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Summer Feature – Teva Educators: Where Are They Now?

*As we begin approaching Teva’s 25th Anniversary, we will be spending the summer months featuring former Teva Educators who were once Teva students. They are from different Teva seasons and have different stories, experiences and memories. Enjoy the walk down memory lane with us!*

Sabrina Shapiro came to Teva in 1998 as a student with Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School and came back to be a Teva educator in 2011.

What do you remember about Teva as a student? Which moments/memories/stories stand out?

The best part about Teva, for me, was that I was with all my school friends, learning, but in a place I’d much rather be, the forest.  I remember Salamander Tag, “fox walking” and singing and dancing really loudly in the cafeteria.

What do you think Teva taught you as a young person?

It wasn’t so much what I was taught, but just having a great time in nature was so valuable to me.

When you grew up and thought about Teva, before you came back to be an educator, what sentence would you have used to describe it?

The best time at school ever because we didn’t have to sit down and (be quiet) for once.

Which life steps lead you to coming back to Isabella Freedman to be a Teva Educator? 

I was living alone in a trailer in the forest after the death of my mother. I was coaching fencing and training in martial arts and thinking about moving to Israel to be with my Israeli family, feeling a bit lost. A family friend had been nudging me to meet up with their Rabbi for the longest time, and told me to come visit and they would set up a meeting. I wasn’t opposed to it, but couldn’t understand why it was so necessary.  I met with the Rabbi (Rabbi Fred) at a coffee shop and I remember we argued a lot, about everything (as one does with a rabbi). I recall even arguing about my future and my place in the education world. He thought it was great (even though I was acting like a curmudgeon) and told me I totally had to apply to work at Teva and that it would be the perfect place for me. It shocked me because up until that point, I hadn’t thought about Teva as an opportunity for grown-ups, just as a really happy school memory.  I had been an outdoor educator for the Smithsonian National Zoo for years and did not even realize that I could work for Teva. I was blown away when Rabbi Fred told me that the head of the Teva program was Nili Simhai, because she had been my Mora Derech. I applied and the rest is history.

What was it like to return?

It was strange to return because I was used to being around just outdoor science educators as opposed to hippy Jewish educators and I had a chip on my shoulder at first (still being a curmudgeon).  But I really loved how naturally the two things (natural science and Judaism) flowed together. Also, it felt like a was supposed to be there.

What stands out to you now as a Teva Educator when you think about your experience as a Teva student? 

What I took from Teva as a student was mostly the outdoor skills tidbits, and having fun in the forest.  As an educator, I gravitated toward those things as well. I saw a lot of hyperactive “ADHD” students excelling at the outdoor skills and modeling great behavior in the forest, kids with behavioral records at their respective schools. Too bad they can’t just learn everything in the forest instead of being in trouble all the time in a classroom. It made me sad for them and glad that I didn’t have to go back to a school at the end of the week because I was one of those kids.

How do you describe Teva to your friends and family? 

A Jewish outdoor education program.  So, not only regular forest education, but also teaching Jewish Kids how we, as Jews, get to take care of the Earth.

What are three words you would use to describe Teva?

Necessary, Harmonious, Fun

How do you think doing Teva as a young person and coming back as an educator will or has shaped your life going forward?

It definitely felt like a complete picture for me.  Coming “full circle” from student to educator painted a clear image in my mind about what is important in my life as far as lifestyle and spirituality. Applying those concepts is another matter, but I’m figuring it out.