Success After Heilicher

Prepared for Success in Life

If a school can be measured by the success of its graduates, Heilicher has clearly earned its outstanding reputation. Our graduates represent a diverse group of people who are life-long learners, creative thinkers, and leaders engaged in strengthening their communities in a fast-changing world. They’ve continued to distinguish themselves—and make their school and families proud—through continued engagement in Jewish life and an assortment of educational, personal, and professional achievements.

After Graduation

More than 500 students have graduated from Heilicher since 1984. You can find our graduates at high schools such as St. Louis Park High School, Hopkins High School, Minnetonka High School, Wayzata High School, Southwest High School, The Blake School, and St. Paul Academy and Summit School.

Heilicher set me up for success in high school and, by extension, college. Thank you, Heilicher!

-Heilicher Alumnus


Heilicher graduates have attended many of the country’s and the world's top institutions in a variety of disciplines. Some of these include:

American University
Arizona State University
Augsburg College
Barnard College
Berklee College of Music
Boston University
Bowdoin College
Bradley University
Brandeis University
Butler University
Carleton College
Carnegie Mellon University
Chapman University
College of Wooster
Columbia College Chicago
Columbia University-List College
Cornell University
Dartmouth College
DePaul University
Dickinson College
Drake University
Duke University
Emerson College
Emory University
Fashion Institute of Technology
George Washington University
Hamline University
Harvard University
Hofstra University
Indiana University
Israeli Defense Forces
Ithaca College
Iowa State University
Johns Hopkins University

Landmark College
Lawrence University
Lewis & Clark College
Loyola University
Mankato State University
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
McGill University
Minneapolis Community and Technical College
Minnesota School of Cosmetology
Minnesota State University-Moorehead
New York University
Normandale Community College
North Dakota State University
Northeastern University
Northwestern University
Oberlin College
Occidental College
Ohio State University
Penn State University
Princeton University
Rice University
Rochester Institute of Technology
St. Cloud Technical and Community College
St. John’s University-New York
St. Olaf College
Saint Paul College
Skidmore College
Stanford University
Southeast Missouri State University
Syracuse University

Tel Aviv University
Tufts University
Tulane University
University of Arizona
University of California-Berkeley
University of California-Los Angeles
University of Chicago
University of Colorado-Boulder
University of Denver
University of Iowa
University of Georgia
University of Kansas
University of Maryland
University of Miami
University of Minnesota
University of Missouri-Columbia (Mizzou)
University of Nebraska
University of New Hampshire
University of Pittsburgh
University of St. Thomas
University of Southern California
University of Tampa
University of Tennessee
University of Vermont
University of Washington
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Ursinus College
Vanderbilt University
Washington University in St. Louis
Wellesley College
Winona State University
Yale University

Alumni Success Stories

Dana Smadja, with husband Eli and children Ella and Daniel.
  • Alumni Story
  • Israel
  • Jewish Life

The start of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7 hurt our community members but strengthened our community. It even grew our community, bringing families to Heilicher during the uncertainty of the first months of fighting.

The Smadja family is one such family that came to Heilicher to find safety, normalcy, and community. Dana Smadja attended Heilicher from first to fourth grade, 1987 to 1991, and brought her children to join fourth grade and kindergarten this last fall.

The start of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7 hurt our community members but strengthened our community. It even grew our community, bringing families to Heilicher during the uncertainty of the first months of fighting.

The Smadja family is one such family that came to Heilicher to find safety, normalcy, and community. Dana Smadja attended Heilicher from first to fourth grade, 1987 to 1991, and brought her children to join fourth grade and kindergarten this last fall.

Dana was born in Israel but grew up in Minneapolis, first attending Beth El Aleph Preschool, then Heilicher, and going on to Hopkins Public Schools. After graduating from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School in 2008, she visited Israel and fell in love.

“I was meeting people, and I was embracing Tel Aviv as an adult, and I just fell in love with it in a way that I had not experienced before,” Dana said. “I had this spiritual connection with Tel Aviv.”

When Dana returned to Minnesota, she knew she wanted to move to Israel. She worked at Target headquarters by day and worked on her aliyah application by night. She made aliyah in the summer of 2010.

Dana was on vacation in early October and came home to north Tel Aviv just one day before the October 7 attack on Israel. At first she thought, “We're used to this; we can do this. We're fine.”

But the schools were closed, then virtual, and then open with restricted hours. And they still didn't know what was going on. A lot of people were leaving, and she and her husband Eli decided, “I don't think it makes us any less of Israelis by taking our kids and thinking of them first.”

“I didn't even think about school at first — it was all such a blur,” Dana said. But she realized her children needed community and routine, so bringing them to Heilicher, even just for about a month, was “the obvious choice.” 

Ella (Grade 4) and Daniel (kindergarten) joined Einav (4) and Noa N. (2) — whose mom, Yamit Taragan Nahmani, is also a Heilicher alum — as visiting students from Israel. A week later Eli (1) and Adam T. (K) came. The kindergarten class was over full, so Israeli teacher Orly Silidor came to ensure there was support for the new students.

“It's so beautiful seeing that at Heilicher they're incorporating Judaism, incorporating the Israel aspect and Hebrew, and then the standard curriculum,” Dana said. “They do it well. I really have no words for how amazing everyone on that staff was.”

“I took it for granted when I was a kid, but when I came with my kids, there were things like the way that Ms. Marron was teaching math. I was like, ‘Wow, she's really looking at the needs of the students,’” she said. “I just really connected with everything that Heilicher has been doing. I can see that the kids are disciplined.”

Dana also noted the incorporation of song, and not just in prayer. She recalled working on her laptop in the JCC lobby when a teacher walked past with her students, singing a song in Hebrew. They stopped to say hello and sing for her.

From her time as a student at Heilicher, Dana said she remembers the warmth of the classrooms and especially the tradition.

“I have always been a very secular person, but Heilicher gave me the desire to do Kiddush with my kids,” she said. “Heilicher really set the foundation for me knowing how I want to raise my kids. And while maybe we don't act Jewish in the typical sense every single day, we still want to maintain some of those traditions that really were first ingrained in me from being a student there.”

Dana is grateful to Heilicher but glad to be home.

“There's nothing like Israel. I feel safe here. This is where our home is,” she said. “There's the sense of unity that you don't feel any other place — it's really like we're a tribe. That's what we are, right?”

Amalya in front of wall of tribal printed fabrics
  • Alumni Story

Amalya Lewin (Heilicher ’05) is an outpatient therapist, who for the last two years served LGBTQ+ youth for the St. Paul nonprofit RECLAIM. She deeply values providing accessible care to clients with intersecting marginalized identities and/or patients who have been historically oppressed.

This summer she started at Park Nicollet, where she continues her outpatient therapy with some of the same patients but also new clients. She loves listening to people and forming long-term relationships.

“I’m really passionate about providing care to people who have marginalized identities,” Amalya said. “I want to try to co-create with my clients a safe space where people can be their authentic selves and feel supported, validated, and affirmed in who they are.”

Amalya earned a master’s degree in social work from the University of Chicago after receiving a bachelor of arts in psychology and gender studies at Lawrence University.

She is also a licensed independent clinical social worker.

Prior to her work as a therapist, Amalya worked in homeless services and case management as well as crisis stabilization. This community work goes back to what she learned at Heilicher.

“There was a huge emphasis on tikkun olam [repairing the world] and trying to repair and heal and give back,” Amalya said. “That’s just been instilled in me from such a young age.”

She recalled being encouraged inside and outside of school to volunteer.

“I remember very early going to the Sholom Home, and there was a lot of emphasis on community care. That’s something that I’ve really held, along with  the importance of caring and giving to community, especially the communities that we’re a part of,” she said. “So that, I think, is one of the biggest reasons I feel a connection between my early education and the career that I am in now and who I am now.”

Others in Amalya’s Heilicher class also work as social workers or in the mental health field, or in adjacent fields such as public policy.

Emotional Literacy

Heilicher’s emphasis on tikkun olam and community care is enduring, and the school is also adding more focus on emotional literacy, something Amalya works on with her young clients. “I think a lot of the work that I do is trying to help young people understand their emotions and understand other people’s emotions,” she said. “Some people come to therapy already having a really good grasp of their emotions, and sometimes that has to do with education, with the environment at home, with the kinds of stuff they’re absorbing within their own peer community network.”

She said emotional literacy is important in feeling connected to oneself and their world. It’s a process, and Amalya believes everyone should always be working to understand themselves and the people in their lives better.

“Therapy is a great way to increase emotional literacy, and I also think it’s not the only space where that can or should happen. Education is a really important part in that, and caregivers and one’s family and community of friends can assist with that.”

The emotional literacy she learned at Heilicher and from her community helped her adjust to public middle school and develop a community there. It also helped her understand herself and others.

At Heilicher, “there was a really big emphasis on understanding ourselves, understanding our classmates, and also really connecting to and understanding the communities that we are a part of, that we volunteer in and show up for,” she said. “And so I think that all of that helped increase my ability to understand my own emotions and attune to the emotions of others.”

Read the cover story of The Heilicher Magazine fall issue to learn how Heilicher is refocusing emotional literacy through RULER and other curricula.

Amalya will keep working with patients on emotional literacy and other needs. Her next goal is to supervise and support others with intersecting marginalized identities once she is settled at Park Nicollet.

Alum Rivka Buchbinder Joins Heilicher Staff
  • Alumni Story

From an early age, Rivka Buchbinder (Heilicher ’12) knew she wanted to be an educator. Her mom was a teacher, and Rivka fondly remembers the connections she had with her teachers at Heilicher.

“My Heilicher teachers really inspired me to want to teach,” Rivka said. “I want to be able to connect with students on a personal level like they did. They always made learning fun and exciting."

From an early age, Rivka Buchbinder (Heilicher ’12) knew she wanted to be an educator. Her mom was a teacher, and Rivka fondly remembers the connections she had with her teachers at Heilicher.

“My Heilicher teachers really inspired me to want to teach,” Rivka said. “I want to be able to connect with students on a personal level like they did. They always made learning fun and exciting.”

As a college student in 2018, Rivka reconnected with Heilicher to do her fieldwork in the second-grade classroom with teachers Sheree Goldblatt and Crystal Reese. After that experience, Rivka knew she wanted to continue to work with the students in some capacity and got involved with the HaBonim after-school program.

Last spring, Rivka student-taught in Crystal’s second-grade class and graduated with an education degree from Augsburg University. When Heilicher’s School’s Out and HaBonim coordinator position became available, Rivka saw a great fit.

“I always felt comfortable at Heilicher because the school understands my religious needs and is always accommodating,” she said. “This school community shares my values.”

“I always knew, whether I was a student or staff, I would be taken care of. We work as an entire team where no one is left behind. Everyone jumps in to support in any way they can. I felt it as a student and now feel it as a staff member.”

Rivka learned this firsthand when she was faced with difficult times while a student at Heilicher. Rivka is a three-time cancer survivor; she was first diagnosed in seventh grade. The immense support she and her family felt from the Heilicher community is something she will never forget.

“When I got sick, everyone had my back and rallied around me,” Rivka recalled. “My friends at school weren’t just my classmates; they were my support system.”

She still keeps the cards that her seventh-grade classmates made for her that adorned her hospital room in Boston, where she spent three months in treatment. When she finally was able to return to school, she wore a wig with a hat because of hair loss. She still remembers walking into her classroom on her first day back and seeing her classmates in baseball caps to show their support. “I was surrounded by the love of the school,” she said.

Rivka is the first alum to join the staff in an educational role. Her return in a professional capacity was an easy decision. “You don’t think about how much your community means to you until you are in a real need,” she explained. “The Heilicher community shows up.”

Heilicher Alum Leah Shapiro Founds Debate Camp: My Voice Matters
  • Alumni Story

Heilicher alum Leah Shapiro (Heilicher ’08) is redefining debate — what it looks like, what it sounds like, and, most importantly, who can participate. She created My Voice Matters, a debate camp with programs for pre-K through tenth-grade students, with the concept that all children deserve to be heard and feel empowered to share their ideas.

Heilicher alum Leah Shapiro (Heilicher ’08) is redefining debate — what it looks like, what it sounds like, and, most importantly, who can participate. She created My Voice Matters, a debate camp with programs for pre-K through tenth-grade students, with the concept that all children deserve to be heard and feel empowered to share their ideas.

Leah started debate in her last year at Heilicher. She joined the St. Louis Park high school debate team in sixth grade and in her senior year ranked the third highest debater in the country.

While studying comparative human development at the University of Chicago, Leah founded Debate it Forward, a nonprofit camp with the mission to teach kids to “better listen, think, and speak through debate-based games.” She ran the camp for six years and served over 3,000 families. Leah has been back in Minneapolis for nearly a year now and wanted to carry on her work here.

“When I came to Minneapolis, I knew that I wanted to take the most successful kid- and parent-loved program we did in Debate it Forward summer camps and build a business solely around this program.”

So Leah and her co-founder Angelina Harris started My Voice Matters. At My Voice Matters summer camps, campers spend the morning on a field trip, learning hands-on about the day’s debate topic. They then use their research and insights from the field trip to develop a point of view, engage in a team debate with their peers, and have fun.

For example, they might go to the zoo to talk with zookeepers in preparation to debate the ethics of animal captivity. Each day includes debate games and free time, and topics and activities vary among age groups.

“My ultimate vision is to build My Voice Matters camps beyond just the summer — I'm hoping we'll be able to launch school-year camps next year and grow within Minnesota,” Leah said. School-year camps would take place during school breaks, even one-day breaks like President’s Day.

She continued, “I hope that within five years, we'll be serving about a thousand kids annually. More than that, I hope we can contribute to a world in which all children feel that their voices matter and that their ideas are important.”

Leah said Heilicher has influenced her work. “I learned in Judaica — and other subjects — the importance of critical reasoning,” she said. “Heilicher instilled in me that, rather than taking everything I learn at face-value, it is okay to respectfully ask why. That debate and discourse are cornerstones of a healthy and functional democracy and that it's important to advocate for what you believe in and why.”

In reflecting on her time at Heilicher, Leah said, “What most sticks out to me is how supportive the environment was and how much Heilicher made me feel like I had a community behind me. My very best friends today are mostly friends that I made during my early days at the day school.”

Learn more about My Voice Matters.

Gabe Segal Gives Back
  • Alumni Story

Gabe Segal (Heilicher ’01) graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Madison with a master’s degree in industrial engineering and has developed a career in the financial sector.

“When it came time to decide on volunteer work, I wanted to get involved in something that had personal meaning to me,” Gabe said. “Heilicher gave me a great foundational education during an important period of my life. Giving back to the school was something I wanted to do.

Gabe Segal (Heilicher ’01) graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Madison with a master’s degree in industrial engineering and has developed a career in the financial sector.

“When it came time to decide on volunteer work, I wanted to get involved in something that had personal meaning to me,” Gabe said. “Heilicher gave me a great foundational education during an important period of my life. Giving back to the school was something I wanted to do.”

Joining the Board

Gabe joined the Heilicher Board of Trustees in 2018. Two years ago he became a member of the finance committee, and he has now been the treasurer for one year.

“It is really meaningful to have alumni serve on the Board,” Robyn Schein, Board president, said. “Gabe recognizes what the school provided him in his formative years and is actively giving back with his time and energy. He exemplifies what we hope for our students: that they grow up to be engaged and involved leaders in the Jewish community.”

She added, “In his role as treasurer, Gabe and I work closely on the financial health of the school. Gabe is thoughtful, inquisitive, and diligent. He brings his professional skills to the Board and is an important voice of the future of the school.”

Gabe is vice president at Norwest Mezzanine Partners, a Minneapolis private equity group that makes investments in private companies. Prior to his five years at Norwest, he was an investment banking analyst.

He said, “I understand the ins and outs of the financial statements and position of the school as well as have the strategic angle to evaluate Heilicher’s finances and help solve any financial issues.”

Heilicher as a Foundation for Success

Gabe credits Heilicher with setting him up for success: “I definitely think that the individualized and one-onone education opportunities that the school gave were beneficial to me. The school allowed me to pursue my areas of interest and my strong suits, such as math and science — while not letting me fall behind in the other areas. This was an important lesson about cultivating a passion and recognizing how having a passion can help you succeed and excel.”

That success applies to relationships as well. “I made a couple of lifelong friends at Heilicher that I’m still friends with today,” Gabe said. “I think that was key to me recognizing the importance of relationships in my life and working to maintain those.”

It’s not only the friends that he remembers. Gabe recalled his sixth-grade teacher who he said pushed him to do his best in math. “She knew math was a subject I enjoyed and was good at, and I think her encouragement was overall a great experience for me and set me up for much of the rest of my life,” Gabe said.

Already a vice president at his company, Gabe has big goals and an entrepreneurial spirit. He hopes to found and run his own company some day. Gabe lives in Minneapolis with his wife, Michelle, and their two dogs, Kona and Maui. In his free time he enjoys snowboarding and sailing.

June Cheng and Ron Garber with Yaya
  • Alumni Story

Ron Garber (Heilicher ’92) and June Cheng's first child, Yael (Yaya) was born in 2015 and was diagnosed with 4H Leukodystrophy (4HL).They created the Yaya Foundation in 2018 to pursue research and treatments for children with 4HL.

When Ron Garber (Heilicher ‘92) and June Cheng’s first child, Yael (Yaya), was born in 2015, they were thrilled about their growing family. But that excitement turned to anxiety when, at six weeks old, Yaya began to miss developmental milestones. Increasingly desperate as her health problems worsened, Ron and June visited a wide variety of specialists until, at eight months old, Yaya was diagnosed with 4H Leukodystrophy (4HL) — an extremely rare, degenerative neurological disorder about which very little was known. Tragically, Yaya passed away from this genetic disease at the age of 13 months.

As grieving parents and advocates for their daughter, Ron and June committed to ensuring that other families who have children with 4HL and related conditions would have the support they need to pursue treatment and, hopefully one day, a cure. “We looked around for the ‘American Cancer Society’ of 4HL and found there was absolutely nothing to support families in dealing with this serious diagnosis,” Ron said. “Heilicher taught me that if you see something wrong, it is your obligation to do something about it.” This commitment led Ron and June to create the Yaya Foundation in 2018 to pursue research and lifesaving treatments for children with 4HL.

In 2020, the Yaya Foundation received a grant of $450,000 from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s “Rare as One” project. This grant allowed the Yaya Foundation to build an infrastructure, hire an executive director, and further professionalize its activities. The organization continues to go from strength to strength, launching new initiatives, building and facilitating research and treatment partnerships, and creating connections between families affected by 4HL internationally.

When asked what Ron and June hope people take away from their story, June responded, “Initially, when we lost Yaya, we lost our sense of purpose. In the years that have followed, we have taken great comfort in building something that other people can depend on.” Ron added, “It’s so easy to hear the name of a disease or how rare it is and think, ‘It’s not my problem.’ But this could happen to any one of us. I want people to have a sense of obligation to be present for members of the community who have not been so fortunate.”

Since Yaya’s passing, Ron and June have added two healthy children to their family — Ilan (born in 2018) and Yasmin (born in 2020). June is an attorney in immigration law at Fredrikson and Byron, P.A., and Ron serves as inhouse counsel at Medtronic. Among other experiences, Ron credits his K-6 Heilicher education with providing him the moral foundation, public speaking skills, and leadership opportunities that have served him well as a changemaker and rare disease advocate. He currently serves on the Heilicher Board of Trustees.

For more information about the Yaya Foundation, visit

Everything Clicks for Adam Ward
  • Alumni Story

Heilicher alumnus Adam Ward has taken his passion for art and learning to new levels with LEGO® bricks and a new book. 

Kids everywhere love to play with LEGO® bricks, as they are among the most popular and enduring toys. Adam Ward, who attended Heilicher in the early 1990s through fifth grade, has made a whole career out of LEGO, inspiring a new generation of youth and adults to build, create, and explore.

Adam first became interested in LEGO at the age of two, and the interlocking building blocks continued to be a passion for him throughout childhood. After mostly taking a break from LEGO during high school and college, Adam reconnected with it in his mid-20s while living as an actor and writer in Los Angeles and seeking to decorate his apartment. He used his childhood LEGO to build practical items for his home, including bedside tables, coasters, and lamps. Adam quickly realized that LEGO bricks were not only useful but a great outlet for his tremendous energy and creativity.

Adam began posting his creations online, and, fueled by a Kickstarter campaign, he soon launched an online business, Adam Builds (now called Peace + Bricks). Through his business, Adam customized and built special-order household items from LEGO. In 2015, Adam launched a video series, “Brick x Brick,” with how-to instructions for building a wide variety of practical, creative, and decorative LEGO items. This highly popular show ran for four years and confirmed what Adam knew to be true—LEGO can be a great outlet for people of all ages.

In December 2020, Adam released his first book, Brick x Brick: How to Build Amazing Things with 100-ish Bricks or Fewer (Penguin Randomhouse). This book gives children and adults instructions for fun LEGO builds and crafts, along with trivia, micro-challenges, and advice to boost people’s creative confidence. Adam also continues to create and sell larger structures and artwork out of LEGO bricks and works with the LEGO company on a variety of content and promotions, including for the show “LEGO Masters,” where teams compete to build the best LEGO projects.

Reflecting on his Heilicher experience, Adam said that he felt very special there and has particularly fond memories of Helen Siegel (who retired as Associate Head of School in 2017), and Elly Becker (a long-time faculty member who retired in 2018). Not surprisingly, he also recalls having fun in the art room—and always making a mess!

One of Adam’s core beliefs is that whatever we need, we have around us. Growing up, there was no such thing as a LEGO Ninja Turtle, so Adam had to create one! “Creative people do not believe in object fixedness,” said Adam. “Instead, creative people will see many different uses for an object. LEGO allows us to see items as possibilities. The past 1.5 years has taught us that pivoting and ‘making magic’ with what we have is the best way to maintain sanity, and LEGO is the perfect vehicle for doing that.”

Adam and his wife, Stacey, live in Los Angeles with their two rad daughters, Plum and Storey. To see more of Adam’s work, visit his website and follow him on Instagram at @peaceandbricks.

Brick x Brick by Adam Ward book cover

Heilicher Alum Manufactures PPE for Local Distribution
  • Alumni Story
  • Jewish Life

Heilicher alumnus Ronen Pink is making a difference by manufacturing face shields for local health care organizations, nursing homes, and other non profits.

Spring 2021

When Ronen Pink, Heilicher class of ‘2013 (and now a senior at the University of Miami), learned last spring of organizations’ pressing needs for personal protective equipment (PPE), he jumped in to make a difference. 

Temporarily home in Minneapolis when his university moved online, Ronen discovered that local hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes were short on PPE. Using a 3D printer and an instructional file from the National Institutes of Health, Ronen began to manufacture face shields. He first reached out to Sholom Home and sent over face shields to meet their emerging needs. He expanded his network throughout the summer providing face shields to the University of Minnesota Physicians and distributing them through other nonprofit organizations, including the Muslim American Society of Minnesota.

Now back at college, Ronen reflected on how his Heilicher education influenced his decision to become involved. “Heilicher taught me that we are all responsible for making the world a better place,” he says. “If you have the ability to do good in the world, you need to reach out to help others.”

Cultivating a Lifelong Love of Israel Q & A with Julia Birnberg
  • Alumni Story
  • Israel
  • Jewish Life

Heilicher alumna Julia Birnberg has found multipe ways to merge her passion for Israel activism with her interests in business and entrepreneurship. 

Fall 2019

Heilicher alumna Julia Birnberg (Heilicher ‘12) is no stranger to Jewish community leadership. A rising senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she has already distinguished herself as a pro-Israel student activist and campus leader. We had the opportunity to interview Julia this summer about her activism and how Heilicher assisted in shaping her Jewish identity. 


I grew up in a welcoming and supportive Jewish home. We had Shabbat dinners every week, attended synagogue regularly, and celebrated holidays with my extended family. Growing up, both of my parents were heavily involved in the Jewish community and are still very active. It was important to them to raise children with strong Jewish values and identities. Attending Heilicher helped me truly understand what it means to be a Jewish American in my generation. Even as a little girl, I always had solid core values which guided me throughout my time at Heilicher and afterwards. I enjoyed having Jewish Studies and Hebrew every day. These classes really helped me develop a strong identity which carried on throughout high school and college. 


I cannot thank the school enough for creating such a welcoming and inclusive environment. The school was a really amazing place to explore my Jewish identity and also create friendships with people who believe different things. The teachers supported every student’s individual needs and encouraged us to get involved in our broader community. Some of my most memorable experiences were the intimate conversations I was able to have with my classmates and teachers. I was able to connect with my teachers on a personal level and learn their stories. In particular, I loved how Heilicher was able to weave in Jewish values and learning in all courses. Specifically, I remember connecting the Jewish core values with a variety of songs in music class. 


My initial connection to Israel was through my Jewish identity and family. The first time I visited Israel was during middle school with my family, and I immediately felt a strong connection to this vibrant and innovative country. After visiting, I knew that I wanted to do my part in ensuring Israel’s right to exist. A high school USY Eastern Europe Pilgrimage trip to Israel strengthened my connection and introduced me to students from across the country, some of whom I am still close with today. This trip changed my perspective on Israel activism because I was able to engage with students who shared my passion and wanted to do something about it.

During high school, I decided that it was my duty to ensure and continue to strengthen the US-Israel relationship. I realized that as an American, I could impact Israel’s security and safety. When I arrived on campus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I knew I wanted to get involved with the pro-Israel groups on campus. I immediately joined Badgers for Israel, the AIPAC-affiliated student organization, where I learned the importance of building relationships with members of Congress and influential student leaders. I attended multiple AIPAC Policy Conferences in Washington D.C., participated in AIPAC student training conferences, and interned last summer as an AIPAC Diamond Summer Intern. I also had the opportunity to speak as a student activist at various AIPAC Annual Events across the country.

During my freshman year, I also got involved with the student organization called TAMID, which connects college students with Israeli startup companies to offer advising and consulting services. I have remained highly involved with the organization throughout college and even interned during the summers for the two startup companies I found through TAMID. 

I was really grateful for the impactful experiences I had at Heilicher and through my trips to Israel and wanted to give other students the opportunity to strengthen their connections to Judaism and Israel. This past winter, I led a Birthright trip with students from UWMadison and across the country. During my junior year abroad at Tel Aviv University, I participated in their Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Business program, where I had the opportunity to personally engage with and learn from successful Israeli startup companies. Overall, I have found ways to merge my passions for Israel activism with my interests in business and entrepreneurship. 


I would tell current students at Heilicher that it is important to figure out what you’re most passionate about and run with it. Find a cause or issue that ignites your fire and motivates you to want to make changes in our world. I can tell you from firsthand experience that it isn’t always going to be easy to fight for what you believe in, but it’ll definitely be worthwhile and fulfilling.

I also think it’s important to listen and be open minded to other people’s beliefs and values. You can learn so much from just engaging with other individuals with differing perspectives and upbringings. Heilicher gave me so much confidence in who I am and what I believe, and helped me develop the skills that now underpin my Israel advocacy.

Julia Birnberg

Julia Birnberg


Living Jewishly Into Their Best Selves: Q & A with Zachariah and Emmanuelle Sippy
  • Alumni Story
  • Jewish Life

Zachariah and Emmanuelle Sippy are Heilicher alumni living Jewishly and making a difference in their community.

Fall 2018

Zachariah Sippy graduated from Heilicher in 2014 and is heading to Princeton University this fall. His sister and current high school student Emmanuelle attended Heilicher through sixth grade, after which their family moved to Lexington, Kentucky. It was a delight to learn how they are involved in Jewish life in Kentucky and how their Jewish education at Heilicher shaped their current path.


Zachariah: Our dad is Rabbi David Wirtschafter, now the rabbi at Temple Adath Israel in Lexington, Kentucky. He was the Rabbi-in-Residence at HMJDS when we first came to Minneapolis in 2008, and we were jointly affiliated with Beth El Synagogue and Temple Israel. Being a rabbi’s kid definitely helped shape my Judaism.

Emmanuelle: Although I love songs sung in services and making challah every week, the emphasis on pursuing justice has influenced me the most. 


E: One of my happiest memories is making peanut butter sandwiches on VOICE night every year. Those sticky gloves and dirty t-shirts were the foundation of my activism interests. Every Heilicher teacher is committed to their students, whether nurturing, comedic, or serious—they are all transformative.

Z: The Heilicher teachers that affected me the most were Lynn Slobodien (5/6 Language Arts teacher) and Robert Portnoe (Rabbinic Studies). Mr. Portnoe’s eighth-grade Judaics class still remains one of the best (and most challenging) courses that I have ever taken. The small discussion-style nature forced us to improve as readers, writers, and thinkers. In fifth grade, my friend Isaac Wert and I established a school newspaper, the HMJDS Roar. This foray into writing, editing, management, and journalism has proven to be influential. 


E: Currently, I am the Social Action Vice President of my NFTY chapter and attend regional events along with services. Weekly, I help fourth and fifth graders prepare for their B’nei Mitzvah and will be in Confirmation class next year. I wrote two articles this year, which center around the Jewish values I learned at HMJDS and came to fruition because of Jewish outlets. “We Too” was published in the American Jewish World, Women of Reform Judaism Blog, and Jgirls magazine. “We Remain Slaves: A Free People Beholden to Righteousness” was published on the Reform Judaism Blog and in our local Federation magazine.

Z: I have published articles and worked with media groups like The Atlantic, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Lexington Herald-Leader, and others. I have served as the President of my temple’s NFTY group and on the general board of NFTY Ohio-Valley, in addition to actively raising my voice regarding anti-semitism in Kentucky. 


E: As a sophomore at Henry Clay High School, I am on the leadership of the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team, which seeks to improve Kentucky Schools and amplify the narratives of students who are all too often unheard. I partner with Unlearn Fear + Hate, an organization that uses art to foster community. I help them plan interfaith events as well as translating into Hebrew. These projects are communal efforts of tikkun olam (repairing the world) that also fulfill me personally.

Z: I will attend Princeton University in the fall, likely studying religion or history. I spent much of my high school career as a debater, and as a member of the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team, where I have worked to involve students in both the worlds of education policy and practice in Kentucky. Q. 


Z: Heilicher teachers challenged me to be my best self while remaining true to my values and character. I am grateful for the small classes, peers, devoted teachers, and hardworking administration.

E: The HMJDS community of parents, peers, and teachers taught me the merits of hard work and to love learning. Heilicher did not set a trajectory for what I would do, but rather why I would choose to do it.

Emmanuelle Sippy (Zachariah Sippy pictured at top)


Carly Joseph
  • Alumni Story
  • Holocaust Education

Meet Carly Joseph (Heilicher '17), who co-wrote and produced a play about a Holocaust survivor.

Spring 2020

Alumna Carly Joseph (Heilicher ‘17) is on a mission to educate people about what happened in the Holocaust. Her mission is born from years of solid Jewish education at Heilicher, experience in theater performance, and a deeply held belief that “Never Again” should mean “Never Again.” 

While a junior at St. Louis Park High School, Carly and her friend Abby Anderson co-wrote and co-directed a play based on Abby’s great-grandmother’s life story. The new play, entitled The Only Star I Remember, chronicles the life of Esther (Reicher) Begam, who was the only member of her family to survive the Holocaust. Esther is currently 92 years old and resides in Golden Valley, Minnesota.

As freshmen, Carly and Abby participated in the Witness Theater Project that brought Jewish teens together with Holocaust survivors to create a new play based on personal stories of the Shoah.

“Witness Theater was an incredible experience that put me in awe of these brave survivors,” Carly explained. “This made me want to hear as many stories as possible, especially as the number of Holocaust survivors dwindles.”

The Only Star I Remember became a year-long labor of love that involved many new and daunting tasks. Carly and Abby spearheaded all aspects of the production, including writing the script, casting the show, securing funding, and pitching their idea to the Board of Directors of Blue Water Theatre, a Wayzata youth theater company where Carly has often performed. The play received rave reviews for late-January performances at Blue Water Theatre. 

Carly felt an urgency to get the word out about the lessons of the Holocaust. “Holocaust education is so important, especially now that anti-semitism is becoming more prevalent,” she said. In order to provide Holocaust education for the cast and crew, Carly enlisted the help of former Heilicher Associate Head of School Helen Siegel to coordinate a speaker series leading up to the production.

“Carly has always been a natural leader,” recalled Helen, who retired after 27 years at Heilicher. “She is a self-advocate with a positive and lively personality. She gets things done.” Helen, herself a child of Holocaust survivors, was delighted to help bring Carly and Abby’s vision to fruition through four two-hour Holocaust education sessions for the cast, crew, and extended Blue Water Theatre community. 

Carly credits her K-8 education at Heilicher as significant to shaping her into the person she is today. She looks back fondly on her years in the seventh- and eighth-grade plays, which were some of her most memorable theater experiences. She also enjoyed the small class sizes that allowed her to know her teachers well.

“I loved how we could delve into topics we were curious about and learn as much as possible,” she recalled. She remembers how Hebrew teacher BatSheva Berman made language learning fun and accessible.

“My Hebrew language skills and knowledge about Israel came into play in a big way when I went on the Alexander Muss High School in Israel summer program,” Carly noted. Heilicher’s Holocaust education also had a profound impact on Carly. As for core values, Carly believes they were so important for her Jewishly and as a guidepost for how to live life in general. In the future, Carly hopes to earn a bachelor of fine arts degree and perhaps live in New York City someday. She hopes to be able to produce her play in other venues in the future as well. 

When asked what she hopes theatergoers will take away from the experience of her play, Carly offered: “My hope is that audiences will gain a respect for the gravity of what happened. Even more importantly, I want them to leave the theater understanding that even small acts of kindness can make a big difference.”

Fashion Designer Lily Harris ('02)
  • Alumni Story

Heilicher alumna Lily Harris talks about her day school experience and how it positively influenced her outlook and current career in fashion design.

Q. Tell us a bit about your own Jewish background, upbringing, and involvement. How did it influence your current path?

A. I was raised in a Jewish family who gathered together for Shabbat dinner every Friday night and synagogue on Saturday mornings. I attended Heilicher (then known as MJDS), along with my brother Josef, and mostly it taught me a closeness of family and values that have carried through.

Q. Tell us about your current endeavors and your journey from Heilicher to now.

A. I currently work in fashion design in New York, both as a full-time job and as a hobby. At Heilicher, I always enjoyed art class, and that education directed me towards a further pursuit of creativity. After high school, I attended the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) for apparel design.

Q.What kind of science or exploratory learning were you exposed to at Heilicher? What influence did that have on your current career?

A. At the day school, there was always a nice mix of math, nature, and art. I’ve never been an extreme lover of science class specifically, but I found stronger appreciation for a mix of these three aforementioned disciplines. I remember watching tadpoles develop, and I remember liking math class because Mr. Portnoe was one of my favorite teachers. I was partial to art class because that is the time of day where I could do what I wanted to do. I liked all of the periods with quiet, focused thinking.

Q. What is special to you about Heilicher and your Jewish day school experience? Is there an experience (a class, assignment, activity, teacher) from your time at Heilicher that was particularly meaningful and valuable for you and your future?

A. I definitely looked forward to The Learning Fair every year. One year my mom helped me create my “dream dress” as a home sewing project. It looked exactly like the crazy sketch that I drew, turning out to look a lot like Toddlers and Tiaras meets Dolly Parton. Apparently gold fringe was my dream come true.

Another year I took a more scientific and holistic approach to learn the uses and healing properties of capsaicin from peppers. I clearly felt comfortable and curious within Heilicher to explore different things.

Q. How did Heilicher influence your path to being a “maker”?

A. I learned a strong work ethic from Heilicher. I was always pushed to challenge myself and appreciated that. I did feel like Heilicher, for me, was a positive space to learn. Having creative interests or multiple different hobbies was encouraged and gave me confidence for going to public school afterward.


Q. What message would you like to give to other alumni or Heilicher families?

A. I can’t believe some of the cool opportunities that Heilicher has now that I would’ve killed for, so take advantage of it. It will pay off to take a graphic design class, a photography class, or a yearbook class by the time you get to high school! You will be ahead of the game.

Lily Harris with brother Josef
Lily with her brother Josef during her Heilicher days.

Work Hard, Have Fun: Daniel Vinitsky Learned the Right Balance at HMJDS
  • Alumni Story
  • Jewish Life

Heilicher alumnus Daniel Vinitsky returned to his alma mater to assist with the Grade 7/8 play.

Walking onto campus brought back a flood of memories for HMJDS alumnus Daniel Vinitsky. Daniel graduated from eighth grade at HMJDS in 2005 but has since spent many hours on campus assisting with the HMJDS play as well as acting in local community performances. He now makes a living performing in plays throughout the Twin Cities area and working for the National Theater for Children, helping to schedule tours of educational shows.

Many people at HMJDS helped shaped the man he has become, Daniel said. A smile appeared on his face as reflected on a particular teacher who had a lasting impact on him as a person.

“Mr. Adler was my science teacher in seventh and eighth grade at HMJDS,” Daniel explained. “He was always very passionate about [the] subject he taught, and he set the bar high. But he was also very friendly and open. He was able to create a friendship with his students and helped me see that you can be very serious about your work but also have fun with it.”

Daniel didn’t find his passion for theater right away. He attended the University of Minnesota for theater but shifted focus to accounting and economics. The passion, however, just wasn’t there for him. Remembering what he learned from Mr. Adler, that success should be based on hard work and having fun, Daniel made the big decision to transfer to a small liberal arts college in Wisconsin to pursue his passion.

Daniel offered this for advice for current HMJDS students: “Students should remember to work hard at whatever they decide to do. No matter what it is that you choose, put focused time and effort into it. Whether it is sports, arts, schoolwork, friendships, etc., always dedicate yourself 110 percent.”

Vinitsky is proud of his HMJDS education and hopes that all students will find their passion, work hard, and have fun while pursuing it.

What I Learned at the Day School
  • Alumni Story
  • Jewish Life

Matan Appelbaum shares his fondest memories of Heilicher.

by Matan Appelbaum

When I graduated college, for the first time in many years, I had no immediate obligations, projects, or work of any kind. Reflecting back on all of the experiences leading up to graduation from Princeton, there were a few parts of my time at HMJDS (then known as MJDS) that proved critical in my growth as a student, leader, and community member.

One of my fondest memories from the day school was a semi-regular occurrence in Mr. Portnoe’s math and Judaica classes, where the structured part of a lesson would end and we would have an open question-and-answer session. Students chose the questions. We might ask to review a difficult concept or inquire about a new, advanced topic. This gave us practice in coming up with the right questions, not just the right answers. Years later, as a mathematics major, I would often work on problems where progress was best made by challenging the questions, or looking to see how far I could push the concepts I learned in class.

The teachers at HMJDS were all extremely supportive of me as a student and encouraged me to engage deeply in what I was learning. They also encouraged me to study the subjects that interested me most, which at the time were math and sciences. My decision to major in mathematics and minor in computer science came partially from the confidence I received from my teachers that I would be successful.

Between day school and Princeton I attended St. Louis Park High School. I went in with a group of friends from HMJDS and remained connected to the HMJDS community and the Jewish community as a whole. The support and connections I had at HMJDS taught me the value of finding a strong community and being an engaged member. At Princeton I sought out communities of value and took on leadership roles in the communities I joined. The volunteer involvement at HMJDS taught me how to connect my volunteer and leadership activities to the needs of the community.

I recently started working as a software engineer at Facebook. I quickly learned my new surroundings and selected a team to join. I am certain the experiences and lessons learned from HMJDS will help guide me as I go forward.