New fund will award stay in Israel to a day school teacher

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Dianne and Martin Newman have long been passionate about Jewish education and Jewish youth, and now they are once again putting that passion to work, by establishing The Rabbi Alvan Kaunfer and Giveret Marcia Kaunfer Day School Educator Award Fund.

The Newmans have already established youth programs in the Rhode Island Jewish community, such as the Sylvia Zimet Memorial Kol Kesem HaZamir Endowment, which benefits teens who sing in HaZamir Providence.

 “I was fortunate enough to attend a yeshiva in New York City,” Dianne said in explaining why she and Martin created the new educator fund. “My mother was determined I’d have the best Jewish education she could find.”

The Newmans wanted that kind of education for their children, too. Ari was in fourth grade and Erica was a kindergartener when the family moved to Providence from New Jersey. 

“When we moved here, we chose Schechter [now the Jewish Community Day School] for our kids,” Martin said. As one of the early families at the Solomon Schechter Day School, housed in Temple Emanu-El in Providence, Ari was in the first graduating class.

“We believe they got a good education, both secular and Judaic, and the values that were imparted were first rate,” Dianne said.

Marcia and Alvan Kaunfer exemplify those values, the Newmans said. The Kaunfers were one of the founding families of the school and Rabbi Kaunfer, then a rabbi at Temple Emanu-El, was the founding director.  Marcia taught Humash and other Judaic studies classes there for many years.

“We found in Rabbi Kaunfer someone who was very dedicated to the kids and went way above anything you can imagine,” said Dianne. “And to the kids, Marcia was always Giveret Kaunfer, an indication of their respect.”

This award also honors Dianne’s and Martin’s mothers, Sylvia Zimet and Lillian Newman, who were both teachers.

The biennial award, which will go to a Rhode Island day school teacher, provides the opportunity for professional development in Israel. Both Dianne and Martin said they believe the stay in Israel will allow the winning teacher to experience a different approach to teaching, as well as to become immersed in the Israeli environment and culture.

The winner will have 18 months to use the $3,000 grant, an acknowledgement that he or she must put their life on hold to go to Israel for the program they choose. The educator also makes a commitment to return and teach at the day school  after participating in the program.

When asked to comment on the award, the Kaunfers, longtime Providence residents who have retired from full-time teaching but actively serve as consultants to day schools on a local and national level, wrote, “We believe strongly that the most dramatic work in day school education takes place during direct interaction between classroom teachers and their students. For this reason, this award, which recognizes precisely this endeavor, is so significant.

“Moreover, it will serve to encourage these very teachers to remain in their schools, where they will share the fruits of their professional development”

FRAN OSTENDORF (fostendorf@jewishallianceri.org) is the editor of The Jewish Voice.