EIGHT ORIGINAL PARTICIPANTS RETURN
There was a great deal of laughter and more than a few tears at the Katherine and Jacob Greenfield Hebrew Academy on Monday evening, as students, parents, teachers, alumni and patrons gathered to pay tribute to the award-winning M’silot program at GHA.
M’silot, a program for students from kindergarten through eighth-grade who learn differently, marked a major milestone this year: The students who made up the very first class ever to attend M’silot are graduating from high school.
These trailblazing students, each a shining example of how learning differences can still equal scholastic success, returned to GHA for the evening to share the news of their future plans and explain how M’silot helped them get where they are today.
The M’silot program also celebrated another milestone; its own rededication as the Matthew Blumenthal M’silot Program.
Matthew was a GHA student from first grade through his graduation, and tragically died of muscular dystrophy at the age of 24. In 1999, Matthew’s grandparents, Saul and Adele Blumenthal, z”l, donated the seed money to start up the M’silot program in his honor. With their sustaining gift, Matthew’s parents, Elaine and Jerry Blumenthal, are continuing the vital work that their parents started.
The event began with GHA Head of School Rabbi Lee Buckman’s greeting. He thanked M’silot Director and founder Phyllis Rosenthal, describing her as the “visionary of M’silot” and someone who enables students and their parents “to accept love, to overcome challenges and rejoice in differences.”
Rabbi Buckman described the worry of the parent who sees a beloved child struggling, and noted that M’silot’s amazing success is the result of “the triumph of hope over fear.”
Fifth-grader Gabe Green delivered a moving d’var Torah, and director Phyllis Rosenthal outlined the origins and purpose of the program.
“Our kids are part of Judaic culture, they participate in all the Jewish milestones in our school,” Rosenthal said. “Our parents say, ‘My child feels bright and successful, my child has reached his or her potential,’ which is every parent’s dream.”
Ms. Rosenthal explained how the program has grown from eight children in its first year to 80 children today – “Word of mouth is powerful, and success is magnetic” – and thanked the parents for “entrusting us with your most precious possession: your children.”
Eventually the proceedings were turned over to the former M’silot students now graduating from local high schools that include The Weber School, Temima High School for Girls, Woodward Academy and several public schools. Risa Hayet, Rachel Kleiman, Malka Field, Sydney Lippman, Rachel May, Jacob Singer, Adam Birnbrey and Michael Usdan were delighted to be back, excited about the future, and happy to share their feelings about M’silot.
Risa Hayet enthusiastically listed the names of the several schools that had accepted her (she chose the University of Alabama). Michael Usdan is looking forward to a gap year in Israel, followed by Indiana University; Rachel May will be there as well.
Rachel Kleiman will also be far away, at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in California. Malka Field is headed to Georgia State, where she’s thinking about majoring in education so she can help other kids as she was helped.
Sydney Lippman is bound for Tulane, while Adam Birnbrey is heading for the University of Georgia. And they’re not alone; every M’silot graduate will be attending college.
The eight students held an impromptu question-and-answer session about how M’silot helped them to handle their learning differences.
Rachel May explained, “I always thought of myself as special. I embraced my differences, because they gave me the advantage of the smaller classes and the personal attention in M’silot. It was awesome!”
Jacob Singer said he “really saw [his] differences as a challenge. I am a very competitive person, and I was always determined to do as much as I can and reach for the highest goals. M’silot gave me the tools to do that.”
Jerry Blumenthal spoke movingly of the family’s happiness to help, and their gratitude for the way GHA worked to accommodate the disabilities of their son, Matthew. Dr. Blumenthal said that he and his wife, Elaine, “shep naches” when they run into parents of M’silot students.
“You set the example,” he told the group. “It may take a little more work to get where you want to go, but you can get there.”
The Matthew Blumenthal M’silot program was also proud to honor two teachers who are retiring this year, Kathy Eisenband and Chris Oertle. They have both been an integral part of M’silot’s success.
Ms. Eisenband was M’silot’s original first-grade teacher and helped to develop the program with Ms. Rosenthal and others. Many of today’s M’silot students were given a boost through the GHA Running Start Kindergarten, developed by Chris Oertle.
Ms. Eisenband was unable to be there in person but saw the whole event live, as GHA arranged for a simulcast. Ms. Oertle reminisced about the challenges and triumphs, and assured the crowd that she remembered every student – and always would.
Phyllis Rosenthal expressed the pride of the entire Greenfield Hebrew Academy family as she said, “Our goal was to inspire you…but you have inspired us.”
Editor’s note: Leah Levy is an experienced book editor.
By Leah Levy