Rabbi David Eliach, a 1992 Covenant Award recipient and the former principal of the Yeshivah of Flatbush, is 98 years young. Retired for almost 25 years, Eliach still visits Flatbush several days a week, to mentor teachers.
Sally Grazi-Shatzkes, a 2019 Covenant Award recipient, the Director of the Arts Department at Yeshivah of Flatbush, and an alumna of the school, is one of the myriad teachers Rabbi Eliach has mentored. And though he retired a year after Grazi-Shatzkes started high school, Eliach’s reputation has always loomed large in her mind. “He’s a true mensch,” she said.
Photographed by Zion Ozeri at the Yeshivah of Flatbush on December 9, 2019
“Zion was taking pictures of us while we were talking,” Grazi-Shatzkes explained. “We were learning a piece of Torah together, and we were also talking about my son, who has special needs. Rabbi Eliach was talking about the importance of treating each child according to their way. It had been a really hard day for me, personally, and he probably didn’t realize what an impact our conversation had.”
“To me, the most important approach in education is to be a human being, a nice person,” Rabbi Eliach shared. “You cannot only teach text to your students; you have to also teach them how to become a better person. That is the main goal of education.”
“In the Witness Theater program, participants often ask me if they are doing a good job,” Grazi-Shatzkes said. “They say, ‘We don’t remember all the details! What if we miss something?’ They know the stories they’re privileged to hear from survivors are precious. But I tell them to just relax and be present. If you are present and listening, the experience will change you. My parents, my first mentors, are both really good listeners. They took the time to listen to me.”
“The first thing you have to do as an educator is love your students,” Eliach said. “They are young, they are looking for guidance, and you can provide that. But you have to like them. If you don’t like them, you’re not going to be a very good teacher. It’s essential to have a positive relationship with the children you’re teaching. Sally is a wonderful mechanechet (educator) because she understands kids, and she understands what it means to relate to people—old and young. She is a natural.”
“When I was young, I studied at a yeshiva in Hebron, in Israel,” Eliach recounted. “Every day we sat and learned mussar for a half hour. You sit down, and you think about who you are, what you did that day—the good things and the bad things—and how you can improve. We did that every day, for four years. I still do that now.”
By Adina Kay-Gross, for The Covenant Foundation