Sara was a woman before her time. She worked for the Board of Jewish Education for over 60 years where she rose to become acting superintendent and at the same time raised a family of three children, each of whom are successful in their own rights. She was a giant figure in Jewish education in the greater Chicago area. She taught and mentored countless numbers of students. Her great love was the development of teachers. Her kind words and constructive suggestions, impacted generations of teachers and their supervisors. She was active in her community and at the Ner Tamid synagogue, where she served on numerous committees and on the Board of Directors. A true lover of Zion, she visited the state of Israel on dozens of occasions. She was involved and supported numerous Jewish causes.
When I came back to Chicago after college at the University of Michigan I was lost in terms of what I wanted to do with my life. I even took the LSAT and thought about Law School for a minute in time. I fell back on an old skill as I had in college and began teaching Religious school in Evanston. After 6 months I was plucked by my Educational Director to participate in the Board of Jewish Education first ever Master Teachers program which Sara not only administrated but had also conceived of the entire program. I thrived in that environment and soon after found myself working at the BJE in the High School program and I am sure that Sara helped me get that job.
|Master teacher certificate from 1984 Vanessa Michaels|
After working at the BJE a job opened up at Emanuel Congregation for Educational Director and Sara encouraged me to apply for the job. I know that in my heart of hearts that Sara is the reason I got that job. She not only referred me for this job but also was my mentor after I got the job and I had many questions as I was supervising a teaching staff, setting a curriculum, sitting on every committee that the synagogue could put me on and crafting a budget and all for the first time. I would not have made it past the first year without Sara's advice.
She not only helped me but many other area educators. She was a pioneer in Professional learning and secured grants to be able to create learning experiences for Supplementary Educators from Reform and Conservative synagogues in different locations on different themes. We traveled to Israel, New York, Brandeis, University of Illinois, Stanford University in California. I was not able to go on all of these but those that I attended were full of learning experiences and lasting friendships. Remind me to tell you the story of one of our colleagues about WHY she could not suspend a student from Sunday school. It is a classic story which even after 30 years brings a smile to my face.
I am glad to have had the opportunity to know Sara Shapiro as a young educator and see her legacy in her grandchildren who went to Solomon Schechter with my children. Her daughter in law, Lori Stark has carried on the Jewish education gene and is the Director of Ramah Day camp in Chicago. I will miss the Sara of days gone by. Her legacy of many Chicago educators, educators all over and her family is one that is not easily surpassed! May her family be:
המקום ינחם אתכם בתוך שאר אבלי ציון וירושלים
"May God comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem."