By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Town & Village Synagogue welcomed a new face to their Hebrew School at the beginning of the summer. Nina Loftspring joined the staff as the principal in July and said she’s been busy since then preparing for the beginning of the school year on September 8.
She’s confident that she’ll be able to do everything she needs to but “You always want more time to get everything ready,” she said. “I always want to start preparing in February!”
It wasn’t by chance that Loftspring ended up at Town & Village. Although she has since moved out of the area, she is a former resident of Stuy Town and appreciates that the synagogue is a small, tight-knit community.
“The kids aren’t just a number or a face in the crowd,” she said. “(Town & Village) knows their families and their commitment is seen through everything they do. It’s a very authentic community.”
Prior to coming to T&V, Loftspring was the assistant director of Education for Curriculum and Learning at B’nai Jeshurun on the Upper West Side. She spent some time at a nonprofit organization creating Holocaust curricula that were distributed to multiple schools, but she said that she’s more enthusiastic about a hands-on experience. She explained that even as a high schooler she was drawn to the classroom, as she was a Hebrew School assistant in her native Cincinnati, and it wasn’t long before she left the nonprofit world and returned to her roots.
“I missed seeing kids every day,” she said. “The synagogue world gives it such a personal experience.”
Loftspring spends most of her time at T&V working directly with the teachers, either helping them create lesson plans, helping with professional learning and training, and occasionally popping into the classrooms to see how the students are doing.
“I like to be in the classrooms every day so that I can be that bridge for families,” she said. “To let them know that their son was having trouble with one thing or their daughter was curious about something else, for example.”
The Hebrew School at Town & Village offers programming for kids under 18 and it recently started offering an early childhood program, Loftspring said, because there are so many young families in the neighborhood now. She said that this program, geared towards six-month-olds, is structured like a “Mommy and Me” class in which infants participate in shorter programs while their mothers or caretakers are present, and the classes are meant to briefly expose them to some aspects of the culture.
“They really love the music at that age,” she said. “For them we keep it short and interactive. We also do puppet shows to learn about different holidays. The environment is always age-appropriate.”
The program is structured by grade until the eighth, after which all of the teenagers are in the same class. Repeating the same year has the potential to get tiresome, but Loftspring said that the program changes from year to year to help keep it interesting for the students.
“We take issues that they’re dealing with in everyday life and give them the Jewish lens,” she said. “Something like marriage equality: what does the Jewish text say? How does T&V approach this issue?”
Teens also get the opportunity to give back to the community through volunteering. In the past, students have helped out at a shelter for women who’ve been subjected to domestic violence.
“They usually will play with the kids while the moms get a chance to have a break, and the students get a chance to give back,” Loftspring said. “They get to partake in the mitzvah (moral obligation) and commitment of repairing the world.”