Austin Jewish Academy Alumnus Returns as Teacher

Community News, The Jewish Outlook

Nov 23, 2020

Ezra Hankin with AJA second graders. Credit: Kelly Hill

By Mara Stern

Ezra Hankin is thankful for the foundation that Austin Jewish Academy provided during his time as an elementary student. The community inspired him to continue the pursuit of education, and he is now back at AJA as a student teacher in second grade. 

“Austin Jewish Academy gave me a strong sense of community and Jewish identity,” Hankin said. “The feeling of being part of a community was very important, especially during my early years.”

The project-based learning approach to education was an important factor in Hankin’s learning. In his classes, he felt that all areas of study helped him to build a greater understanding of self. 

“My personality usually came out more during song sessions. Whether it was Tefillah, Kabbalat Shabbat, or music class, I loved the sense of belonging that we all derived from taking part in a shared song,” he said.

Hankin remembers important educators who shaped his life throughout his time at AJA, whose impact is still with him. 

“I have this wonderful memory of our music teacher, Harold Messinger, allowing our class to perform ‘Here Comes the Sun’ during a concert that took place at Agudas Achim. We were all so excited and nervous, but I remember that it gave us such a sense of importance and ownership at a very young age. Moreh Harold was also the teacher who wrote the iconic AJA song,” said Hankin.

“Marnie Osofsky, we called her Ms. O, was my fourth grade teacher. She was such a respectful, good natured person. Always calm and gentle, she taught us about life through playful stories and catch phrases. When she wanted to answer a question affirmatively, she would say, ‘Soytanly!’ and at the end of the day her closing line was consistently, ‘Alright, it’s that time again!’ As a 10 year old, I thought she was hilarious and I think I still would today,” he added.

Hankin’s desire to pursue teaching started in sixth grade. He attended a public middle school after AJA, and remembers the moment he realized teaching thoughtfully, was something he wanted to pursue. 

“I was very excited to take a percussion class for the first time after leaving AJA. Unexpectedly, I had a teacher who was always extremely angry, and truly scared us all very much. Unlike the teachers I had previously experienced at AJA, this man did not have the best interest of the students at heart. It was such a shame, because we all started out so enthusiastic about learning to drum,” he said.

“Ultimately, it was a learning experience,” Hankin added. “I learned that there were people in the profession who, for whatever reason, were not like Ms. O and Moreh Harold. No educator is perfect, but in that moment, I felt that I wanted to pursue teaching in order to create a safe and supportive environment in which students could learn. I wanted them to feel nurtured, the way Ms. Osofsky made us feel.”

When it was time in Hankin’s program to find a placement for student teaching, he jumped at the opportunity to continue his connection with AJA. 

“The reasons for wanting to complete my student teaching at Austin Jewish Academy go without saying. I feel incredibly grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to return to my elementary alma mater, a school that continues to offer a strong, holistic learning experience to students. A school with so many great memories,” he said.

AJA educators care about education and thoughtfully and purposefully provide a learning environment for all students to thrive. The school is particularly inspired, though, to have a teacher who is continuing intergenerational leadership. ■

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