May 27, 2024
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May 27, 2024
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Touro College Graduate School of Social Work Valedictory Speaker Celebrates Belief in Oneself and Giving Back

New York—Someone she was close to told her she would amount to nothing, she said.

Yet there she was, standing tall and proud on stage at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, adorned in a fitted white dress beneath traditional cap and gown, chosen by her classmates and the faculty from the Touro College Graduate School of Social Work to be their valedictory class speaker at the Division of Graduate Studies Commencement Ceremony on Tuesday.

Teaneck resident Hila Revah, alumna of the class of ’15, is not a quitter.

“Instead of believing the weightless accusation I used it as an opportunity for self-growth, not only for myself, but for my future clients,” she told the gathering of approximately 2,000—including students from six of Touro’s graduate schools, their families and friends—to rousing applause.

Being chosen class speaker was just icing on the cake for Revah. The previous week at a student awards ceremony, she had also received the Dean’s award for Academic Honors with Distinction, and an award for Excellence in Field Education.

To hear Revah tell it, the real rewards of pursuing her master’s in social work the last two years lay elsewhere. They included learning to believe in herself, that giving to others is reciprocal and the importance of tolerance and respect for diversity.

“These are the most powerful lessons I learned at school,” Revah said on the eve of her graduation. “People should know ultimately it’s your own decisions that get you to the top—believing you can do it yourself. I learned that at school from every professor. They taught me how to self-evaluate and self-reflect, and how to overcome hard times.”

‘Mini Marriage Counselor’

Even before enrolling at Touro, Revah might have known social work was in her future. She had volunteered at a nursing home while in high school. In 1996, she volunteered as a “big sister” at an Emunah of Israel orphanage in Netanya.

“It seems like I’ve always been a ‘mini marriage counselor,’” she says, laughing, “to parents, friends—just listening, lending an ear, talking to someone at the supermarket, the gas station. I just needed the skills to become a professional.”

She also needed to complete her undergraduate education. Before Touro, she had begun working towards a bachelor’s degree but had been interrupted as she began raising a family, doing volunteer work and designing fashionable hats in a millinery business and opening a restaurant/bakery.

Born in Petach Tikvah, Israel, Revah’s parents, who were of Moroccan descent, moved to Ontario, Canada when she was two with her brother and sister. She enjoyed a middle-class upbringing, attending Jewish day schools while her parents operated three restaurants.

At 18, she married, moved to New Jersey and enrolled in a joint program in graphic design and fine arts at the Fashion Institute of Technology and Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women. After about 18 months, she moved back to Canada, settling in Montreal, where she worked as a hat designer and over the course of seven years gave birth to three daughters—Shalhevet, Ayelet and Layla.

With the tri-state area again beckoning, the family moved back to New Jersey in 2008, settling in Teaneck. “I loved being near Manhattan and the wonderful school options for my daughters. I saw the potential for growth personally and professionally,” she recalls.

Before long, she was running a popular kosher vegetarian restaurant in Teaneck, Mocha Bleu, and had become deeply involved in Emunah of America, becoming its volunteer chapter president—organizing fundraising events and creating awareness of the nonprofit organization and its work on behalf of children in Israel.

From Zumba to Touro: A Path to Social Work

She also started taking Zumba classes and became hooked. Soon she was teaching and her classes were filled with as many as 70 people. Through Zumba, she said, she found a clear path to social work and the timing was right.

“Zumba connected me to people of diverse backgrounds,” Revah said. “They responded like it was their therapy. They would call me for advice. They would write, text, e-mail. I really liked working with people! Through exercise and dance, we somehow connected. It was very powerful and I wanted to do something more. I didn’t feel fulfilled. I felt I could give more. I was ready to just take off.”

With her youngest in first grade, she went back to school to complete her bachelor’s degree and began looking around for a master’s program in social work. After setting foot in Touro’s Graduate School of Social Work she immediately felt at home.

“I was sold. Everyone was walking the hallways smiling, welcoming and helpful. It was really more like a family than a school. It was one of the best decisions I ever made,” she said.

And Touro was sold on her. It wasn’t long before she bonded with her classmates and became extremely well-respected throughout the school by her peers and the faculty for her concern about others and willingness to always lend a hand.

“Hila is outstanding,” said Dean Steven Huberman, Ph.D, who interviewed her before she was offered a spot in the program and proudly introduced her departing words as commencement speaker. “She embodies the values and ethics of the social work profession.”

A friend and classmate, Runita Rajkumar, valued how Revah would share her real-life experiences at school. As an example she cited a class discussion about immigration policy. Revah discussed how she hires and treats employees at her restaurant and what public policy changes she would like to see happen.

Revah loved her classes, her professors and her fieldwork. Her first year was spent at a nursing home at The Daughters of Miriam Center in Clifton, NJ. She said she was hesitant about the placement at first, but later found it to be one of the most eye-opening and enriching experiences ever, and she returns to visit, something not ordinarily done.

Reflecting on the next step in her journey, Revah says in the near term she plans to spend time with her daughters, continue working in the restaurant and start a support group for the recently divorced in her community. Eventually she sees herself having a clinical private practice, working one-on-one with adults.

“I would like to find a niche where my area of strength is, and I think it’s in the adult population, a field that encompasses a lot of variety. All walks of life, all kinds of stories and challenges,” she says. “We’ll see. The sky’s the limit.”

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