I’ve always considered Tucson Hebrew Academy as my fourth child and this community to be my family,” Ronnie Sebold recently told the AJP. With hands-on involvement within the school for 37 of its 45- year history, she has dedicated a lifetime to nurturing the academy. For this dedication to education and the community, THA will honor Sebold next month with its annual Tikkun Olam Award.
The Nov. 4 event also will be a celebration of THA’s 45th anniversary.
“We select an honoree for their work beyond THA,” says Jon Ben-Asher, THA head of school, “for their work in the greater Jewish community and beyond. Ronnie’s many years actively involved with Jewish Tucson organizations, events, and people have been an effort from her heart and soul. She’s also done significant work at THA, and has been committed to the Jewish day school.”
Sebold began volunteering at THA when her first child, Jordan, entered first grade in 1981. She says she chose a Jewish school so she wouldn’t have to add Hebrew school to secular education. “By the time my daughter Brooke attended, there was a different motivation. It was because it was the best education you could give a child,” she says.
An educator herself, Sebold earned her bachelor of arts, cum laude, in elementary education from Brooklyn College of the City University of New York and a master’s in education as a reading specialist from the University of Michigan. With four years of teaching experience in Texas and New York when she arrived in Tucson in 1980, she was well prepared for immersion into the THA family of students, parents, faculty, and leadership.
By the time the third child, Shayne, graduated, Ronnie had spent 19 years carpooling, a school record she believes she still holds. Over nearly four decades, Ronnie went from volunteer to board member, held various committee chairs, was board president, twice the interim head of school, and director of admissions for nine years, before retiring in 2015. She remains an active life member on THA’s board of directors. The Sebold family also funded the school’s library and the middle school science lab.
“Ronnie brought her children to school and stayed. She wore every hat in the building from teacher to leader,” said Ben-Asher. “She’s seen the transition from Anshei Israel (the school’s previous location) to the current campus. The right word for it is devotion. She invested her heart, soul, and mind. We teach our students the principle of tikkun olam, bringing light and hope to the world. This award highlights people who are a role model for tikkun olam. It’s our way to say thanks.”
Sebold says she put her community and Federation activism on the back burner to focus on THA, but she didn’t ignore those commitments. She has served on the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona board of directors for 16 years, an executive officer for half of those years. Sebold was a member of at least seven committees, for up to as many as 19 years. She led the General Campaign last year, co-chaired the Women’s Philanthropy Campaign in 2017 and has chaired or co-chaired at least six other committees. She continues to chair JFSA’s community engagement department and participates as a member of the department of Jewish education and identity, which she co-chaired for five years, along with chairing at least five sub-committees. She also is a Women’s Philanthropy Lion of Judah.
The community previously recognized Sebold for her dedication. JFSA named her Woman of Valor in 1989 and Woman of the Year in 1996, and extended its Community Service Award in 1991 and Meritorious Service Award in 1993. While qualified and deserving of the Tikkun Olam honor, Sebold expressed surprise at the award, having been the honoree at THA’s Annual Torah Dinner in 1993.
“Ronnie epitomizes ‘lifelong devotion’ for the decades she has been ‘all-in’ when it comes to the Jewish community, THA, and JFSA, particularly through the Federation’s Coalition for Jewish Education,” says JFSA President and CEO Stuart Mellan. “Like any leader, Ronnie draws people around her through her magnetic personality and passion.”
Today, Sebold feels she has passed the baton on to the next generations. “I know there’s another parent out there enrolling their kindergartner that will start volunteering and become committed. I think that the most important Jewish value that I learned at THA, and the one that I use on a daily basis, is the importance of developing and nourishing community,” Sebold told the AJP in 2017. It is evident that her commitment remains.
Daughter to speak at tribute to Sebold, THA’s 45th year
Ronnie Sebold’s middle daughter, Brooke Sebold, will deliver the keynote speech at Tucson Hebrew Academy’s Tikkun Olam dinner honoring her mother and THA’s 45th anniversary on Nov. 4.
A THA graduate and filmmaker in Los Angeles, Brooke recently spoke glowingly to the AJP about the upcoming event honoring her mother. “It’s the greatest thing in the world to celebrate my mom. Being a mom, she used it in a way that benefited everyone around her. I feel like my mom was born to be a mom — everyone’s mom,” she said. “To have that reverberate through the generations is real energy you feel. She fulfills that role even in a passing moment — she impacts people in ways she doesn’t even know.”
Brooke recalls her mother’s dedication to THA. “I remember what a huge deal it was when they broke ground for the new school. She was so passionate about it, fundraising and personally working to make it a reality. THA was like a family, and she played a huge part in that, not just with our family. She has such a symbiotic relationship with THA and the community; it gave her a sense of purpose. She’s lucky she found a community that can reap those benefits. I am proud that THA appreciates that.
“She lives her life from a higher vantage point,” Brooke says of her mother. “She was born with a natural gift to make all around her feel loved. She showed me how to journey through the world with a lack of fear, showing love to everyone I meet; and tailored her guidance to what each of her children needed.”
The anniversary and award celebration will be held at the Tucson Jewish Community Center with a cocktail reception at 5:30 p.m. followed by dinner at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $150 per individual, $250 per couple. Sponsorship opportunities are available. To register, visit www.thaaz.org or call 529-3888.