and I’m very excited about our future.