SALUTE TO THE HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATES OF 2017

Past Articles:
ONE-ON-ONE WITH SHIFRA HANON

By: Ellen Kamaras

Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, the guide to Jewish ethics, addresses the value of a teacher:  “…Make yourself a teacher (Rav), acquire a friend, and judge everyone favorably.”  

Interestingly, this Mishnah was named “Avot” because its writers, the fathers of our nation, taught us the moral and ethical principles of the Torah.  Not only do we as parents give our children life but also nurture them physically and morally.  Our teachers share in the privilege and responsibility of raising our children. 

The Educator Shifra Hanon

Meet Shifra Hanon, a Yeshiva of Flatbush administrator who lovingly partners with parents to put her students on a thriving path. Shifra taught English  for over 25 years and is the director of Flatbush’s Pathfinders Program. She has been a teacher, mentor, and friend to hundreds of current students and YOF graduates in our community. 

Shifra began her teaching career as a volunteer 30+ years ago, serving as the President of the Ladies Auxiliary and a Board of Education member. Since then, she has left her footprint as an ardent student advocate, a prolific and dynamic English teacher, and the director of Pathfinders, a program that motivates students to think out of the box, challenge themselves, and dream big.

Pathfinders was created five years ago as an internship-study initiative in career exploration. The program encourages students to discover and expand their special talents and explore future career options. The principles underlying Pathfinders are concepts that I myself learned when I changed careers from a CPA to a life and organizational coach at the age of 57. These ideas include exploring one’s passion and purpose, realizing one’s potential, and stretching oneself to try something different and possibly scary.

Shifra was also instrumental in educating the second wave of Syrian immigrants.  She developed methods to teach these students not only curriculum content but also the English language.  She formed a full program including writing classes, SAT prep classes and literature.  The 25th anniversary celebration of the successful rescue of Syrian Jewry will take place in the fall.

Before Shifra married her husband Ezra, she had already earned a Master’s degree in English Education and Judaic Studies from NYU. Shifra, of Ashkenazi descent, grew up in Bayonne, N.J., the oldest of eight children, in a home where education was a key guidepost.  Her mother, A”H, was a teacher and her father, A”H, a physician.

When asked what she thought to be the most rewarding aspect of teaching, Shifra quickly replied, “learning from the students.”  Her education philosophy is “Hanoch la’naar al pi darcho” – Educate a child according to his way. “There’s not one thing that works for everybody,” Shifra says. This approach predates the popular viewpoint of Ignacio Estrada, director for grants administration at a foundation established to create positive outcomes for future generations: “If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”

Shifra and Pathfinders

Rewind to five years ago, when Shifra was home for two weeks recuperating from an injury. With ample time to reflect, her thoughts turned to how the college application process was changing. “Colleges want to see more than good grades and a little bit of extra-curricular activity,” Shifra says. “They want to see that you are exploring something that caught your fancy.” And that’s how Pathfinders was born.

At first Shifra taught part-time while managing Pathfinders, but gave up teaching as Pathfinders continued to expand. Though Pathfinders is a voluntary program, currently 60% of the students participate. Shifra’s goal is to “to enable each student to take pride in his or her accomplishments… fostering confidence, intellectual curiosity, and enrichment adventures.” Shifra continually seeks to engage students and help them find the special talent that speaks to their essence. “When you love what you’re doing, it’s really not work,” Shifra says about her occupation.

Pathfinders presents an evolving array of programs including extracurricular activities, summer internships and trips. Examples include shadowing a doctor, taking a real estate licensing class, visiting the courts, learning the behind the scenes operations of a restaurant, participating in the Robotics League with other Yeshivot, cooking for a cause, and more. Through Pathfinders, students also attend career fairs, get help with resumes and attain an understanding of how they can best brand themselves to colleges.

To Shifra, the opportunity for a student to succeed in an activity that’s non-academic is priceless. She believes an average student can flourish beautifully in an internship or workshop setting.

Shifra’s positive energy, love, and commitment were apparent in every story she shared with me. She lit up with pride when she talked about the students and the varied and exciting opportunities available to them. During the ninety minutes I spent with her, several students came to her office to ask questions or update her on their projects.  Her office is stocked with snacks and pictures of the students participating in workshops and internships cover the walls.

Her biggest challenge?  Getting the children to articulate what they are interested in.

She further explains that “it’s all about networking” because networking brings opportunities. As just one example, mortgage brokers now want to fund the students’ real estate licensing classes and hire the students upon their completion.

Shifra says she feels pure joy when she makes a shidduch - a perfect match - between a student and an internship. There’s nothing like the glow on a student’s face when he discovers his talent.  She follows her Pathfinders students long after they graduate and has the satisfaction of seeing a career come to fruition. At least a dozen students have been hired professionally after doing an internship under Shifra’s guidance. Students who once shadowed doctors have now enrolled in medical school and student who spent time in courts have become paralegals.

Shifra’s secret to success?  Having a loving husband and children who cooperated with and supported her career trajectory. While Shifra knows a woman can’t do everything, she doesn’t like to say no to a challenge. So she does the best she can while maintaining her priorities and living a life that has been supremely fulfilling.

Shifra thanks her Pathfinders staff, and all the Yeshiva of Flatbush alumni, including her associateDoris Silvera Anteby, and her assistants Nancy Mizrahi and Florence Dweck, who also happens to be her granddaughter.

We thank Shifra for opening the doors to our students’ future accomplishments. As she counsels students often, the opportunities are endless! If you are a professional willing to sponsor an intern, please contact Shifra at 7189385474 or at  Bayonne50@aol.com.

Ellen Geller Kamaras, CPA/MBA, is an International Coach Federation (ICF) Associate Certified Coach.  Her coaching specialties include life, career and dating coaching.  Ellen helps people find their passion, purpose and positivity in life and love.  Ellen can be contacted at ellen@lifecoachellen.com(www.lifecoachellen.com)