Zachariah Sippy graduated from Heilicher in 2014 and is heading to Princeton University this fall. His sister and current high school student Emanuelle 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.
Q. Tell us a bit about your own Jewish background. How did it influence your 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.
Emanuelle: Although I love songs sung in services and making challah every week, the emphasis on pursuing justice has influenced me the most.
Q. What is special to you about Heilicher and your Jewish day school experience?
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.
Q. What does your Jewish involvement look like post-Heilicher?
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.
Q. Tell us what’s next for you.
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. Any closing thoughts for the Heilicher community?
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 hard-working 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.
Read the siblings' recently-published essays:
We Remain Slaves: A Free People Beholden to Righteousness, Reform Judaism, March 28, 2018
We Too: Speaking Out Always, Women of Reform Judaism, February 13, 2018
Our Eternal Light: Students, Times of Israel Blog, March 27, 2016
Trump's America Excludes Many, Is Not Normal, Kentucky Herald-Leader Op-Ed, January 7, 2017
Clockwise from top left: Zachariah Sippy; Emanuelle Sippy; Flashback to Emanuelle with a dear friend in her Heilicher classroom; Emanuelle with the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team; and 8th grade HMJDS National History Day Team (from left to right: Charles Liberman, Jordan Kaplan, Izzy Leviton, Miryam Fhima, Zachariah Sippy, Ethan Kadet)