Celebrating our Educator of the Year
On March 3, the Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s Coalition for Jewish Learning honored Gan Ami educator Debbie Silberman with the Grinspoon CJL Jewish Educator of the Year Award. With family, former and current colleagues, students, and parents in attendance, Debbie was recognized not only for her more than 30 years of service to the children and families of our community, but more importantly, for her unique ability to build a foundation for children’s lives through joy, creativity, and a love of Judaism.
Debbie began her career teaching kindergarten and preschool in Chicago before moving back to Milwaukee to teach at the JCC when it was located on Prospect Avenue downtown. After taking some time off from teaching so that she and her husband, David, could start their own family, Debbie began teaching 4-year olds at what was then called the JCC Early Childhood Program housed in the former Congregation Beth El ner Tamid in Mequon. For more than 20 years, Debbie brought her energy, creativity, and consistency into her Gan Ami-Mequon classroom. Five years ago, Debbie joined the team at Gan Ami Early Childhood Education in Whitefish Bay where she now teaches 3-year-olds.
Debbie’s ability to establish year-long classroom routines has offered budding learners a secure base from which to explore new ideas and concepts. She channels her creativity and sense of humor to make every moment an engaging learning opportunity with her trademarks like Mr. Pointer and her magical surprise box. In Debbie’s classroom, Mr. Plus brings mathematical concepts and numeracy to snack time. New spaces are constantly being created to bring learning alive – exploring concepts like polling and democracy by having a voting booth in the classroom, working with her class to build a temple so that the children could act out the Hanukkah story, and inviting the class to explore a different country through an interactive “travel” experience.
Debbie exudes a love for Judaism that radiates to all who know her. She makes every Shabbat and holiday magical whether she’s leading a song, guiding children and families in the practice of traditions, or visiting the dollar store to find the perfect materials for a holiday craft project. For many years at Gan Ami Mequon, Debbie was the songleader for Shabbat Sing and introduced a generation of children to a Dinosaur knocking on their door or inviting them to twist like a challah while they “Listen and Do.” In recent years, she has offered her leadership to create a special afternoon Shabbat sing-a-long for the 3s and 4s of Gan Ami Whitefish Bay.
Anyone who meets Debbie picks up on her unconditional love for her family – her husband, David, of 42 years, her children, Cori and Adam, and her grandchildren Erev, Mattai, Anjali, and Lukah. Through her example, she has modeled good parenting and joyful living for many of the parents that have been a part of her classroom over the years. Her reassuring demeanor not only offers a sense of security to the children in her care but also to the parents that are navigating the everchanging needs of their children. Debbie has also mentored many teachers who have grown and learned from her powerful and kind example.
To know Debbie Silberman is to know her neshama, her soul, which is beautiful, kind, generous, full of joy and laughter and enough outrageousness to keep anyone on their toes. She is the person everyone would want as a teacher for their children, and quite honestly, for themselves. Our Jewish community is better for her work as an educator to many generations of our young children. Kol Hakavod, Debbie, and thank you. We offer our love and congratulations on this outstanding achievement.