One on One with Elyse Nadjar

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Ellen Geller Kamaras 

 

I don’t dwell on the idea of whether I was successful. I look at each day as a new opportunity to 

succeed. I constantly review what worked well and what didn’t and try to push myself past my comfort zone. 

Sometimes that works well and sometimes it doesn’t, but I don’t let the ‘failures’ defeat me.”  

~~ Elyse ~~ 

 

Please meet Elyse Nadjar, the Director of Student Activities and Judaic Studies teacher at Hillel Yeshiva High School. Elyse is a spiritual, passionate, mindful, and committed educator who has devoted over twenty years to teaching Jewish youth in Brooklyn, Deal, and abroad. 

Elyse was born in Brooklyn, to Elizabeth and Morris Nadjar and is the youngest of four children.  

Morris, a”h, was born in the U.S. and unfortunately passed away 13 years ago. His parents were from Aleppo, Syria.  Elizabeth’s grandfather came from Syria, and she was born in Egypt and emigrated to the States where she met Morris. “We are all close,” Elyse said.  “I worked with my sister, Esther Tokayer, at Magen David Yeshiva High School before our careers took us to different schools.” 

Morris was a significant role model for Elyse and helped shape the woman she became. “I am my father’s daughter in how I approach learning and community      service. Dad was involved with numerous synagogues and the JCH in Bensonhurst, which I passed every day while working at MDY.” 

Elizabeth, a great ba’alat hesed, taught Elyse about the importance of family.  She is the one who both sides of her parent’s families relied upon in times of health crises and is the person everyone leans on for support. 

Elizabeth also worked as a translator for NYANA for Jewish refugees coming from Syria in the nineties.  “I remember she tutored a man who had been a doctor in Syria and was desperate to learn enough English to pass his boards in the United States,” Elyse recalled. 

 Elyse also followed in her sister Esther’s footsteps in teaching and traveling the world to educate Jewish youth.  

 

School Days  

Elyse Attended a small elementary school, Yeshiva Rambam. She was the only one from her grade to move on to Yeshiva of Flatbush for high school.  Although it was intimidating at first, Elyse was grateful to her classmates for their welcoming attitude and open demeanor. 

Although Elyse was usually bored with school she always did well and was a good student.  “I was pretty shy, and still am to a degree.” Elyse was valedictorian at Rambam and was in the honors class in high school.   She participated in meaningful school activities such as Yachad, which engages people with disabilities.   

What Elyse valued and remembers most about school were the relationships she formed with her teachers.  “I learned more from their interactions with us as people than from what they taught from the books we used in class.”  

One example Elyse shared was about her Israeli 11th grade rav.  She remembers clearly how her rav explained during lunch the significance of the Oslo Accords that were being signed.  PLO Chairman Yassar Arafat kept adjusting his keffiyeh during his speech.  She did not know of the apocryphal story among many Palestinians that Arafat folded his head covering in a way that reminded him of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, and let the side panel drape in a way that resembled the historic map of Palestine. Elyse’s rav explained to the students that Arafat’s goal was to take over all of Israel. 

 

Her Essence 

Elyse described herself as strong, independent, sensitive, and creative.  As we follow Elyse on her life journey, you will see these attributes shine through.  

 

Professional Trajectory 

After high school, Elyse enrolled in Brooklyn College. She majored in English, doing office work in Magen David Yeshiva three days a week and studying at college two days.  Why English?  She really enjoyed it! Why work at MDY part time? Her sister Esther recommended her for the job. 

During college Elyse took in a class on non-Western civilizations. Her professor surprisingly gave the students a world map showing Tel Aviv as the capital of Israel with Jerusalem marked as the capital of Palestine.  She approached him privately about the error and he backed down.  

When the term was over, Elyse followed up by reporting this incident to the Judaic Studies chair and to Rabbi Yotav Eliach from Yeshiva of Flatbush. 

With the current unrest and pro-Palestinian protests, Elyse hopes our youth will have the strength, ability, and knowledge to combat the growing anti-Israel sentiments and the anti-Semitism that is raging across college campuses. 

 

MDY 

Elyse started as a secretary, and after college she began teaching Judaic Studies and working with the Judaic Studies principal.  A change in administration resulted in a new position as Hesed Coordinator, and Elyse rose to the challenge. She eventually became the Assistant Director and then Director of the Scholars program.   

During her 20 years at MDY, Elyse led students on the Heritage Trip to Poland for a decade, spearheaded the Yom Hazikaron programs, and much more.  When former Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit (kidnapped and released after five years in captivity in Gaza) and his IDF unit visited the U.S., Elyse worked with Dr. Hadar and the community to fund trauma therapy in the United States and have panel discussions at yeshivot, including MDY. 

Elyse also traveled to Australia, Winnipeg, Canada, and Turkey to teach young students about their Jewish identity.  “My passion for learning and sharing what I discover has opened up many opportunities.” 

Elyse’s inspiration for traveling abroad to work as a Jewish educator came from her sister Esther, who journeyed to Russia when the Iron Curtain came down, to help preserve Jewish identity and continuity. 

 

Why High School Students? 

Elyse recognizes that high school students are on the cusp of adulthood and she sees with amazement how they change between 9th to 12th grade. “I’m grateful to have a small impact on my students during this time of growth.” 

Around 18 months ago, Elyse decided to spread her wings and take a position at Hillel Yeshiva.  

“There was an opening at Hillel Yeshiva in NJ and I applied. Meshaneh makom, meshaneh mazal, change your place, change your luck.” 

Elyse views the change as a personal accomplishment.  “Making the move from MDY to Hillel was a tough decision. However, I am proud to continue to serve the community that I grew up in while also buying my own home.” 

 

Passions 

Elyse is impassioned about Israel and about rejoicing in the gifts Hashem has given us. She is also fervent about providing her students with tools for their personal development, such as exercises in developing their own self-awareness to enable them to continually grow as individuals. 

 

Cultivating Tolerance  

Elyse believes we all need a healthy dose of tolerance in our lives given the abundance of judgmental attitudes and polarization that is detrimental to our personal set of values. 

Most importantly, Elyse respects that kids have a mind of their own and a unique way of looking at the world. “I truly enjoy seeing them develop their outlooks and challenging them to add different lenses, especially a Torah lens that creates a balance of ben adam l’makom and ben adam l’haveiro.” 

 

 Keeping Work Exciting and Challenging 

It’s never the same day when you work in a high school. The different programs provided to diverse groups keep her job exciting and challenging.  “I am happy when a program turns out successful, a lesson goes well, or if I help an individual student determine how to deal with a problem or create a plan for a goal they have set,” Elyse said. 

Examples of programs include those that are pure fun like the girls overnight with classmates and teachers, weekend seminars, pathfinders, and cantata (musical and art projects). 

In recruiting a former student’s son to the Scholars Program at MDY, Elyse was touched to hear that the mother was considering MDY because of her memories of Elyse.  “After 15 years, she said she remembered that I had cared about each and every student.”  

 

Community  

Elyse’s focus and passion for Jewish education exemplify her commitment to community. 

She recently moved to Tom’s River, NJ, a 25-minute drive to Hillel, and is enjoying her new community. 

 

 Downtime 

Elyse views her work-life balance as a work in progress. She is renovating her new home and is always learning how to get everything done and keep everyone happy while taking care of her own needs. 

To unwind, Elyse enjoys creative pursuits including writing, needlepoint, and crocheting.  She intends to return to her Pilates and yoga classes.  

 

What’s Next 

Next year, Elyse wants to focus more on teaching and educational programming. She looks forward to developing her role at Hillel into the best fit.  Elyse is grateful to have worked with the most talented and supportive individuals in the field of education. 

 

Career Advice  

Elyse encourages students to explore and incorporate their passions into their career choices. 

“Don’t be afraid to fail or be challenged. Your greatest accomplishments often emerge when dealing with setbacks,” she advises. 

 

Parting Message 

“The world has changed since October 7th.  The ahdut, unity, that has developed among Jews is a tremendous inspiration. I hope we can maintain it beyond the moment of threat/danger, and continue to support each other.” 

 Please contact Elyse at enadjar@hillelyeshiva.org. 

Ellen Geller Kamaras, CPA/MBA, is an International Coach Federation (ICF) Associate Certified Coach.  Her coaching specialties include life, career, and dating coaching.  Ellen is active in her community and is currently the Vice-President of Congregation Bnai Avraham in Brooklyn Heights.  She can be contacted at ellen@lifecoachellen.com(www.lifecoachellen.com).