Embarking On A New Chapter At Sha’arei Zion: A Girl’s High School

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When the first Bukharian immigrants set foot in Queens, they never would have envisioned religious meccas of education and spiritual growth in their midst. The hopes and dreams of the community evolve each day, and at Sha’arei Zion, the process continues to flourish. The Board of Directors at Yeshiva Sha’arei Zion have embarked on a new mission – a girl’s high school. Following an extensive and careful search, and with the blessing of Rav Yitzchak Yisraeli, Bukharian Chief Rabbi of the USA and Canada, Mrs. Rina Zerykier was chosen as the menahelet tasked with undertaking the new venture.

Mrs. Zerykier’s Jewish educational experience stems over twenty years. Zerykier is the founder of the consulting firm, Think Consulting, the founding principal of Shulamith High School for Girls, in Cedarhurst, NY, and was a longstanding teacher at Yeshivah of Flatbush Joel Braverman High School. At Shulamith, Mrs. Zerykier created an environment of Torah, kedusha, academic excellence, and personal growth for their girls. Mrs. Zerykier’s commitment to 21st century innovative learning, intellectual curiosity, and broad thinking about curriculum planning and design, inspired students and teachers alike to improve and redefine education, and most importantly, themselves. In addition to her direct experience developing a curriculum that supports adolescent girls’ academic, social, and spiritual development, Mrs. Zerykier brings both the understanding of and experience with the planning, marketing, and recruitment processes for a start-up school. Her excellent communications skills will allow her to advance the mission and program within Sha’arei Zion to transform the dream into reality; educating each student from head to heart.

The Bukharian Jewish Link presents a one-on-one dialogue with the esteemed educator.

BJL: To understand an individual best, we look at their mentors and role models, who do you emulate?

RZ: I am a curious person and have many role models and mentors.  It has barely been a week since the Jewish world was hit with the loss of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks zt”l. His lessons in leadership are a great source of inspiration. At his levaya, Gila Sacks, a daughter of the niftar, remarked, “The greatest gift my father gave me was the belief that I was not to be like him, but to be the best version of myself.”  This task is one of life’s greatest challenges and ultimately its greatest gift. As educators, it is our challenge to bring out the strengths of our students and help them become their best selves.

With four sons at Yeshiva Ketana of Long Island, I also have the privilege to interact with the yeshiva’s menahel, Rabbi Tzvi Krigsman, a true mechanech.  His effervescent positive energy infuses his yeshiva with a joyful spirit.  Always with a smile, Rabbi Krigsman masters the balance of kindness and firm direction.  It is clear why the children very much show him respect. 

BJL: Building a high school from the ground up is nothing new for you; does a similar mindset apply in our community?

RZ: There are certain key elements that are universal to establishing any school.  Broad curriculum goals, elective courses, faculty recruitment, innovative, engaging teaching methods, extensive extracurricular programs and social-emotional programing. What we intend to do at Sha’arei Tzion is take those elements and customize them to this community. The curriculum will include uniquely Sephardic halachot, minhagim, hashkafot, and history.  Finally, it is the girls that really define the school.  Here, the girls will create a sense of belonging for each other – a sense of community and family.

BJL: What are some highlights for the new girl’s high school?

RZ: Torah will inspire everything that we undertake.  Our goal is to help our girls become bnot torah, and the future of klal Yisrael.   The goal is to create an atmosphere of kedusha, intellectual curiosity and belonging, so that each girl is inspired to reach her potential.

BJL: How do you think you could benefit the Bukharian Jewish community of Queens?

RZ: It takes a village to raise a child, and it certainly takes a community to raise a teen in the 21st century! We hope to fully integrate with the community. From mother-daughter brunches, community challah bakes, father-daughter learning, community chesed outreach programs, and to inviting rabbonim to impart their wisdom to our girls. We believe that the community will play a central role in the girls’ education.

BJL: Have any families already expressed an interest in the new school?

RZ: There is tremendous interest in the initiative, and we are going full steam ahead with our third parent community event scheduled for next motza’ei shabbat, November 21 at Beth Gavriel. We have begun the painstaking work to carefully set up the school for its launch for the September, 2021 school year, iy”h.

BJL: How do you envision the high school evolving under your leadership?

RZ: There are many wonderful stages to the birth of a new school.  Just as we cherish the different stages of a child’s development, from infancy to their adolescence, we similarly cherish each stage of growth and development in a new school. 

There is incredible beauty and intimacy to the formative years, just as there is energy and excitement as the school grows to house four full grades. This is a momentous occasion; one day, you will look back and tell your children, “I remember when…” Pause. Appreciate its significance.  We are making history together.

In our next issue, we will delve into Mrs. Zerykier’s background, connection to Sephardic world Jewry, and COVID-19 experiences.

 By Shabsie Saphirstein