The life of a teacher can be tough for anyone. A teacher must have patience and discipline especially around middle school and high school students, who can sometimes be a handful.
Jerry Rotenberg, a Denver native, has dedicated his life to educating sixth through 12th graders in Judaic studies.
He is also a regular Torah reader for BMH-BJ.
Currently a teacher at the Denver Jewish Day School, Rotenberg has seen and done it all when it comes to teaching.
He began his teaching career even before graduating high school.
“When I was a teenager I began helping out in Sam Friedman’s Beth Joseph high school classroom. He was a wonderful teacher and a great mentor of mine who taught me what it was like to connect with the students.”
Beth Joseph was home to the afternoon school where Rotenberg’s long teaching career began.
“I met many of the great mentors of my life there, such as Ken Hailpern, Rabbi Ivan Geller and many others.”
Beyond these great mentors in his life, there was one man that Rotenberg met who set him on the path to becoming an educator and teacher.
“The one man that really changed things for me was Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, founder of the National Jewish Outreach Program.”
Rotenberg took Buchwald’s class along with Ken Hailpern at a CAJE conference held at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
“He explained the beauty of teaching in a Jewish school and the importance of it. The way he explained it not only changed my outlook on teaching in a Jewish school, but it changed my outlook on life.”
Rotenberg attended CSU in Fort Collins for one year before transferring to CU Boulder
“I did many things in my life before becoming a full time teacher; however I knew that I always wanted to do it.”
While teaching at the Beth Joseph afternoon school Rotenberg first met Dr. Norman Fisher, the head of Community Talmud Torah at the time.
Working as the seventh and eighth grade teacher, Rotenberg learned many skills from Fisher that “I still use to this day.”
Around 27 years ago Rocky Mountain Hebrew Academy (RMHA) moved into the Beth Joseph building and Rotenberg was introduced to a future longtime colleague, Bryan Hay, who recently retired as the Denver Jewish Day School’s upper division head.
“He was helping move the school into the building. I didn’t know a lot about RMHA in those days. Mr. Hay explained to me what it was about and the values behind it.”
RMHA principal Dr. Ray Anderton and Rabbi Meir Mark also became mentors in Rotenberg’s life. They hired him to work part time at RMHA, teaching the eighth and ninth grade Judaic classes.
“From day one I just got hooked onto this school. It was an amazing experience to be part of a day school.”
Rotenberg wasn’t totally new to the day school scene. He attended Hillel Academy from kindergarten until eighth grade.
“RMHA was different. The teachers were dedicated, the students were wonderful and I just fell in love with this place. And 27 years later I’m still here.”
Rotenberg understood the importance of the day school and Jewish education.
“I understand what a world would be like without a Jewish education; I understand what it’s like to be learning Jewish values five days a week.”
Rotenberg has consistently maintained very close relationships with many of his students and this has translated into lifelong connections.
“I have had the good fortune of attending weddings of former students and this itself is a blessing.
“Being in the classroom has given me the ability to connect to students better than anything else in the world and it means a lot to me.”
Rotenberg believes that he will teach for the rest of his life. He loves what he does and he wants to continue it.
“I don’t even know what the word retirement means.”
Rotenberg believes that the best way to teach students and get to know them on a personal level is to let them be who they are.
“I respect their opinions and let them speak and show them the same level of respect that they show me. Let a kid be a kid.”
At DJDS there is a tradition of the out-of-town Shabbaton. Seventh-12th graders gather at a summer camp and give their final farewell to the seniors.
Within this overlying tradition there is a smaller one: Rotenberg speaks individually to all of the seniors of that year.
To be able to know a group of 20 or so students every year well enough to speak to each one and shed tears over their departure from the school really speaks to how Rotenberg is able to connect to these students on a personal level year after year.
“I never would have been able to do it without the great people that I have met and the support from my wife, Shelly, and my kids. I don’t know if I could have stayed with it. I love where I am. I love what I am doing, and I don’t want any of that to change.”
Copyright © 2016 by the Intermountain Jewish News