Alumni, parents, teachers mingle at founders’ event

Kindergarten teacher Betsy Colbert, catches up with former student Elie Katz, now a 10th-grader. Photos by David Holzel
Kindergarten teacher Betsy Colbert, catches up with former student Elie Katz, now a 10th-grader.
Photos by David Holzel

The Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School’s second annual Founders’ Day reunion on Nov. 20 drew a cross section from the school’s first 25 years, 1966-91.

There were alumni who later became parents of students; parents who became teachers; and just plain students.

Lisah Sandler Bernstein was in the school’s third kindergarten class. When she started in 1969, the school was meeting in the basement of what is now Ohr Kodesh Congregation in Chevy Chase.
“If I picture those years, I really remember the celebrations of Jewish holidays and Shabbat,” says Bernstein, who is now a JDS kindergarten teacher herself.

Among 150 participants at the Nov. 20 event were several more kindergarten teachers, including the school’s first, Masha Cohen, who greeted former students and other well-wishers.
Rhonda Kleiner, Betsy Colbert and Evonne Schnitzer are current kindergarten teachers who are also parents of alumni. Mingling in the media center they had the opportunity to catch up with former students.

“She was like our kindergarten mama,” senior Sami Gruhin says of Kleiner, “and she stayed with us for all the rest of the years.”

Masha Cohen, the school's first kindergarten teacher, joined the celebration.
Masha Cohen, the school’s first kindergarten teacher, joined the celebration.

Once a student, now a parent and board president, David Topol has seen big changes at JDS since he started in 1972.

“A school of 1,000 has a different feel than a school of 200,” he says, before sitting down to lunch in the gymnasium. “It’s a bigger, more structured school, with more resources. I’m jealous of my kids. [When he attended,] we weren’t a STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] school. We didn’t have this gym. We didn’t have the depth and breadth of teaching.”

Sander and Adina Mendelson were part of the group that founded the school. “The need seemed to be a school that would appeal to Conservative and Reform Jews — that had a more progressive, community approach,” Sander says. “From that definition you just needed to create a school that reflects that.”

“It’s amazing to think that from seven kids we’ve come to this great scale,” Adina adds.
The Mendelsons spoke about the school’s birth and early years during an after-lunch program. Twenty-five people who included the school in an endowment, bequest or other planned gift were inducted into the Bonim Society.

Asked why so many people stay involved with JDS, the Mendelsons’ granddaughter, senior Claire Mendelson, says, “JDS is a place that changes lives.” Summing up her experience succinctly, she adds, “You can learn about math, but you can also learn about morality.”

[email protected]   Twitter: @davidholzel

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