They may not wear capes, but the graduates of the Wurzweiler School of Social Work-Sara Schenirer program are true heroes.
That’s because they’ve dedicated the past two years of their lives studying to become outstanding social workers and are now ready to apply their training and skills to help the most vulnerable in their communities. In their capacity as social workers, they will not only change and improve lives but even, at times, possibly save lives.
The program, designed to provide social work education and training to Orthodox women, many of whom will work within Orthodox communities, is the first of its kind, and it will help fill a tremendous need. And these women are truly up to the task, with an energy, enthusiasm and dedication clearly evident throughout the graduation. “I’m so excited and have been so happy with this program,” said one graduate. “The instructors were excellent. There was so much wisdom, and they wanted the best for us,” said another.
This summer, the joint program celebrated its first annual graduation celebration at the Sara Schenirer Institute in Brooklyn, New York. The procession of graduates was led by Dr. Danielle Wozniak, the Dorothy and David I. Schachne Dean of Wurzweiler School of Social Work, and Esti Coates, administrator of the joint partnership program. Mrs. Baila Halpern, Sara Schenirer Director of Social Work, shared opening remarks, paraphrasing the “Shehecheyanu” blessing in Hebrew, which thanks G-d for new and exciting events and experiences. Rabbi Elazar Meisels, dean of Sara Schenirer, spoke about dedicating one’s life to gemilas chasadim [acts of kindness] and how “we are celebrating a group of students who are dedicated to a life of gemilas chesed.” Dr. Wozniak, in her address to the graduates, expressed her profound pride in the graduates, adding “you are entering a profession to see what others miss” and reflecting on how the graduates are not only changing this generation but future generations as well.
The audience was honored by the presence of New York State Assemblymember Simcha Eichenstein, who presented a certificate from his office congratulating the graduates on their achievement. He spoke warmly about the program and expressed his desire for everyone in the community to appreciate the value of such strong degree programs where students can enjoy the warmth, support and religious environment of Sara Schenirer and the academic excellence of Wurzweiler.
The guest speaker was Dr. David Pelcovitz, the Gwendolyn and Joseph Straus Chair in Jewish Education and a popular professor in the program. He commended the graduates’ incredible choice of a profession that will “help people see that the hill is less steep.”
Rabbi Yosef Kalinsky, dean of the men’s undergraduate Torah studies program at Yeshiva University, and a key figure in orchestrating the partnership between Wurzweiler and Sara Schenirer, was also present. “All of those in the room at graduation shared in the accomplishments of each individual graduate as well as the collective excitement generated by our confidence in this talented cohort to make a dramatic impact on their communities,” said Rabbi Kalinsky.
The program has, by all accounts, proven to be a tremendous success, and the graduates’ communities look forward to the successes they will have with those they will help. “These graduates,” Dr. Wozniak said during her speech, “will alter the course of history.” Ester Kahan, class representative, spoke eloquently of how she continues to be inspired by her fellow classmates’ “essence of true giving” and how “being a giver allows us to experience ultimate pleasure.” She ended her address with a beautiful sentiment undoubtedly shared by all of her fellow graduates: “I’m in it to give.”