Noteworthy teachers get the call as Unsung Jewish Heroes

Noteworthy teachers get the call as Unsung Jewish Heroes

Elaine Catz with her husband and daughter. Catz was recognized as an Unsung Jewish Hero at Sunday’s event. 
Photo courtesy of Rabbi Sam Weinberg
Elaine Catz with her husband and daughter. Catz was recognized as an Unsung Jewish Hero at Sunday’s event. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Sam Weinberg

With much applause, communal honorees were celebrated for lacking acclaim. At Sunday’s annual Unsung Jewish Heroes Celebration, 20 educators were heralded for their sound fidelity with pronouncements, proclamations and platters of prepared food.

“This highlights all of the amazing Jewish educators we have in the community who are not often recognized for their tremendous service to the community,” said Scott Leib, chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Jewish Life and Learning Commission.

The congratulatory program, which Leib emceed, was originated by the now-defunct Agency for Jewish Learning. Beginning last year, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh adopted the annual event as well as the AJL’s early childhood portfolio.

“With a team of new and experienced staff and dozens of dedicated Jewish educators throughout the region, the future of Jewish education in Pittsburgh seems bright,” wrote Cynthia Shapira, chair of Pittsburgh’s Federation, and Jeffrey Finkelstein, the Federation’s president and CEO, in a statement to attendees.  

Actualizing that optimism were those seated inside the Squirrel Hill JCC’s Levinson Hall.

“It’s very nice to be a part of this. It’s nice to be with all of these teachers, many of whom I’ve worked with in other places,” said Elaine Catz, Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh’s awardee.

“It’s nice to be able to share this honor with everyone in the community,”

agreed Alex Speck, Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Congregation/Torah Lishmah Community’s recipient.

Like other honorees, Speck was joined by family members. Singularly, though, Speck’s mother was equally celebrated. Recognized for her unwavering commitment to the students of the Beth Shalom Early Learning Center, Cynthia Speck was named an Unsung Jewish Hero.

Like other conferees, Cynthia Speck saluted her fellow educators and added: “The importance that I value in Jewish education has rubbed off on my son. Who could have foreseen that?”

Attendees spoke of the need to recognize educators’ efforts.

“The teachers in the community are what make the community what it is,” said Avi Baran Munro, Community Day School’s head of school.

“They make our community better and stronger,” maintained Leib.

In a room of the praiseworthy but unsung, one was trumpeted the loudest. Jackie Goldblum, a middle school teacher at CDS, was singled out as Pittsburgh’s recipient of the 2016 Harold Grinspoon Award for Excellence in Jewish Education. Goldblum’s selection for the award, which is supported by the Barbara and Lester Parker Fund for a Jewish Future Endowment of the Jewish Community Foundation and the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, was honored for her specialized approach to history, comparative religion and Hebrew. Throughout her 17 years at CDS, Goldblum has incorporated art, writing and primary source documents as media to engage her students.

Munro pointed out several current and former educational beneficiaries of such an approach who attended the event and added, “They all have a story to tell of that impact.”

While Goldblum offered vignettes from her tenure, Rabbi Amy Bardack, Federation’s director of Jewish Education and Capacity Building, provided a historical context for praising teachers.

It is appropriate, she said, that Lag B’Omer falls this week since it is fundamentally the first teacher appreciation day.

Playing to the historical trope, Leib said that he would break from tradition.

Although commendatory proclamations are often made in song, he said, this evening’s praise for teachers would only be spoken.  

“I can’t sing, and, second, you’re unsung Jewish heroes.”  

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

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