Features Archive


Yonina (Schnall) Lerner, MMY 5763-5764
(Kew Garden Hills, Ny; Teacher)

My name is Yonina (Schnall) Lermer and I grew up in West Hempstead, NY and attended Yeshiva University High School for Girls (Central). Although I always planned to spend a year studying in a seminary in Israel, it is the year my family and I spent living in Israel when I was in ninth grade that really made clear for me the type of experience for which I was looking.

Personally, I have always preferred learning many different ideas and viewpoints and thinking about each individually over being told a black and white reality. That was what struck me about MMY. I loved that the faculty was so diverse. When I arrived I did not know what kind of person I would become and what path I would chose, and so I wanted to see different examples of role models from different hashkafot. I felt that MMY was unique in that sense.

    Specifically, I gained tremendously from spending Shabbos in the homes of different teachers—each one in a different type of community that offered a different kind of experience and atmosphere. I enjoyed discussing with each teacher the positives and challenges his or her community faces and seeing firsthand the varied approaches they would take. Most importantly, I enjoyed that although each teacher was incredibly willing to have such discussions, the answers I found, and conclusions I came to, always came from my listening to and processing of what they said—from my thinking for myself.

     As my shana bet year came to a close and I was applying to college I knew I was going to pursue education. I had always wanted to teach limudei kodesh, and when applying to college, I had the choice of majoring in Judaic Studies or in Education. After doing research I discovered that majoring in Judaic Studies mainly meant taking more Judaic studies courses. I love children and I wanted to know more about how they learn, how to map curriculum, how to deal with administration, and the qualities of what makes a good leader; and so I chose to major in education. I learned all of this plus had great experiences as a student teacher. I fell in love with the process of teaching kids to read and write and analyzing the strategies and skills they need to succeed. I was intrigued by the progressive methods currently being introduced in schools since I had a rough elementary school experience and wanted to change that for kids today.

When I graduated and started looking for a job, everyone told me that my only choice was to work in a public school since my caliber of teaching and my potential was too great to "waste" in a yeshiva. They told me that yeshivas don’t have enough time, money, or patience. They told me that in public school I would be compensated better and I would receive better benefits. These are not necessarily false statements; however, something didn't sit right with me. But, I applied to public schools anyway since it seemed the right choice for me.

I was set up, almost by accident, for an interview at a local yeshiva, and I debated whether or not I should even bother going. It was at that point that I thought back to my personal experiences. I thought about my schooling. I thought about the teachers, professors, and rebbeim I had and the connections I have to them today (even ones from elementary school). I thought about their qualities. Right away I was hit with the memory of tenth grade. I was so taken with one of my teachers who taught us Chumash in the morning, and just a few hours later taught us math. Why was it that I was so taken with her? I guess most of our lives we separate the two subjects and the people who teach you "English" were the old retired public school teachers and the people who taught us "Hebrew" were the young morot and rebbeim. Tenth grade was the first time that I had seen both in one person.

I then thought about MMY. While MMY does put much emphasis on teaching skills to navigate through a text, I think there is another, greater, aspect as well. I was reminded of a class I took with Rabbi Katz where he chose different topics in "the real world" and formulated an approach to understanding the nuanced issue and how to respond according Jewish law. We were encouraged to broaden what we know about halacha and Judaism and apply it to the world around us. We were not "sheltered;" rather, we given the tools to deal with the world in which we live.

That's when I made my decision. I wanted to teach Jewish children in a Jewish school. I realized a fundamental flaw in the argument of my peers: if my caliber of teaching is "too good for anything other than public school" why shouldn't Jewish children deserve that?

I am proud to say that in my classroom I use every opportunity to teach my students two things:
1) How to apply our Judaism to the world around us - whether that means teaching math through Channukah candles, personal narratives through Holocaust memoirs, or procedural texts through discussing different Jewish holiday procedures.

2) How to be a Jew in a world that is secular- ranging from analyzing character traits and qualities in books and discussing if we should be modeling these traits to simply having them see me saying asher yatzar when I come out of the bathroom and making brachos before snack time etc. Very often the kids will say to me, "Why are you saying brachos if you are the English teacher?" And I am always proud to respond, "Just because I teach you English does not mean I forget about what I need to do as a Jew."

In sum, I love MMY because it was during my time spent there that I learned how to be a leader, how to implement change, and how to never take things at face value but rather question them. I feel that with these qualities I have made a difference in my own personal life and in the lives of other members of the Jewish community and I thank MMY for helping me become who I am.

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