Featuring Morah Livnat
Aristotle once remarked the following words that resonate with High School Hebrew Chair Morah Ariella Livnat: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, it’s not an act, but a habit.” From a young age, Morah Livnat helped fellow students with their homework and appreciated “spreading knowledge.” Framed in her belief that “if I have something to give, I should give it,” Morah Livnat discovered teaching as her gift. Through her dedication to teaching students day in and day out at schools both in Israel and America, Morah Livnat has harnessed Aristotle’s words to make teaching “not an act, but a habit” that she can treasure and truly master.
Morah Livnat was born in Communist Romania. Therefore, her mother used to tell her that in order to do her best, “your choice is to either study or study.” As a result, during this time, Morah Livnat became a serious student. She cherished the memories she made at her Sunday school. Although she admitted that she in truth “did not learn much there,” it nonetheless “kept me strongly connected to Judaism.” Specifically, she remembered memorizing lengthy Jewish songs, though she “had no clue what it meant.” But for Morah Livnat, Sunday school was also about the social connections she made, as she nostalgically recalled connecting with three close friends at her Sunday school and getting “in trouble” together.
After going through ninth grade in Romania, Morah Livnat spent what would have been her tenth-grade year waiting for a visa to leave Romania. When she was sixteen, Morah Livnat finally made aliyah, immigration to Israel, with her mother. To assist in the process, the JOINT, a Jewish Organization, paid the Romanian government $5,000 for each person towards their move to Israel. Unfortunately, in hindsight, Morah Livnat saw the consequential nature of not being allowed to continue her schooling in Romania while waiting for her visa. Upon her arrival in Israel, she experienced a language barrier. Despite her proficiency in science and math, she “didn’t know the language.” Consequently, she struggled in Tanach and history classes, which were taught in Hebrew, when this could have been avoided with an extra year of preparation in tenth grade. Additionally, Morah Livnat found obstacles in a multitude of areas such as “clothes, manners, and culture shock.”
Soon, Morah Livnat realized that she would not adjust to this new culture at a standard school. Since there was a huge influx of Romanians making aliyah, she felt comfortable speaking Romanian and could easily set aside the need to learn Hebrew. Morah Livnat quickly decided to switch to the boarding school Haddasim, an Israeli school that offers classes for immigrants and “loved every minute of it.”
Reflecting on her junior and senior years in high school, Morah Livnat has learned that it is sometimes beneficial “to take it easy.” For example, while adjusting to the Israeli culture, she often frantically scribbled down notes in class only to find that she could not understand them back in her dorm, wasting both time and energy that could have been directed towards more productive areas. Although school is important, she said, “I could have spent more time with the people, staff, and friends at the boarding school to learn more about life and culture rather than be stuck in the academics.”
Throughout high school, Morah Livnat enjoyed math and biology above all other classes. Even as a young child, she had a passion for the medical field and dreamed of working in that area someday. In fact, she served as a paramedic’s instructor in the Israeli army. However, as a new immigrant, medicine was not a realistic field for Morah Livnat financially.
Although she would have loved to go into medicine, Morah Livnat attended Ben Gurion University where she received her BA degree in Education & Linguistics, received a Teacher Certificate, and continued to teach in Israel. Morah Livnat then moved to the United States in 2002 and would go on to receive a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership, a milestone she considers a big achievement. In many respects, this second major move in her life felt as if she was “going back in some ways to Europe, in terms of cultural shock.” Beyond language, Morah Livnat experienced noticeable differences between Israeli and American culture. While she attested that “Israelis are very straightforward,” she often wondered why so many Americans have a lighter, friendlier approach and “smile at me [even though] I’m a stranger.”
Although Morah Livnat grew up in Romania, she teaches Hebrew today, which is her second language. Nonetheless, she sees this as a “benefit,” not a deterrent, because, “I understand what goes through the process because I learned the language myself.” Specifically, Morah Livnat described Hebrew teachers she had in her early years in Israel who were entirely focused on the grammar of the language. From then on, Morah Livnat developed her firm belief that linguistic education is “not about grammar only, and it must be [and] it has to be in context.”
Since she moved to the U.S.A. in 2002, Morah Livnat has worked at two schools in addition to AJA. While she “loved” her previous schools, Morah Livnat came to AJA three years ago looking for not only a more religious environment but also a community that championed “the opportunity to [fully] shape and raise kids.” As a K-12 Modern Othrtodox school, AJA fits Morah Livnat’s needs of nurturing kids “since they are really young” and exposing her to a more religious environment, which, she said, “really speaks to me.”
Inside the classroom, Morah Livnat includes a variety of teaching styles, such as frontal lessons and hands-on, creative activities. For instance, Morah Livnat added that she recently had a class that learned about fashion through the years. To conclude the unit, students needed “to dress up [and] present about who they represent.” Additionally, each group presented a food dish from their time, on which the class voted to select one recipe to cook in class the following week. Inspired by her passion for cooking, Morah Livnat sets aside a lesson at the end of each unit towards cooking to add to the “hands-on, learning for yourself” model of her classroom.
In addition to teaching, Morah Livnat works as the Hebrew Chair of the High School. Therefore, she looks “at the bigger picture” and analyzes, “where you can be versus where you want to be in Hebrew.” Morah Livnat strives to adapt and accommodate students’ varying goals in Hebrew to “provide something for everyone.”
Throughout her three years at AJA thus far, Morah Livnat’s time has been highlighted by memorable moments. For instance, this year, her class worked together to get her a cooking appliance as a gift for Chanukah to be used in class. Morah Livnat found this “moving” because “every five weeks or six weeks, after every chapter, we cook something” related to the unit, so she appreciated the thoughtful, personalized nature of the gift. Additionally, Morah Livnat felt moved by a time in her first year at AJA when students expressed, “We really felt that you cared. Not only did you teach us, but you actually cared.” Finally, Morah Livnat loves hearing students speaking Hebrew in the halls. Although “some of us don’t understand [Hebrew],” it “warms my heart” to know that students “use Hebrew outside of the class.”
Outside of the classroom, in addition to cooking and baking, Morah Livnat also enjoys interior design. To express this passion, “I usually help [my friends who sell their homes] to make little stages.” Morah Livnat appreciates design, loves to refurbish furniture, and treasures reading books.
Throughout her career and acclimation to new countries and cultures, Morah Livnat has been guided by key role models and mentors. Firstly, her mother has always been an inspiration, especially in how she “worked relentlessly for the Jewish community in Romania.” Historically, she found a role model in Nicholas Winton, who rescued children from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. And finally, Morah Livnat is inspired by Iron Man, who “creates his own superpowers.” Trying to emulate the unique qualities of leadership, empathy, and humility that these role models exhibit, Morah Livnat has gained experiences over her career which shaped her teaching to the level it is today.