Akiva Alumni Spotlight

Alumni Relations at Schechter Westchester is pleased to share an Alumni Spotlight each month – a profile of our graduates' impact through their achievements and leadership. Graduates from the Schechter Westchester Middle School and High School make a difference in the lives of those around them all the time and we hope you will take a moment to get to know them the way we do.

When Sarah Griffith arrived at Schechter Westchester High School as a ninth grader, her Judaic knowledge was pretty limited. Growing up in Guthrie, Oklahoma, a city with few Jews, helped Sarah realize how important it is to have pride in her Jewish identity and learn as much as possible. While Sarah was attending public school in New Rochelle, her family learned about SW's Akiva Merit Scholarship and Akiva program, a unique program based on the idea that it is never too late to start a Jewish day school education. Sarah applied and was awarded the scholarship that furnished her with the opportunity to seamlessly transition into SW High School. During her time at SW, she earned acclamation for her WISE project on building and racing drones, which she presented using standard and social media. Her significant drone research led to the beginning of a guidebook with Dr. Danny Aviv. Sarah was also chosen as the Hebrew speaker at graduation, an accomplishment she never would have imagined.

Toward the end of high school, Sarah heard an Israeli soldier speak at her synagogue about Garin Tzabar, a program of Nefesh B'Nefesh and the IDF, which guides and supports lone soldiers as they navigate the process of adapting to military service and to an independent life in Israel. This sparked Sarah's interest and inspired her to pursue military service in Israel for the next stage of her life. Following her graduation from SW, Sarah made aliyah, joined Garin Tzabar, and this past fall, proudly participated in a tekes hashba'a (swearing-in ceremony) as she became a member of the Israel Defense Forces. Sarah is stationed south of Be'er Sheva while she works toward completing combat soldier training in the artillery corps.

During a recent break from her training, Sarah returned to New York and substitute taught in some SW High School Hebrew classes, something she was excited to be able to do since she was so profoundly impacted by her own Hebrew and Judaic studies at SW. She also credits her experience in Lev v'Nefesh, the senior class Poland and Israel program, as well as SW graduates who traveled to Israel, as major influences in her decision to make aliyah. Sarah is considering studying engineering at an Israeli university when she completes her army service and continues to draw upon her SW experience as she further adapts to life in Israel.

If you would like to learn more about the Akiva Merit Scholarship and the Akiva program, contact hsadmissions@schechterwestchester.org.

To recommend a SW alum for a spotlight or to share news about alumni, please email alumni@schechterwestchester.org.

Name: Zachary Mayer
Class: 2008
Hometown: New Rochelle, NY
Education: BFA in jazz instrumental performance and minor in music education, The City College of New York. One-year program at Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music in Israel.
Currently: Zach Mayer Music – Saxophonist, singer, and songwriter based in Queens

1) Please describe your career.

Right now, I’m working on booking a tour for my solo saxophone show in April [2015]. I spend an hour-and-a-half each day e-mailing people to book gigs. So I’m basically going through contacts and Yelp.com to find local music venues in the area at which I want to play in order to build a tour. I practice my sax for about two hours a day, then I’ll have a songwriting session for about an hour. The evening depends on whether I am performing a concert at night or seeing one. My goal is to play one show a week (I’ve succeeded for February). The vision is to have a career that doesn’t have to be lavish; to be able to live comfortably, supported by music. And I want to share my gift with people. I want to move people with my music.

2) What kind of experience have you had in your music career thus far?

So far, I have played with Grammy Winners John Zorn and Frank London, and have performed at many NYC venues such as the Village Vanguard, the Blue Note, the Highline Ballroom, Webster Hall, and Joe's Pub. I was invited on the Dave Koz and Friends at Sea cruise to the Mediterranean in 2013, and will be performing in Milan, Italy this year with Zion80, a Carlebach/Afrobeat fusion band of which I know that Rabbi [Harry] Pell is a fan! It helps my success in booking venues if people like my Facebook page—which I invite people to do.

3) What is one thing you’ve done on the job of which you’re particularly proud?

Recently, I wrote a song with my best college buddy, Luscious Luke. He is a poet. We sat in Thompson Square Park together on three separate Friday afternoons. He tapped his pen on my notebook and I had my portable keyboard. I’d play and he’d write the lyrics to my melody and the result after these three sessions is something I’m really proud of and that I’ll be proud of for the rest of my life. It’s called Waiting to Breathe. I can’t really say what it’s about—It uses abstract language. I couldn’t sum it up for you. You’ll have to hear it.

4) What is the most interesting thing you have learned on the job?

The questions don’t often lead to answers. They often become more difficult. But the process of enjoying the questioning is really important. Something else I’m working on is asking people for what I really need, just being as honest as possible with others and myself, and, finally, realizing that everything that happens for me will be because of me— it’s not going to happen for me.

5) How has your Schechter Westchester education played a role in where you are today?

I largely attribute my decision to become a full-time musician in the first place to Dror Ben-Gur [formerly of the Schechter Westchester Upper School Music Department]. Schechter Westchester was incredibly valuable for two reasons. First, Dror taught me many things and encouraged me to go to the Rimon Conservatory [Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music in Israel], which is where I decided to become a professional musician. Secondly, Schechter Westchester really valued my musical talent. I was always being asked to play music, like for every Rosh Chodesh [new month] celebration. Mr. [Eric] Bassin, Rabbi [Abby] Sosland, and Rabbi [Harry] Pell in particular were very supportive and loved my playing. They let our band Black Tie Optional perform occasionally at lunch. Even though music is not something a lot of people did at Schechter Westchester, the community was so loving and supportive. Even though I was doing something different, it was welcome. I could see it going in a very different way if I was in a different place.

I’m just really grateful to Schechter Westchester. It was the best possible place for me. I absolutely loved it!

This week's mini-profile features Jason Green, Class of 2007.

 

Hometown: White Plains, New York

Education: BS in Biology, University of Maryland. Post-Baccalaureate in Civil and Urban Engineering, NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering

Currently: Founder and CEO of Edenworks, a sustainable urban farming company based in Brooklyn

1)   Please describe your career.

 

The Edenworks team includes Jason Green (top left) and Sarah Green (no relation- bottom middle), both graduates of the Schechter Westchester Class of 2007.

I'm the founder and CEO of a data-driven sustainable farming company, Edenworks. We build rooftop aquaponic greenhouses for hyperlocal food production [aquaponics uses waste from live fish to create fertilizer for plants, which in turn filter the fish's water]. Our mission is to "close the loop," to turn wasteful outputs into useful inputs and convert cities from hubs of consumption to self-contained ecosystems that renewably provide. I manage a team of about twenty brilliant and passionate people, including engineers, designers, fabricators, software developers, data scientists, and farmers. As a startup-founder, I've worn just about every hat in the company. Now that the team and our business are growing, I'm quickly firing myself from a lot of those jobs and focusing on the long-term strategic vision, putting us on the critical path that will allow us to realize that vision.

2)   What kind of experience did you have leading up to this?

Before Edenworks, I worked in academia, first as a research assistant at the University of Maryland where I did my undergraduate studies, then at Albert Einstein College of Medicine as an assistant research scientist. I did research in bioengineering and neuroscience, building virtual reality environments to understand how the brain integrates different types of sensory information (vision, touch, etc.), and using that understanding to develop virtual reality-based rehabilitation technologies for patients with neurological disorders. I'm a lifelong tinkerer and was a hobby gardener in my NYC studio apartment. My frustration with the quality of the food I was buying and failed attempts to grow anything meaningful in such limited space is what led me to Edenworks.

3)   What is one thing you’ve done on the job of which you’re particularly proud?

I'm most proud of the team I've built. They're the execution behind my big, dreamy ideas. We've had a bunch of incredibly talented, well-educated people quit or pass up six-figure jobs to build this company together. As a result, we now have this amazing feedback loop where talented individuals want to join the company just so they can be part of our team. It blows my mind every day.

4)   What is the most interesting thing you have learned on the job?

I've realized that everyone, no matter their experience, is "just trying to figure it out." That is, if they're doing anything meaningful, they're constantly encountering new scenarios with limited knowledge and uncertain footing. The key to success, then, becomes finding the perfect balance between knowing what you know, what you don't, when to ask for help, and how much you can fake it 'til you make it.

5)   How has your Schechter Westchester education played a role in where you are today?

I'd say Schechter Westchester helped in two ways. First, I received a really well-rounded education— I'm equally comfortable reading and writing as I am with math and science, a balance that's been key to my success as an entrepreneur. Second, the Schechter Westchester network is awesome. Over the two years since I founded Edenworks, I've hired one of my former classmates, Sarah Green as our creative director; sold produce to another Schechter Westchester graduate, Derek Miles [Class of 2006] for his awesome new restaurant, Adalya; and connected professionally with people I frankly had little or no relationship with while at Schechter Westchester but with whom I easily built rapport because of our common roots.

Name: Lauren (Wexler) Hazony
Class: 2006
Hometown: Stamford, Connecticut
Education: Dual major in elementary and special education, Boston University School of Education
Currently: Pursuing a master’s in applied linguistics, Columbia Teachers College

1) Please describe your career.

I’m pursuing my degree in Applied Linguistics because I’m really interested in professional development for Hebrew educators. I’m going the theoretical route. I really want to give Hebrew teachers the tools that they need for teaching foreign language, which is not an easy task. I just finished all my coursework for my master’s so I’m very excited. I’m pregnant! [Lauren's baby was born on January 8, 2015] So this semester, I’ll be home with the baby (speaking some Hebrew of course) and look forward to finding a job for the fall focusing on Hebrew curriculum development.

2) What kind of experience did you have leading up to this?

When I graduated college, I worked for three years in the PALS [Providing Alternative Learning Strategies] program at Carmel Academy in Greenwich, which is the school’s program for language-based learning disabilities. Simultaneously, I was the learning coordinator for students with special needs at Temple Sholom Hebrew School, also in Greenwich. While pursuing my master's, I have been teaching Hebrew school and doing some private tutoring.

3) What is one thing you’ve done on the job of which you are particularly proud?

I ran a professional development seminar for teachers at Temple Sholom about collaborative group work. As a young teacher, leading a seminar for teachers with many more years under their belts was quite daunting. Having conversations with those teachers and seeing my suggestions being used afterwards in their own classrooms was really rewarding. It gave me a chance to see what I could add and how I could work with colleagues across age groups. It was exciting to work with them and then see how they took what we strategized and applied it to the needs of their own classrooms.

4) What is the most interesting thing you have learned on the job? 

It is incredible how much time and effort teachers of any subject really put into their students and the information that they’re teaching. There’s no way to teach well without being personally invested. When you really care about your students, it just consumes your life; the concept of a work-life balance just goes out the window. You’re in the store and you’re thinking, “Can I get that for my class?” or “I could use that for a lesson!”

5) How has your Schechter Westchester education played a role in where you are today?

SW really helped me explore my Judaism and think about what’s important to me as a Jew. Since I grew up in an Orthodox home, and went to a Modern Orthodox elementary and middle school, arriving at SW and engaging in Judaism from a Conservative perspective opened up my eyes. It really helped me see the world of Judaism through a more diverse lens. This helped me a lot when I taught at Carmel, which is a pluralistic school, as to how to teach and engage in Judaism from multiple perspectives without compromising my own personal religious beliefs.

My teachers at SW helped me to explore Hebrew and Israeli culture in a way that I hadn’t before. While I was at SW, the administration gave me the opportunity to teach an Israeli dance elective. My WISE project was researching the impact and importance of Israeli dance in day schools. [In Hebrew class,] I got a chance to read real Hebrew literature, have conversations with my amazing teachers, watch Israeli film, and delve into the culture. It gave me a much greater appreciation for the depth of the language and what language can teach you about a culture, which is why I feel so strongly about Hebrew education.

Introducing… the Alumni Mini-Profile Series!

Every two weeks, a Schechter Westchester graduate will be featured in the Alumni News section of Ma Nishma. Check out what our amazing alumni are up to! Do you want to be featured or know a graduate who may be interested? Let us know!

Name: Julie Chudow

Class: 2005

Hometown: Warwick, NY

Education: BS in Communication Studies, NYU

Currently: Public Relations Manager at Food Network

Please describe your career. 

I am a public relations manager at Food Network. I handle all the public relations for the programming on FoodNetwork and Cooking Channel. My daily responsibilities are creating press materials and pitching media, including print, broadcast, and radio. Part of that is securing interview opportunities for on-air talent and chefs. We handle all media opportunities outside of our network - soup to nuts - helping with talking points and food styling and providing images, clips and any additional show assets that journalists might need for their story or interview.

What kind of experience did you have leading up to this?

I had an internship at a boutique PR agency called Spotlight Communications during college. This led to a full-time position after graduation. Four-and-a-half years later, I decided to move in-house to the Food Network, which was one of my clients. I’ve been in my current role since May.

What is one thing you’ve done on the job that you’re particularly proud of?

2.	Chef Richard Blaise in the Today Show kitchen. Photo credit: Julie Chudow
Chef Richard Blaise in the Today Show kitchen. Photo credit: Julie Chudow

There's more than one! I love opening People Magazine and seeing a feature story that I worked on with one of our chefs, or seeing our chefs’ recipes in the “Great Ideas” section. It’s so rewarding to see the fruit of my labor, especially when it is in print. I know just how much work goes into that one-page feature.

I’m also particularly proud of a recent segment on the Dr. Oz Show with Chef Richard Blais. We don’t generally work with that [media] outlet, so it was great getting our talent in front of a new audience to increase awareness about the network. I was happy to help make that happen and be a part of it.

What is the most interesting thing you have learned on the job?

The one piece of advice I received during my first internship that I always remember is to make yourself invaluable to your company and boss. Think one step ahead and anticipate questions and tasks that may be asked of you. Be ready with the answers or a game plan to get any request done.

Particularly at the Food Network, I learned that the process is just as important as the result - sometimes more so. It’s not just the ending that matters, but how you get there.

How has your Schechter Westchester education played a role in this endeavor? 

I would say Schechter Westchester always taught the value of being a good person, not only working hard but being well-rounded across the board, which is so important in a professional setting. There was an emphasis on everything from ethics to values and cultivating interests and hobbies outside the classroom. That’s one of the core things I always remember Mr. [Eric] Bassin talking about; It’s not just about the grades. That’s really a life lesson that’s so important and helped get me to where I am today.

These words by Rabbi Yishmael, which reflect the essence of our mission, are found in Pirkei Avot. They advise us to lead lives filled with learning, teaching, preservation of our heritage, and social action.

TO LEARN AND TO TEACH, TO OBSERVE AND TO ACT
SOLOMON SCHECHTER
SCHOOL OF WESTCHESTER
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