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What I Learned at the Day School

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.