June 21, 2024
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Bronx’s Kinneret Day School Mourns Long-Serving Teacher

Earlier this month, Dorit Niven, a beloved teacher at Kinneret Day school for over 50 years, died at the age of 75. Dorit, a nickname for Devorah, was born in 1945 in pre-state Israel and her family later moved to New York.

Nevin’s niece, Rabbanit Bracha Jaffe, from Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, eulogized: “As an Israeli, Niven thought she would teach Hebrew to high schoolers, but there were no openings. Her father found a small ad about a little school called Kinneret that was looking for a nursery teacher for 3-year-olds. She needed a job so she went for an interview.” Over 50 years later, she was still there.

“Dorit joined Kinneret in 1967 and never left her home away from home,” explained Jaffe. “She found her calling, her passion and her joy, starting with 3-year-olds, and then moved to 5-year-olds. Dorit raised whole families, and then their children, and was happily moving on to the next generation as well. Dorit simply adored children and their curiosity. She knew what they needed. It was fun for her, not a job.”

Jaffe continued: “Dorit was a ‘hands-on’ teacher in every sense: She loved cooking, baking, painting and planning with her students. One of her greatest gifts was never, ever talking down to the children. Instead, she spoke to them in a way that they could understand and relate to what she was saying. She hadn’t used lesson plans; she followed the children’s lead. If someone asked a question, she would weave it in, even if it meant going in a different direction from what she had prepared.”

“She was such a hands-on educator,” said Asher Abramowitz, principal of Kinneret Day School. “Once, they were building a Hanukkiah. A child started constructing buildings. She would not get stuck on the level of just a Hanukkiah; she would go with the flow, into construction, building extensions and engineering. She was not curriculum-oriented; she always took it one step further. She never said to a child, ‘That’s not what we’re talking about right now.’ She always respected their comments. The children were enamored by her ability to see what distracted them and to build on that.

“From one intended curriculum purpose, she could sprout in 10 different directions, because children pressed a thought or a comment. She showed children that she’s on their level and she respected them. They felt that she cared for them. She empowered them. She was an educator’s educator.”

Rabbi Aaron Frank, head of school at Kinneret Day School described Niven: “She had unbelievable joy coming to school every day. All she wanted to do was be in her classroom with children. She was doing project-based learning before project-based learning was even a term. She was doing emotional intelligence before emotional intelligence was even a word.

“For Thanksgiving, she would teach them the history, teach the songs, buy a turkey and cook the turkey with them,” Frank added. “She did it all with joy. We live in a world where even the greatest educators want to be the heads, to move forward. For her, she just wanted to be teaching as much as possible.”

“One thing that always amazed me was that she taught the children manners,” said KDS Assistant Principal Allyson Israel. “She taught them to act nicely, for instance asking politely to pass something from one child to another.

“She had a repertoire of songs for everything: American songs, Jewish holidays songs. You name it, she had a song. The kids learned history through singing and doing. Students would make and wear costumes and sew pillows for Pesach. The children were her equals, and could do anything, given the right tools.

“The eighth grade has a science fair,” Israel continued, “and one kid said to Niven, ‘Why don’t we have a science fair?’ Most teachers, including myself, would say, ‘When you’re in the eighth grade, you’ll have science.’ She made them a science fair. They researched animals and created a model volcano.

Nevin’s generosity knew no bounds. “She used to come in every day at 6:30 a.m., before COVID, to cook soup for the entire faculty,” Israel said. “They don’t make people like her.”

Jaffe quoted a parent of Niven’s 2012 class: “You have created a family in the classroom. You have transformed our ordinary children into extraordinary heroes in each production. You have strengthened their voices, bodies and minds, and you, their beloved kindergarten teacher, will forever be in their hearts.

“Thank you for the patience, energy, love, and magic that you brought to the classroom each day and for bringing them to the threshold of the next stages of their education.”

By Judy Berger

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