Ora Gittelson-David Leaves a Bright Legacy
Ora Leaves a Bright Legacy of Community Service and Giving Jewishly
Last year, beloved Director of Jewish Studies Ora Gittelson-David signed off her retirement letter to the Hausner community with “l’hitraot” – until we meet again – parting words that, in keeping with her 21-year commitment to Hausner, do not have the finality of goodbye. This fall, while we aren’t running into Ora in the halls every day, and we miss the warm energy and leadership of her daily presence on campus, her immense contribution remains woven into the very fabric of Gideon Hausner, and we continue to see her impact all around us.
From project managing the middle school’s relocation from San Jose, to being an assistant and Jewish Studies teacher, to curriculum development and leadership, not to mention parenting her three children through Hausner, Ora has worn too many hats to count! Nowhere is her legacy more tangible, however, than in the way she leveraged her dual background in social work and Jewish education to imbue Hausner with a commitment to social action that is neither a supplement nor an isolated program, but an essential part of the school’s unique Jewish character and integrative approach, starting in TK and continuing all the way up through eighth grade.
Of special note is the Avodah L’Olam (service to the world) project. To give meaning to the 7th graders’ collective coming of age, families contribute to the Avodah L’Olam fund in lieu of making traditional bar and bat mitzvah gifts. Students carefully consider how to best distribute funds among many worthy philanthropic causes. They learn about tzedakah and Jewish values, including visiting the sick, women’s rights, and educational equity to better inform their giving; they reflect on their own passions and research relevant organizations; they contact and interview the executive or development directors of nonprofits; and they formally present their findings and recommendations to their classmates.
Zach Smirin, a 2016 Hausner grad about to begin his junior year at the University of Chicago, recalls that Avodah L’Olam was “a deep dive into what it’s actually like to fundraise and into a particular interest in the world that we actually care about.” Zach chose to focus on climate change and deforestation, issues that remain important to him today. “The project was awesome,” he shares, “It felt good to actually be doing something.”
“We are devoting time to teaching kids to give to the world and become thoughtful, intentional philanthropists,” says Ora, who, in addition to teaching Avodah L’Olam with heart and soul, worked closely with then Jewish Studies Head Rabbi Noam Silverman to develop a consistent service project lifecycle – learning, action, reflection, celebration – and to introduce all-school community service days in 2009.
When asked about the legacy of her work at Hausner, Ora speaks to the continued growth of the school’s focus on community service, to teaching students the importance of Tikkun Olam in the Jewish community and beyond, and to developing the practice of giving Jewishly – thinking carefully about both personal and Jewish values before deciding where to give.
According to Ora, Hausner students “understand deeply what it means to give righteously and to help other people in the world.” Ora may have retired, but the light she brought with her to Hausner, as a parent, educator, and changemaker, is here to stay. And, luckily for us, “l’hitraot” was right; Ora will teach Avodah L’Olam again this year, so we’ll have her not just in the spirit of her legacy, but in person one day a week as well!