Hadar Bet Yaakov is Queens’ newest girls’ yeshivah high school, set to open this September, and they’re excited about showcasing their school’s essential cornerstone of growth: teachers.
Mrs. Shaindel Simes is HBY’s Chumash teacher, and she’s been inspiring girls for over 20 years in New York area yeshivos, as well as in Ottawa, Canada, where she created workshop-based classes, regional Shabbatons, and taught women’s groups. A product of Forest Hills and local Queens yeshivos, Mrs. Simes was a treasured teacher in Torah Academy, Yeshivat Ohr Haiim, and Bnos Malka. Wanting to pave a Torah path in uncharted territory, she moved with her husband to help grow Torah in a small Jewish community in Ottawa, where they lived for 15+ years, teaching multiple grades and creating much of their high school programming.
Some of the programming she instituted was her weekly Smores Workshops for high school girls, where she started with a Chazal, expounded upon it so students had a solid academic understanding, and then engaged in lively discussion to enable girls to bring what might have remained an esoteric message back home.
“We’d discuss whatever Chazal I brought in for that week, and after I made sure the girls understood it, we discussed how it played out in our lives. So, for instance, we looked at the Rashi that said how Hashem made sure that Yosef was surrounded by good smells as he was taken down to Mitzrayim, learned it inside the text, and then tried to understand how that idea plays out in our own lives. I wanted the girls to be amazed at how Yosef – even when he was being taken down to Mitzrayim to be a slave – that even then, Hashem is with him and Hashem is giving him good. It’s true, Yosef could have focused on the tragedy, but Rashi comes to tell us that Hashem made sure to give him a good smell. So, we have a choice: Do we focus on the bad or focus on the “sweet smells” and the nisim (miracles) that are with us daily? That’s what I want my students to understand. I want them to internalize and understand every pasuk and every Chazal they learn as a life lesson, and really let those lessons affect them.”
The workshops were named “Smores” as a reminder to her students that there is “something more” to life than its shiny exterior. The engaged discussion was always followed up by a project of some sort that the girls could take home with them. Her students recorded the learning and activities on learning sheets, personalized everything with their own projects, and made a book of their experience at the end of the year.
“There were so many off-shoots of our workshops. One year, when discussing the inherent simchah in every mitzvah, the follow-up activity was skit-writing that then ended up turning into a class play that the girls performed for the community. “Mrs. Simes recounts: “That was how our yearly plays began.”
Mrs. Simes also initiated Ottawa’s participation in the Upstate Girls Shabbaton, where girls from Upstate New York, Canada, and other small communities joined together for chizuk and growth.
“There were so many relationships forged in those Shabbatons,” she emphasized. “It’s so important to be connected with other people who are like you, who have the same experiences of being frum in a small town. There’s a girl who’s living in Toronto who’s a good few years past high school, and she still makes sure to go to that Shabbaton every year,” she smiled.
What’s Mrs. Simes’ most important goal as a teacher? She wants every student to know that, first and foremost, Hashem loves her and cares for her. “I want every girl to know that Hashem loves her, and that that should be her lens for everything she sees and does in her life. There’s no need for scare tactics or doom and gloom – just realization that Hashem loves us and gives us strength to do what’s right. When the girls realize that, it also gives them a sense of ownership for Yiddishkeit – they’re the ones who are in charge.”
How does Mrs. Simes bring the energy from workshop discussions into a daily academic classroom that focuses on Chumash? “I love to learn,” she explains. “I always tell my students: ‘Look for the neon sign’ because the Torah is filled with neon signs of the messages Hashem’s trying to tell us. We just have to stop and look.”
By Shoshanna Friedman