Maya Goldbaum loves teaching.
Whether it is getting a roomful of kids at her synagogue to learn a song they didn’t know the week before, or spending an afternoon assisting in a second grade classroom, the 17-year-old draws a lot of joy and energy from having a hand in shaping the minds of the future.
The Whitefish Bay High School senior has become a musical fixture at Congregation Sinai, 8223 N. Port Washington Road in Fox Point, where she has assisted in the synagogue’s Sunday school instructions for the last five years.
A member of Sinai since age 5, Maya became a madricha or helper teacher in the Sunday school in eighth grade. Within a couple years she had her own music class. The class is one of a couple electives available to children who participate in the Sunday School. During a typical Sunday Maya, who now has her own helper teacher, will have two groups of kids – ranging from age 5 to 12 – teaching them about singing, songwriting, Jewish music and singing in Hebrew.
“I have a classroom. We have some bean bag chairs. It is really fun,” Maya said.
But she doesn’t just spend her time at Congregation Sinai with her students. She also devotes a lot of time to organizing activities with her peers.
Maya is the president of Milwaukee’s NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth) chapter. Called MiTY or Milwaukee Temple Youth, the group brings together teens from the North Shore area’s three Reform synagogues for monthly programming, while also ensuring they have a chance to participate in regional and national NFTY events. In October Maya was one of several local teens who traveled to the Twin Cities to take part in the organization’s Fall Kallah gathering.
She also serves as the head song leader for NFTY’s northern region, which covers Wisconsin; Minnesota; North Dakota; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Manitoba, Canada and Rockford, Illinois.
As part of her position she picks the music that will be sung at regional gatherings. In a few months she’ll be planning out the music for the Spring Kallah, which will take place in the Milwaukee area.
This summer she will be a counselor at Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI) a Jewish sleepover camp in Oconomowoc. It’ll be her ninth summer at the camp, but her first as a counselor. Last year she worked at the camp as an avodah or counselor-in-training, spending her mornings in Hebrew and Jewish studies classes, and her afternoons cleaning.
Asked why she devotes so much time to her synagogue and community, Maya says she “just likes it.”
“I remember going through the Sunday School and looking up to the teens who took time to be there,” she explained. “It is really important for me to be that person for kids.”
Somehow she finds a way to fit these efforts into an already busy schedule of school and extracurricular activities, including participating in two choirs and doing “a lot of theater.” This fall she played Cinderella’s stepmother in her high school’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Into the Woods.”
After graduation she plans to attend college and study elementary education, pursuing her dream of being a teacher.
Wherever she lands she said she plans to find a synagogue to join.
“I don’t plan on stopping being a part of this,” she said.
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The Chronicle is featuring eight Jewish teens who give back to their community – one for each Chanukah candle! Is there a synagogue, community or teen you’d like to recommend for our next Teen Leaders project? Let us know at Chronicle@MilwaukeeJewish.org.