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Making Your Teacher Proud

04/20/2022 10:26:54 AM


Rabbi Steven Folberg

Dear Friends,

A Rosh Hashanah sermon that I delivered a number of years ago explored the bonds of mutual respect and mutual affection that – in the best of circumstances, at least – exist between teachers and their students. In that sermon, I retold a story about John Wheeler, of blessed memory, a brilliant physicist who was for many years was on the UT faculty. According to the story, a young person once asked Professor Wheeler if he was disappointed that he had never won the Nobel Prize in Physics. His response was unforgettable. "No, I'm not disappointed, because I've experienced something better than winning the Nobel Prize. Several of my students have won Nobel prizes."

The greatest gift a true teacher can receive is seeing their students flourishing and succeeding.

The story comes to mind because on Friday night, April 29, I will have the pleasure of introducing you to a former student of mine who is making her mark in the world in some remarkable ways.

When I was a young, Assistant Rabbi, just out of school, serving Temple Beth-El in Great Neck, New York, I worked with a girl named Gillian Apfel, as she studied to become a bat mitzvah, and later on, to progress toward Confirmation in my ninth grade class.

Gillian Apfel

Years later, at my farewell service in 1991, just a month or so before driving to Austin to begin my tenure at CBI, Gillian delivered a touching speech. She expressed the good wishes of the middle school and high school kids that I had taught during my six years at the congregation.

Fast-forward to the year 2022. After earning her undergraduate degree at Yale University, followed by her Law Degree at Harvard University, Gillian served as a corporate litigator for number of years, but soon  followed her passion for Tikkun Olam (mending the world) and social justice by working for the International Rescue Committee, assisting refugees, asylees, and victims of human trafficking.

Following that, she moved to the United States Department of State. In her 15-year Foreign Service career, she has helped others through consular work, crisis response, refugee admissions, human resources, and equal opportunity counseling. She is committed to diversity and inclusion in the institution. Her overseas postings include Jamaica, Thailand, Iraq, Canada, and Italy.

Ms. Apfel reached out to me several months ago to let me know that she was going to be speaking at UT, and she offered to speak at CBI, as well. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity! Among other topics, she will discuss her founding of PROJECT FLAME, which seeks to connect engager the American Jewish community in discussions regarding historical antisemitism in the US Department of State (DOS), as well as  current DOS initiatives of interest to American Jews related to antisemitism, the Holocaust, and international religious freedom; and DOS career opportunities.

I'm also delighted that Olivia Zelling, a UT student and native Texan who is working with Gillian at PROJECT FLAME, will be joining her at CBI, and speaking to our Post Confirmation students in their class on May 1.

It goes without saying that I can’t claim any special credit for Gillian Apfel's contributions to society, but I can share my pride in her achievements with you and urge you to help give her a robust audience at Shabbat services on April 29.


With every good wish for this Passover holiday and beyond,

Rabbi Steve Folberg

Fri, September 29 2023 14 Tishrei 5784