A JK-12 pluralistic school that engages students in an exemplary and inspiring general and Jewish education.

CESJDS Staff Spotlight

CESJDS has top-notch educators! Learn more about the talented and passionate faculty and staff at CESJDS.

Abigail Rothstein, Middle School English and Humanities Teacher

Staff Spotlight

Abigail Rothstein, Middle School English and Humanities Teacher, knew her life was destined for academics from the age of four years old. Having grown up in LA and knowing she wasn't interested in going into "the biz" led her 3,000 miles away to Brandeis University in Boston. At Brandeis, Abigail received a Bachelor's Degree Education Policy with a minor in Environmental Studies, and a Masters Degree in Secondary Education.

Teaching was always in the cards for Abigail, who would play "school" as a child. She could usually be found teaching "lessons" to her younger sister and stuffed animals, using a whiteboard, attendance sheet, and her prized teacher's edition textbook from a class she had completed the previous year.

Finding her passion for education so young led Abigail to consider a career in education policy, where she would focus on the sociological and philosophical study of education. Volunteer work that she did during her undergraduate degree, including work with Outdoor Education, and the Children's Defense Fund Freedom School, led her to contemplate educational changes at a macro level and how they could be implemented.

When deciding her next step to be able to make the most difference, it was clear that being in the classroom was where she belonged. "I do believe that change happens on a grassroots level, in the classroom one day at a time, one student at a time," Abigail said. "I think after contemplating the issues in education through my past experiences made me notice that each person on the ground, each teacher, was doing the hardest work."

Abigail took her first teaching job here at CESJDS in 2018 working with Middle School students. "There is so much beauty in teaching students of this age," Abigail said. "The students are able to explore, and question everything put in front of them and that is a huge part of my [teaching philosophy]. I want to produce critical thinkers and more developed writers."

Abigail feels rewarded as a teacher when she notices her students' confidence, as she struggled with classroom confidence herself. "To see a student who has been struggling with confidence in their academic identity get something, or feel empowered by something is really what makes me feel good about teaching." Aesthetics are also very important to Abigail, who spends time curating her lessons to include strong visuals, and multimedia pieces along with traditional elements. She is also the leader of the Green Team, where she facilitates a group of students taking on yearly environmental projects. This year the groups goal is to "adopt" an Australian koala that was displaced after the recent wildfires.

Outside of work Abigail is interested in yoga, meditation, hiking, and camping. She enjoys hanging out with her friend group in downtown DC and is also active in several groups for young professional Jews. Abigail's biggest passion is travel and is currently planning a trip through the Soutwestern states.

After moving to the area only a year ago, the CESJDS community has been instrumental in helping Abigail build her life in DC. "I immediately just gravitated towards our community," Abigail said. "I have found some of my closest friends at JDS. The level of support I receive here professionally and personally is invaluable."

Patricia Gradel, 1st Grade Judaic Studies Teacher

Staff Spotlight

Patricia Gradel, 1st Grade Judaic Studies Teacher, grew up in a strong Jewish community in Buenos Aires, Argentina. A Jewish day school student herself, Patricia knew that she would want to share this experience, and her deep love of Judaism, with students around the world. To further these efforts, Patricia received a Bachelors in Education, and a Masters in Psychology from the University of Buenos Aires while simultaneously studying at The Zalman Shazar Center to receive certifications as a Jewish Educator and Hebrew Teacher in Elementary Education.

After completing her degrees and certifications in Argentina, Patricia and her husband moved to Israel to continue their studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Patricia participated in a senior level program at the Melton Center for Jewish Education where she received a Masters in Jewish Education.

Patricia then moved to Barranquilla, Columbia, where she and her family lived for five years. Her husband, Rabbi Fabian Werbin, currently of Congregation Beth El in Bethesda, took up a position as a rabbi in Barranquilla while Patricia was a teacher at, and the head of the Hebrew department for, a local Jewish day school.

The family's next adventure took them to the United States, initially settling in Roanoke, Virginia. Due to the small Jewish community in Roanoke, there was no Jewish day school for Patricia to continue her work. Patricia worked at the local Hebrew school and became a tutor.

Looking for a larger Jewish community, and an area with Jewish day schools where they could send their own children, Patricia and her family found their way to Bethesda. "I strongly believe that a Jewish day school is the best Jewish education we can provide for our children," Patricia said. "It was always our dream to send our children to Jewish day school to provide them with a strong basis for their Jewish identity."

Patricia was thrilled to be able to work in a Jewish day school again and quickly found a position teaching Pre-Kindergarten at Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School. Wanting to be a part of the same day school community as her four children, who were attending CESJDS, Patricia made the move to become a 1st Grade Teacher and is now in the middle of her fourth year.

Teaching is the focal point of Patricia's love of children, psychology, and Judaism. "First and foremost, I like to live a Jewish life, and it's very important to me to share those values," Patricia said. "I want to help the students make connections between their family backgrounds, and what we are learning in school and I do this through storytelling." Patricia finds it extremely important to know each of her students, to have a relationship with each, and to work to find the specific way each student likes to learn.

The curiosity of her students, their inquisitiveness, and their sponge-like minds keep Patricia inspired each day in the classroom. "To see how much they have learned, especially in the Hebrew language, from their first day of school to the last is amazing."

Since Patricia began at CESJDS, she has experimented with and implemented different types of "blended learning" into her curriculum, where she uses traditional practices for teaching Hebrew and Judaics and in conjunction with more modern teaching tools available today, like the smart board. This practice is emphasized through the use of centers (small groups) in her classroom, where students have a rotation of several mini-lessons, some using traditional teaching methods, and others using more modern methods.

Outside of school, Patricia can always be found spending time with her family and giving back to the local Jewish community. She loves to read with her children, and practice reading in different languages. Patricia also loves cooking, singing, and dancing.

After traveling the world for her studies, and to find the right fit for her family, being a part of the CESJDS community has been very special to Patricia. "I feel blessed to be a part of this community where everyday I come in I get to share my passions and learn."

Cheryl Fox Strausberg, Upper School Library Media Specialist

Staff Spotlight

Cheryl Fox Strausberg, Upper School Library Media Specialist, didn't always know that becoming a librarian would be her calling. A local, having grown up in Darnestown, Maryland, she was sure she was destined for a diplomatic life in DC. Those dreams brought Cheryl to Boston University, where she received a Bachelors degree in International Relations. While in undergrad, she spent a semester abroad at Haifa University in Israel, using that time to study Middle Eastern relations.

After receiving her degree, Cheryl excitedly dove into the government sector, working for Senator Paul Sarbanes. Getting a taste of the possibilities, she was ready to launch her next path towards becoming a diplomat and went back to school to earn a Masters in Political Science from NYU. This, her experience traveling to Israel in college, and her Masters thesis on religious democracies lead her to a two-year stint at the FBI as an Intelligence Analyst.

Not content with her career choice, Cheryl received advice that her skills and interest might fit well with Library Science. The rest was history. Cheryl got her first job as a librarian with B'nai Israel Congregation in Rockville. After she knew the library was where she was meant to be, she went back to receive another Masters degree in Library Science, this time from the University of Maryland. Armed with her new degree, Cheryl became a librarian with Montgomery County Schools. A great job offer for her husband led them to live in Arizona for two years, before they found their way back to their home base in Maryland. From there, Cheryl became a librarian at the Berman Hebrew Academy for four years.

Ready for a new adventure, Cheryl found her home at JDS. "I love it here, I have so much fun," Cheryl said. "I love being a librarian because I am a book nerd, and I love talking to people about books." Cheryl loves giving a student "that book" that changes their outlook on reading. Getting through to students who think they "hate" reading is the most rewarding for Cheryl and the media center team. "I also love teaching how to be a critical thinker," she said. "There is so much information out there that teaching students how to be critical of what they see is so important."

Cheryl works closely with teachers who do specific research projects to make sure all of the necessary resources are available to the students, both in print and online. She also makes sure the Media Center is properly supporting the curriculum of the school by providing a broad base of sources, and also ensures there is fun and engaging content in the library for students to enjoy. Cheryl is always there for direct instruction to help students find and properly use resources for research projects.

Outside of the Media Center, Cheryl is also the faculty advisor for the Baking Club and the co-advisor for the Board Game Club with Mr. Kugler. "We love watching the kids engage with each other for 30 minutes and not be distracted by technology."

At home, Cheryl continues her love for books, reading constantly. She also loves to travel with her husband, having been to over 20 countries. Always thinking of her next place to go, it's hard for her to choose favorite locations. However, Israel and seeing the Northern Lights in Sweden top the charts.

Reading remains Cheryl's first love, and being a librarian often doesn't feel like work. "Sometimes I cannot believe they pay me to do this job," she said. Being a part of the JDS community has also been extremely important to Cheryl. "It's truly the best part about being here. I feel like we are all just one big happy family. I love the teachers and students here, and getting to work with them every day."

Emma Whitaker, Lower School Art Teacher

Staff Spotlight

Growing up in Italy, Emma Whitaker, Lower School Art Teacher, found her love of art at an early age. However, when she was a kid, school was very serious and the students did not have formal art classes until High School. Even then, classes were only taught in "disegno tecnico" (technical design), which is primarily used for architecture or engineering. Not finding what she was looking for in school, she went out and discovered her passion for more expressive art, and the rest was history. "I was surrounded by paintings, sculpture, and architecture, all the way from ancient times to more modern," Emma said. "Art is so celebrated in Italy, it was very easy for me to find my niche."

Emma left Italy to to attend college at Emory University in Atlanta, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Art History and a minor in Architectural Studies. She went on to get a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Maine College of Art. During summers while going to school, Emma held a studio apprenticeship with a popular large-scale painter in England and taught English in Spain. Emma also worked with galleries in Washington, D.C., helping to curate collections and shows.

This curation experience connects to one of Emma's favorite aspects about teaching at CESJDS; curating student art collections for display around the school and at local galleries. She is especially passionate about getting students involved in, and exposed to a wide variety of mediums, given the absence of in-school art training when she was young. "Art education is shown to not only increase academic performance across all subjects, but students also show a more sustained interest in school," Emma said. "A recent study also showed that participating in art education on a regular basis significantly decreases hormonal stress levels1."

Outside of school, art remains Emma's number one passion as she paints for three hours each day. Her interests also expand into most areas of the art world. "I am interested in interior spaces and the effect of architecture on our psychology," Emma said. "I explore that through painting and sculpture."

You can view Emma's work at local galleries. Her most recent presence was at TouchStone Gallery in DC where she showed a painting called "Cherry Blossom Season." Emma also accepts commissions for portraits of people and their pets, and is training to become a yoga teacher.

All of Emma's passions, in-school and out, can be linked to her emphasis on expressing one's self. "Art is an expression of the inner life of the person, so in the end it's really about love," she said. "The students are so naturally expressive, and self-expression is so important. I am lucky to be able to help my students explore art in their own way."

1) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/1606...

Daniela Munteanu, High School Chemistry Teacher

Staff Spotlight

Daniela Munteanu, High School Chemistry Teacher, didn't always know she wanted to go into the Sciences. Throughout most of her childhood in Romania, Daniela wanted to be a playwright. However, in going to a STEM high school in her hometown, she found her true passion for science.

Daniela went on to receive Bachelors, and Masters Degrees in Chemistry and Physics Education from Polytechnic University in Romania, and a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction from George Mason University. "Science is a universal language," she said. "When I came to the United States, all I needed to do was learn English to be able to teach it. Science truly brings people together."

Due to uncertainty caused by political unrest in Romania, Daniela made the decision to come to the United States in 1998 after winning the Green Card Lottery. After teaching in a charter school for three years, Daniela found her home away from home at JDS in 2002. "JDS has been family to me," Daniela said. With her family spread all over the world, finding her second family within the JDS community has been a gift. "When I broke my arm, school parents and colleagues were kind enough to send me dinners, check up on me, and one family even sent in lunch for me each day. I know that if I need help I will always be able to find it here."

A true highlight for Daniela is her relationships with the students. "Our kids show so much kindness," Daniela said. "They will say thank you for the lesson, which is a small thing, but that means a lot. Then, having those students then come back to share their success after graduation is something I look forward to."

Daniela had a special relationship with a group of students from the Class of 2017 who nicknamed themselves "Munteanu's Children," which they had embroidered on a lab coat as a gift for her. This was the last group of students that were taught by Daniela from 8th-12th grades, and over the course of their four years in the classroom together they created long-lasting bonds.

Outside of school, Daniela enjoys reading, visiting with her son, and sewing--you can even see Daniela wearing her own creations in the lab. Another passion for Daniela is travel. "I travel with the intention of meeting new people. I want to share life experiences and learn something."

Here at home, Daniela will be in the lab, waiting to share her love of science and structure with the next generations of JDS students.

Sivan Krowitz, Gurim Judaic Studies Teacher

Staff Spotlight

Sivan Krowitz, Gurim (Junior Kindergarten) Judaic Studies Teacher, was born in Israel in a small village called Kfar Bilu. Growing up in this village provided Sivan with a childhood full of family and close community connections. Sivan's path through life led her to be a part of Jewish communities all over the world. After serving in the IDF, working with kids who did aliyah from Ethiopia, Sivan traveled to South Africa before beginning her degrees in Early Childhood Special Education, Behavioral Studies, and Criminology.

After a few years of working in Early Childhood Education in Israel, Sivan and her family moved to Canberra, Australia for three years. "Experiencing life outside of Israel was an amazing adventure for my family," said Sivan. But being away from a larger Jewish community was difficult for them. Wanting to find the best of both worlds, the family's next adventure was to the United States, where Sivan plans to call home indefinitely.

Sivan began working in the DC and Maryland Israeli communities as a Hebrew specialist, which lead her to JDS in 2014 as a 1st Grade Judaic StudiesTeacher. Soon thereafter, an opportunity arose for Sivan to help launch the Gurim program at JDS, and that is where Sivan's passion came into full bloom. "This program is my baby, I love it," Sivan stated. "I am very proud of what we are doing here." For Sivan, it was more than just building the program, for her it was shlihut (a mission). Sivan enjoys not only bringing Hebrew into her class, but also the culture, and sharing a piece of the special childhood she experienced in Israel.

Outside of school, Sivan enjoys spending time with her husband and three children, and cooking, her ultimate hobby. The family travels to Israel and South Africa as much as possible to visit family. Sivan also has a secret hidden talent, clowning! In the past, she could have been seen in full clown attire entertaining children at birthday parties and events.

Clowning aside, Sivan's true passion is clear. "At the end of the day we are more than just teachers. We teach our students values/middot, how to be good people, how to be who they are, what it means to be a Jew, and what it means to be a part of this community. That is really something special."

Essivi "Chantal" Messan, Lower School Food Services Department Staff Member

Staff Spotlight

Essivi "Chantal" Messan, Lower School Food Services Department Staff Member, was not expecting to become a part of a community like CESJDS when she came to the United States in 2004 from Togo, West Africa. Chantal joined the JDS team in 2006, and has now been an integral part of the Food Services Staff for over 13 years. Chantal finds joy in serving Gurim-2nd graders from the traveling lunch kiosk. "I like seeing the students around the halls," Chantal said. "They always have an excited smile and like to tell me when they'll be getting food from my kiosk that week."

Food quality is important to Chantal, and she loves getting to serve students healthy lunches that are made from scratch in the JDS kitchens. Having been here for over a decade, Chantal is pleased to see the students she knew grow up and graduate from JDS.

Outside of school, Chantal likes spending time with family, going to the movies, and singing, which is her hidden talent. Chantal is also an avid traveler, spending her summers visiting family in Paris and traveling around Europe.

Above all, Chantal values working in such a warm and respectful environment. "I am grateful and lucky to be working here at JDS."

Melissa Fisanich, High School English Teacher and New Faculty Mentor

Staff Spotlight: Deborah Feigenson

Melissa Fisanich, High School English Teacher and New Faculty Mentor, thought she was going to be a marine biologist. Initially a biology major at St. Mary's College of Maryland, she had a work study job where she organized catalogs and remembers being intrigued by Humanities classes. She made her first adult decision by changing her major to English. Post-college, she worked for law firms and thought she could become a lawyer. Instead, "I was saved from a law career by my roommate and college advisor," she says.

The next stop on her journey was to Johns Hopkins for their Masters of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program. Teaching jobs were hard to come by in the mid-90s, but she received a call from her Hopkins advisor with an opportunity to teach at CESJDS and focus on writing. Two days after she received an offer from the School, she met her husband!

Melissa taught at CESJDS from 1996-2004, and left for a few years to stay home with her children. In those interim years, she did private tutoring and worked for a speech pathology practice. As luck would have it, there was an opening in the English department at the same time her son was entering Kindergarten, and she returned in 2010.

She has taught every grade at the Upper School, except for 6th. "I love the kids and the community," she says. When the Upper School formally split into Middle and High School divisions, she chose high school. "I love teaching writing to 9th graders. A 9th grade brain changes so much from the beginning to the end."

Melissa prides herself on not teaching the same thing year after year. She has a lot of autonomy within a framework, and likes to try new things and stay fresh.

When she's not inspiring young minds, Melissa can be found quilting, cooking, biking the canal towpath, or doing Martial Arts. She is a Brown Belt in Korean Karate. Her family also cooks a big dinner together every Saturday night.

Hannah Rothschild, Upper School Hebrew Language Department Chair

Staff Spotlight: Deborah Feigenson

Hannah Rothschild, Upper School Hebrew Language Department Chair, is one of CESJDS's 'Baltimore Warriors,' commuting down I-95 each day. Prior to teaching at CESJDS (she's been here for 11 years), she taught at Krieger Schechter Day School, and Yeshivat Rambam, an Orthodox school that has since folded. Hannah felt an immediate connection to the School as she was diagnosed with a brain tumor just before classes started and was unable to work for the first three months. CESJDS held her position during her recovery and other teachers covered her classes. "I will always be grateful. It was such an amazing thing," she said.

Hannah grew up in Israel and pursued a career in social work. Upon her arrival in the U.S., she began her teaching career as a tutor and went back to school for a Master's Degree in Administration in Jewish Education from Baltimore Hebrew University, which is now a division of Towson University. She took courses that prompted new ways of thinking of teaching, and focused on being an influencer and having a deep impact on her students. A parent of a former student once told her, in jest, "it's your fault that my kids made Aliyah!" She is currently working towards a second Master's in Teacher Leadership through Brandeis University.

The Hebrew Department at CESJDS has undergone multiple transformations during her tenure in order to keep second language learning innovative and current for students. As such, once the department chair role opened up, it was a natural fit for Hannah. "I feel very supported and am being mentored in an invaluable way," she said.

When she is not driving down I-95 or developing the Hebrew fluency of CESJDS students, Hannah enjoys spending time with her seven grandchildren, reading, traveling with her husband, taking walks in nature, and visiting Israel as frequently as possible.

Nanci Henoch, 3rd Grade General Studies Teacher

Staff Spotlight: Deborah Feigenson

On the brink of completing her fourth year at CESJDS, Nanci Henoch, 3rd Grade General Studies Teacher has had a pioneering year at the School. A former student once told her "Mrs. Henoch, if my body can't stretch, my brain can't stretch!" This statement, in conjunction with an Edutopia blog she read entitled Flexible Seating Elevated Student Engagement, led her to implement the first CESJDS classroom with a 100% flexible seating arrangement. Instead of rows of desks, there are four desks, two tables, 20 lap desks, six stability balls, four bean bag chairs, three butterfly chairs, two standing desks and a number of other seating options. "I have found that the students are better able to engage in meaningful discussions with each other when they can choose where to sit instead of being confined to a plastic chair and a metal desk," she said.

Nanci's career did not originate in teaching, rather in Human Resources. She majored in English at Penn State University, leading her to a position as a corporate trainer post-graduation. After a number of years feeling a professional void, she enrolled in an evening teaching program at Johns Hopkins University, where she earned a Master's Degree, and taught in Baltimore City during the day. After five years in Baltimore, she began to move south and taught in Howard County for an additional seven years.

She has found her home at CESJDS and looks forward to more excitement and innovation as her tenure continues. "There is a certain level of creativity and flexibility that you have working in a private school, that just doesn't exist in public school."

When she is not inspiring 8 year old minds at CESJDS, Nanci enjoys reading, traveling, and spending time with her two children.