‘Educator of the Year’ says teaching is fun

MILWAUKEE – Marsha Fensin describes herself as never being at a loss for words. But when she received the phone call letting her know she had won the 2017 Coalition for Jewish Learning Grinspoon Educator of the Year Award, she could only repeat one thing: “Oh, my.”

“I mean, that’s still my response. It’s really such an honor,” Fensin beamed.

During her time in the Milwaukee Jewish community, Fensin, 71, has been busy, to say the least. She currently teaches at Congregation Emanu-El of Waukesha and also sings in the choir. But prior to this, Fensin had been involved in a number of different synagogues in the area, beginning as a song leader at Congregation Sinai in Fox Point. At Congregation Shalom in Fox Point, she taught Sunday school and Hebrew, and served as the musical director and cantorial soloist for ten years, and as the cantor for her final year there. Fensin also became a chaplain as part of her cantorial training. She will be honored along with other winners at the 2017 Salute to Jewish Educators event on Feb. 26.

Even with this long list of accomplishments, Fensin made it clear that teaching is one of her favorite ways of contributing to the Jewish community.

“The thing that I like most about teaching is the relationships that I develop with the students and their parents,” she said. “A lot of these relationships are life-long.”

But Fensin admitted something even simpler — that she just finds teaching to be fun.

“I’m almost guilty having so much fun. It energizes you, it keeps you young, it gets you to read Harry Potter,” she laughed.

The Coalition for Jewish Learning Educator of the Year Award, as it was originally called, has been given out to outstanding Jewish teachers and educators in the Milwaukee area since 1982. But this year marks a new chapter for the accolade – the Milwaukee Jewish Federation is now partnering with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation in distributing the award. The Foundation is devoted to supporting the Jewish community through philanthropy and that includes education and young people.

“It’s really exciting because it not only raises the profile, but it actually enables us to give more of a gift than we’ve been able to in the past,” said Tziporah Altman-Shafer, the Jewish education community planner for the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. The award now includes $1,000, a plaque, and the option of receiving a $500 stipend towards an educational conference in the coming year.

First nominated by their colleagues and peers, recipients of the Coalition for Jewish Learning Grinspoon Educator of the Year Award are chosen by the Salute to Educators nominating committee based on several standards. Winners must have been engaged with Jewish education for a minimum of five years in Milwaukee, and must demonstrate leadership, inspire students with a love for Jewish learning, personify the Jewish values of a love for learning and search for knowledge, and they must have contributed to supporting Jewish educators within the Jewish community.

For Altman-Shafer, Fensin exemplifies these qualities with the work she does as an educator.

“She really shows a love of learning, a love of Hebrew, and she’s very much involved,” Altman-Shafer said. “She really tries to constantly change and improve her teaching. And that’s a pretty amazing thing.”

The 2017 Salute to Jewish Educators event on Feb. 26 will honor award-winners and all teachers who are involved in the Milwaukee Jewish community. In addition to the Coalition for Jewish Learning Grinspoon award, Josh Richman is receiving the Inspiration Award; Aggie Goldenholz, Mara Kleiman, and Phil Musickant are receiving the Rabbi Emanuel & Deborah Lifshutz Mitzvah Award; and Diane Boland and Yoni Schlussel are receiving the Gill Incentive for Teachers (GIFT) Award. Teachers from many of the schools in the area will also receive Teacher Impact and School Support Awards. All community members are invited to attend, and to enjoy food and musical performances.

“We have 17 schools in our community, and we have lots and lots of teachers,” said Altman-Shafer. “Every single one of them works so hard every day and makes such a difference in the lives of our children. We want every teacher who comes to feel deeply appreciated.”

Find the full list of award winners at MilwaukeeJewish.org/EducatorRecognition.

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How to go

What: 2017 Salute to Jewish Educators event

When: Feb. 26, 2:30 to 4 p.m.

Where: Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center, Daniel M. Soref Community Hall, 6255 N. Santa Monica Blvd.

Cost: Free

RSVP: MilwaukeeJewish.org/EducatorRecognition