Welcoming the stranger is a Jewish value that crosses all religious boundaries. That first step of walking into a place one has never been can be scary and intimidating – but not if you are greeted by Vicky Dziok, the longtime administrative assistant and “head greeter” at the Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island.
Dziok, who is retiring at the end of September, recently recalled how it all began 28 years ago, when she responded to an ad in the Pawtucket Times for a position at an unnamed school that required recess duty and light office work. At the time, she was a stay-at-home mom to her three boys, Jonathan, Kenneth and David.
Dziok said she was already volunteering for her children’s school and was on the advisory board in the Cumberland school system, and thought “why not get paid” for what she was doing anyway?
During the interview, she was warmly greeted by Rabbi Alvan Kaunfer. A few days later, Barbara Feldstein, the office manager, phoned and offered Dziok the job.
Over the years, Dziok has worked with numerous heads of school, presidents, board members, families, staff and faculty. She has also seen the school transform from the Alperin Schechter Day School to the Jewish Community Day School of R.I.
“I never met a rabbi until I started working here,” Dziok said. “And now, this is my second family. When I hear about the Jewish holidays, they mean something to me in a way that they didn’t before I started working here. And when something happens in Israel, it happens to me too because it feels a part of me.”
Dziok remembers her first Passover at the school. “I smelled boiled eggs throughout the hallways of the school. I didn’t know what the smell was until I went to the seder. It reminded me of my own traditions because my family is Polish, and around the same time as Passover, we celebrate Easter with eggs, parsley, horseradish and kielbasa.
“The priest would come around to bless the food and then my family would all be together for supper on Sunday. Maybe somewhere along the line, someone in my family was Jewish.”
Now, Dziok said, “I am hoping in my retirement to go to Poland and see my family. I have never been. I am also planning to spend time with my four grandchildren – the time goes by quickly.”
Dziok is described by her co-workers as “reliable, consistent and grounded. She is someone you can always count on to be there for the team.”
The kindness, love and dedicated professionalism that Dziok demonstrated in her 28 years at the school touched everyone she met. She was a beloved member of the community and her friendly face will be missed.
MEREDITH SINEL is the parent of two children at the Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island.