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Inspiring Students in All Things Jewish

September 22, 2005 By:
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Marcia Rosenthal
There's one simple reason why Marcia Rosenthal doesn't teach in public schools: She wants to focus on Jewish children.

"I love being Jewish! It defines and guides me in every part of my life," proclaimed Rosenthal, who is Orthodox. "I want [my students] to walk away with a feeling of joy about their being Jewish and a desire to learn more."

Rosenthal was honored this summer for her hard work and dedication with the Grinspoon-Steinhardt Award for Excellence in Jewish Education.

Co-sponsored by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and the Steinhardt Foundation, and locally sponsored by the Auerbach Central Agency for Jewish Education, the award is designed to recognize, honor and support outstanding Jewish educators in day schools and other formal Jewish-educational settings.

The $1,000 cash prize and $1,500 professional stipend was awarded in July to 64 teachers from 38 communities. Rosenthal was the only winner from the Philadelphia area.

She was recognized specifically as an after-school fourth-grade teacher at Temple Beth Hillel/Beth El in Wynnewood, though she also teaches first-grade general studies at Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia.

"I feel a profound appreciation that such an award exists," said Rosenthal, who found out she'd won through a phone call while attending her daughter's college graduation. "I felt that Hashem had orchestrated this merging of her journey and mine. It was, to say the least, one of the most incredible days of my entire life."

Shapes and Sketches
After growing up in Kingston, Pa., the Merion resident went to Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre for undergraduate studies; she then took courses toward a master's degree at the University of Scranton in art education - the subject she first taught.

Incorporating this artistic background into her teaching, Rosenthal draws cloud shapes, for example, on spelling tests to alleviate text anxiety, or sketches characters on a board to introduce a new author to students. She'll even tell stories about her dog, Shekels - some realistic and some fictional - to emphasize a particular point or to intrigue students.

"I use my imagination and create stories based on the material I'm presenting," said the mother of two grown children. "I want to make my classroom fun and enjoyable, and this is one of the ways I try to do that."

'It's About Believing'
A member of Lower Merion Synagogue, Rosenthal spends her time away from the classroom immersing herself in all things creative: She writes and illustrates children's stories, does calligraphy, designs logos and invitations, plans parties for Jewish events and creates stained-glass Judaica.

Though she is a general-studies teacher for the first-graders at Torah Academy, she still incorporates Jewish law and Jewish customs into her teaching. She said she wants to guide the youngsters to have good midot, or "morals," and inspire them to do mitzvot.

In fact, Rosenthal said that with so much to teach and so many ways to have an impact on her charges, the hardest part of her job is fitting it all into the short amount of classroom time she's allotted - twice a week for the Hebrew-schoolers and only part of the day for those first-graders.

Said Rosenthal: "It's all about believing in children, and they, in turn, believing in themselves. I chose to be a teacher to make that happen."

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