Teacher of the year

Teacher of the year

Gadi Avraham is surrounded by members of the Israel Club at Teaneck High School.

If you ask Gadi Avraham why he teaches, he smiles. “I’m happy,” he says.

Teaching, very simply, thrills him, and clearly his teaching makes his students happy too. Avraham, who was visiting northern New Jersey last week, was voted one of Israel’s six teachers of the year in a nationwide contest sponsored by the Jewish Agency and the newspaper Yediot Acharonot. He lives in Nahariya, the Israeli city that partners with our area in a relationship sponsored and nourished by the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. Every year, the teachers honored by the award are sent to North America; because of the partnership, Avraham came here.

The process that ended with the award began last year, when his students “sent a petition to the committee,” Avraham said. “I didn’t know about it. Then they called our principal, who told them that for many years I have been teaching weak students, and I bring them to high levels.” Many of his students are poor, and all benefit from the attention and care he gives them.

“Nahariya has about 20 old-age homes,” he said, and every Shabbat he brings students to develop relationships with the residents. “We sing to the old people, and the students dance and sing. I sing to them in Yiddish. Most of them are Holocaust survivors, and I was born with Yiddish.

“That’s why they chose me.”

Avraham, who is 62, has been teaching for 37 years. He knew what he wanted to do since he was 12. “I had two teachers I admired, and they were my role models,” he said. So right after he got out of the army he began to study education.

“I am surrounded by young people, and it makes me young,” he said. “And I am always studying new things. I could retire now – I’d qualify for a pension – but I don’t want to. My life is very full.”

Avraham’s five days in northern New Jersey were a kaleidoscope tour of local schools. He was to see six in all – two Orthodox day schools (Noam and Frisch,) two Conservative ones (Solomon Schechter and Gerrard Berman), and two public schools (New Milford and Teaneck). (Flight delays wreaked minor havoc on the plans; he ended up seeing only five.)

He put on a PowerPoint presentation about Israel at the schools he visited, and he noticed a few things. In the day schools, “The kids love Israel. The children love Israel. Everyone loves Israel here,” he said.

He is the son of Shoah survivors, and at the public school in New Milford by chance he found himself in a class on the Holocaust.

“There were about 25 kids in the class, and only two of them were Jews,” he said.

“Gadi has a real Holocaust story,” Phyllis Miller said. Miller, who is the coordinator of the federation’s education task force’s Partnership2Gether, accompanied Abraham on his school visits. “It’s a living thing. They’ve only known it through books. He told them the story. It was unbelievable.”

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