Meet the Mentor: Debbie Jaffe

When thinking about who to feature first in our Meet the Mentors series, it was a “no brainer.” Many of you may not know that founder of Hebrew Helpers Todd Shotz and mentor Debbie Jaffe grew up together in Philadelphia.
Debbie Jaffe, a Philadelphia native, met Hebrew Helpers founder Todd Shotz in 2nd Grade, but it wasn’t until a few years later when the two were in Hebrew School together that they solidified their lifelong friendship, as Debbie described when we sat down to chat about being a Hebrew Helpers Mentor, and life in general.
Todd and Debbie at age 13 attending a friend’s Bat Mitzvah (We won’t tell you what year!)

Interview by Laurie Gross

Q: Where did the journey to becoming a Hebrew Helpers mentor begin?

A: It was really through a program at Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Philadelphia called “Torah Club.” We would go every Saturday morning and help out, and in return the synagogue honored us with aliyot at different holidays. It was such a unique program. The program allowed us to read Torah at age 10, and by 13, after our Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, we were able to assist; and by 15, we were teaching Torah to our younger peers. It sounds pretty nerdy, I know, but we got these amazing skills that are now serving us very well.

Q: So your mentoring career started early… what led you to pursue it further?

A: While living in New York after college, I began teaching Hebrew at a new synagogue in the village called the New Shul, where Todd had started the Bar/Bat Mitzvah program. From there, I went on to do Bar/Bat Mitzvah teaching at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun on the Upper West Side as well as teach privately for families who were not working in conjunction with a synagogue. It was at this time I realized the benefit of working one-on-one with students and how special that could be. So, it was a natural fit when I moved from New York to LA, that I teach Torah here. Of course, Todd was already here (in LA) and teaching; I have a way of following him.

Q: What qualities do you think make a good mentor?

A: My first thought is as a mentor you need to make learning fun. Only through having a good time while teaching and learning, do you really connect with a student and they will come back for more. I also think about who the student is and adjust to that. Flexibility is crucial when working with students. Ultimately, I want my students to be proud of themselves, so I try to give them as much positive reinforcement as possible.

NEED TO UPDATE THIS CAPTION WITH DESCRIPTION INCLUDING STUDENT NAME

Q: You are so passionate about your teaching. What motivates you week in, and week out, teaching students all over Los Angeles?

A: I wouldn’t call myself observant and I don’t expect my students to be, but I do observe in my own way. For instance, I don’t use email on Shabbat. The kids always ask if I observe Shabbat, and I tell them the truth. Not using email may seem like one small thing, but it makes a big impact on making Shabbat different from the rest of the week. I also really want my students to know the basics of Judaism and then they can choose how they want to observe. Without the knowledge, they wouldn’t know where to begin. I feel a feel a great responsibility in helping them to become more knowledgeable.

Q: When you are not wearing your mentor hat, what do you like to do?

A: I am an actor. When I’m not teaching Hebrew and Jewish studies, I am auditioning, taking classes, on set, or with one of my theatre companies. (Debbie has many TV and film credits to her name including featured roles on popular TV series including “NCIS,” “Parenthood,” and “House of Lies.”)

Q: One of the special qualities about celebrating a Bar/Bat Mitzvah service through Hebrew Helpers is that the family can tailor it to the student. What is the most unusual or unique place you’ve officiated a service?

A: On a mountain in Aspen was the most unique. We rode up a chairlift to get to the service! It was so beautiful. Afterwards, the family had a super casual barbeque, complete with potato sack races!

Q: Where has your favorite private service location been?

A: I have had the great opportunity to travel with several families to officiate Bar/Bat Mitzvah services in Israel. What could be more perfect than reading Torah in the middle of Jerusalem?! But I have learned that any place can be powerful and meaningful for the family, from a nightclub, to a living room, to a backyard.

Q: Is there anything else you would want people to know about you as a Hebrew Helper Mentor?

A: I love teaching in general, but I especially love that my students are learning Torah trope, so they have the lifelong skill of reading from the Torah. I don’t just give them a recording to memorize; once they know the trope, they can read from any part of the Torah! I have a blast with these kids and their families. It’s a pretty incredible job!!

NEED TO UPDATE THIS CAPTION WITH DESCRIPTION INCLUDING STUDENT NAME

Q: One of the special qualities about celebrating a Bar/Bat Mitzvah service through Hebrew Helpers is that the family can tailor it to the student. What is the most unusual or unique place you’ve officiated a service?

A: On a mountain in Aspen was the most unique. We rode up a chairlift to get to the service! It was so beautiful. Afterwards, the family had a super casual barbeque, complete with potato sack races!

Q: Where has your favorite private service location been?

A: I have had the great opportunity to travel with several families to officiate Bar/Bat Mitzvah services in Israel. What could be more perfect than reading Torah in the middle of Jerusalem?! But I have learned that any place can be powerful and meaningful for the family, from a nightclub, to a living room, to a backyard.

Q: Is there anything else you would want people to know about you as a Hebrew Helper Mentor?

A: I love teaching in general, but I especially love that my students are learning Torah trope, so they have the lifelong skill of reading from the Torah. I don’t just give them a recording to memorize; once they know the trope, they can read from any part of the Torah! I have a blast with these kids and their families. It’s a pretty incredible job!!

NEED TO UPDATE THIS CAPTION WITH DESCRIPTION INCLUDING STUDENT NAME
We wish a Mazel Tov to the many families who celebrated a Bar/Bat Mitzvah service with us in the fall of 2015.
Yoni Fogelman surrounded by his family and mentor Nachum Peterseil as he reads from the Torah during a beautiful service in Simi Valley
Jake Berger receiving words of wisdom from his dad as he becomes a Bar Mitzvah
Josh Glazer at the Western Wall as he becomes a Bar Mitzvah
The Hirsch Family singing joyfully at their son Emet’s Bar Mitzvah at Beit Shmuel

Want new articles before they get published
Subscribe to our Awesome Newsletter.