By Cindy Mindell
WEST HARTFORD – Most congregants of Beth El Temple, no matter what age, have learned something from Sidra and/or Marvin Sperling. After a combined 60-plus-year tenure inspiring children and adults with their love of Judaism, the couple will be honored on Shabbat, May 17 for their commitment to the temple community.
Both Sidra and Marvin were born in Hartford to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. Sidra’s commitment to Jewish education began in fourth grade, as the only female student at the Yeshiva of Hartford (now Bess and Paul Sigel Hebrew Academy in Bloomfield). “My parents were not traditional or observant,” she says, “but that experience inspired me to be more involved in Judaism.” She began teaching at age 17, going on to earn a degree in Hebrew culture and elementary education from New York University. After graduating and moving back to Hartford, she taught at The Emanuel Synagogue on Woodland Street.
Marvin earned a law degree from Boston University and returned to the Hartford area. The couple married on his 25th birthday in 1955, settling in Meriden and raising three children. Sidra taught at Beth Hillel Synagogue in Bloomfield for 15 years. When the family moved from Meriden to West Hartford, she joined the Beth El Temple religious-school faculty. She taught for two years at the Clay Arsenal Elementary School in Hartford and was a substitute teacher at Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Hartford for two decades. Now, at 82, she counts among her Beth El students two and three generations of the same families.
Marvin retired from his law practice 20 years ago and substitute-taught at Beth El once or twice before taking on a regular Sunday gig at the religious school. Both Sperlings have taught Hebrew for adult b’nai-mitzvah classes, tutored children and adults in Hebrew, and led youth services at Beth El on High Holidays and Shabbat. They served together on the temple’s Art Show and Mitzvah Day Committees, cooked meals for Beth El community lunches, and volunteered in Jesse’s Garden, a community garden sponsored by the synagogue. Marvin was a member of the temple’s Board of Directors, Education Committee and Ritual Committees. Sidra is a past president of the temple’s Sisterhood. The Sperlings are also active outside of the synagogue, reading to children at a Bloomfield preschool and helping school-age children in Hartford’s public schools learn to read.
“Sidra and Marvin are true examples of what we hope for in teachers: knowledgeable, child-centered, compassionate,” says Rabbi Howard Rosenbaum, director of Lifelong Learning and Programming at Beth El. “They not only taught our students the most important traditions and prayers, but they did it in such a loving, supportive way.”
Two of the Sperlings’ three children are also educators: their daughter has taught special education for 30 years in El Paso, Tex., and their youngest son is a retired police officer now teaching law enforcement.
“The children have to know that you care about them with everything, not just when they’re in Hebrew school, so I always try to go support them when they’re doing something outside class in synagogue,” Sidra says. “I also try to encourage them to love Judaism by letting them know that I love what I do. More than what’s in their books, I want them to leave Hebrew school knowing that it’s great to be Jewish. If they don’t like coming to Hebrew school, they’ll hate being Jewish, and so I want to inspire them to do good deeds, continue their education.”
In fact, the Sperlings have seen a positive trend over the last five years at Beth El. “After their bar mitzvah day, you wouldn’t see the kids again, but now they’re staying and getting involved in the community,” Sidra says. “Almost all 7th-graders have continued, even after their bar or bat mitzvah.”
Now looking back on 65 years of teaching nursery school children to septuagenarians, Sidra speaks like a natural-born educator. “Besides my family and friends and my health, teaching is my next favorite thing,” she says. “It’s been one of the biggest perks of my life.”
Sidra and Marvin Sperling will be honored on Shabbat, May 17, 9:30 a.m, at Beth El Temple, 2626 Albany Ave. in West Hartford. To RSVP for the luncheon following services call (860) 233-9696 or email email@example.com.
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