Alene Jo Kaufman retires from HAT

by | Jun 13, 2014 | Other News

Alene Jo Kaufman (holding granddaughter, Maya), husband Ron Kaufman (holding granddaughter Lillian), and (seated) sons Adam and Jason Kaufman, and daughter-in-law Jessica Kaufman at the brunch.

Alene Jo Kaufman (holding granddaughter, Maya), husband Ron Kaufman (holding granddaughter Lillian), and (seated) sons Adam and Jason Kaufman, and daughter-in-law Jessica Kaufman at the brunch.

It’s the end of a “double chai” era. Thirty-six years in which Alene Jo Kaufman led, taught and touched the lives of hundreds of the community’s children and families at the Hebrew Academy of Tidewater Konikoff Center of Learning and Strelitz Early Childhood Center preschool.

A Hofstra University graduate, Kaufman majored in elementary education and Judaic studies with an eye toward rabbinical school. Plans changed, she earned her MS Ed from Old Dominion University and, alas, this remarkable educator was led to HAT’s doorstep for a long and notable career in Jewish education.

Today, Kaufman’s impact has generated a ripple effect that extends near and far to students who, many now adults, live everywhere from Hampton Roads and across the country, to Israel and elsewhere abroad. L’dor v’dor. “My babies” as she affectionately calls them, in some cases, are now parents who send their own children to Hebrew Academy and the Strelitz Early Childhood Center preschool —Michael Zitron included, having been one of her first students. Coming full circle, Zitron’s son, a rising first grader, was one of Kaufman’s last.

“As I embraced my son’s upbringing at the Strelitz preschool,” says Zitron, “Alene never ceased teaching me. In her genuine way, she showed me the strength and meaning of community by bridging the gap from my youth to that of fatherhood.”

Like Zitron and so many others, Kaufman has loved and kvelled with these students and their families through every lifecycle event possible, from births and b’nei mitzvot to graduations, weddings and loss. What are some of the key memories etched firmly in her heart? The seemingly infinite holiday celebrations…the middle school trip to Israel that she and her mensch of a husband Ron took together as chaperones… and memories of watching her preschoolers learn to recognize their names or sing the Four Questions for the first time ever. When Kaufman walks out the door as the preschool director one last time later this month, she will also remember the many unshakable bonds she formed with several colleagues across the decades.

Here’s a walk down Memory Lane with some of HAT’s school family….

Alene Kaufman joined Hebrew Academy in 1978 at the Thompkins Lane location as the new four-year-old preschool teacher. Annabel Sacks and Eilene Rosenblum were serving as interim co-directors while Rabbi Aaron Baer (of blessed memory), then head of school, was recuperating from a heart attack.

“From the moment she began teaching,” says Rosenblum, “Alene became our Jewish Pied Piper. Everywhere she went, little children followed, and she shared her love of Judaism with them all.” Still true!

Through Kaufman’s talent and gifts, the preschool program continued to grow and Ada Michaels (of blessed memory), then head of school, realized the need for an early childhood program coordinator. Kaufman was tapped for that role.

“While I truly valued my years of experience in the classroom, I was excited to work in this new capacity. My goal was to build our program into one that would not only educate our children but more fully involve our families, immersing them into the tapestry of the school. What I have loved most about working here is seeing multiple generations gather together in celebration like we do with family picnics, Model Seders, Shabbat sing-alongs, Chanukah Mini-Zimriyah and other holiday celebrations. There is something so powerful about the sense of community that is created. Families bond, lifelong friendships are born and memories become timeless. I know of no other educational institution like ours,” says Kaufman.

A pivotal point in Kaufman’s career came in 2004 when Hebrew Academy made its grand move to the Sandler Family Campus. Two years after moving to the campus, she took on the dual role of Judaic Studies director for two years while simultaneously serving as director of the newly evolved Strelitz Early Childhood Center preschool, an educational partnership of Hebrew Academy and the Simon Family Jewish Community Center.

“Alene was instrumental in transitioning HAT to its new home,” says Miles Leon, board president during that era. “I can’t imagine how difficult it would have been if she was not a part of our leadership during those years. Her dedication, hard work and, most of all, the love she had for the kids was priceless. She raised the bar for our school and community, and we are better off because of her contributions.”

“The move to the Sandler Family Campus,” says Kaufman, “was an exciting evolution for the preschool and for me. I recall like yesterday the numerous architectural meetings to discuss the design of the classrooms and the playground. I remember all the communications and rebranding efforts with new brochures and logos…and I remember the hilarious and sometimes crazy logistics of the move —outstanding teamwork by our faculty, administration and campus professionals. It is a rare opportunity to be a part of the re-birth of such a remarkable Jewish community day school. The atmosphere was exhilarating, filled with infinite possibility and potential. It’s hard to believe we’ve been in this building for more than a decade already—and serving our community for nearly 60 years now.”

Burle Stromberg, immediate past president of the board, agrees and can attest to how quickly time passes. “It has been a pleasure working with Alene in my professional role as president over the last three years. I have also had the pleasure of being a parent who saw three children through the preschool program under Alene’s leadership. She has a phenomenal and caring way with her students and we will miss her greatly.”

“Looking back,” Kaufman says, “I’ve worked for 10 heads of school, five general studies directors, and 17 board presidents. Throughout this period, I also gave birth to my son Adam, married off my older son Jason and became a savta to two gorgeous baby girls. I am counting my blessings, including the fact that Ron and I both still have our parents, who range in age from 84 to 94. With these very special blessings come responsibilities which include devoting more time to my parents and enjoying my children and grandchildren. I’ll never be able to put into words what this school and community mean to me. I am grateful that my sons had the opportunity of a day school education. The impact this institution has had on our lives as a family is immeasurable.”

While it’s not easy to say goodbye to such a valued member of HAT’s family, Kaufman is leaving the Strelitz Early Childhood Center preschool in good stead with Lorna Orleans. A past HAT parent, Orleans has also been an integral part of the preschool for the past 16 years. “It has been my honor to be a part of the lives of the children of our Jewish community,” says Kaufman. “I know that under Lorna’s direction, the Strelitz Early Childhood Center (its teachers and its programs) will continue to have a lasting impact on the future of our Jewish world.”

On Sunday, June 1, on the Sandler Family Campus, Alene Kaufman was honored at a reception for her 36 years of devotion and service to Hebrew Academy and the Strelitz preschool. “Alene’s professional life and passion have revolved around our beloved school, and she has left her indelible mark on the very fabric of our institution,” said Rabbi Mordechai Wecker, head of school. “I salute her myriad contributions and will miss my daily interactions with her both as a respected colleague and a dear friend. We wish the best of everything to Alene and her family as she enjoys this next chapter in life.”

Hang on to your “HATs” everyone.

The final bell has rung. Alene Kaufman is leaving the building.

Hebrew Academy of Tidewater is a constituent agency of United Jewish Federation of Tidewater.

by Dee Dee Becker