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Local volunteer’s love for teaching is a good fit for P2G

Shelley Lipowich, right, employs science, nature, and technology to build bridges between students in Tucson and Israeli classrooms while volunteering for Weintraub Israel Center’s Partnership2gether school twinning program. (Courtesy Lipowich)

Shelley Ann Lipowich, Ph.D., says she’s taught “for 150 years … everything from pre-kindergarten to post-doctoral, and I’ve had a ball.” She got her first taste of the Old Pueblo when it truly was a little village. She attended Sam Hughes Elementary as a child, “when Plumer Avenue was on the edge of town.” She remembers picnics on the grounds of San Xavier mission and driving a car clear into Sabino Canyon. That was in the late ’40s. “It was beautiful then,” she recalls, but her fondness for Tucson has grown. She calls it the “second garden of Eden.”

She attended high school and three universities in the Chicago area, earning undergraduate degrees in chemistry, zoology, and English; a master’s in applied linguistics; and a doctorate in math and science performance assessment. She married Maury Lipowich in 1959. He was a Polish refugee and one of the Yaldi Tehran (Children of Tehran), saved from the Holocaust by Hadassah’s founder Henrietta Szold and raised in Israel. Maury, a retired architect, turned artist, died in 2017.

“I have my family because of Hadassah,” Lipowich reflects. Because of that history, she’s always been very involved with the organization and now serves on a regional level. She also is documenting the Children of Tehran for a book she is writing. 

When she and her husband returned here 30 years ago, Lipowich dove into the Jewish community. “Now, this is my extended family since my kids aren’t here,” she says. She has two children and four grandchildren, in Chicago and San Diego. “We have such strong leadership in the Federation, the community center, the Israel center; it makes a family of all of us.”

Lipowich was the director at Tucson Hebrew Academy briefly when it was on the Congregation Anshei Israel campus. She helped form the Hadassah book clubs in east and northwest Tucson and has held every office in the organization. “I feel an obligation there,” she reiterates. She is also a life member of the Brandeis National Committee and secretary for the Desert Caucus political group.

However, her heart truly belongs to her work at the Weintraub Israel Center. She started with the Israel Action Network, interfaith outreach, and assisting with Israel Independence Day celebrations. She particularly enjoyed taking part in interfaith outreach at Harvest Center Christian Church Sunday school, where she did everything she could to promote U.S.-Israel relationships.

When she began volunteering in WIC’s Partnership2Gether program, her love for teaching was a perfect match. P2G focuses on people-to-people bridge-building between Tucson and Israel, and one of its biggest programs is school twinning, which partners Tucson schoolchildren and teachers with counterparts in Israel. This enables cross-cultural learning on a personal level; at Tucson Hebrew Academy, it culminates in eighth-graders visiting their twinning friends in Israel.

Lipowich has experienced this partnership from introducing pre-kindergartners at the J’s Early Childhood Education center to their new friends in Israel, to working with THA eighth graders as they have built connections and anticipated meeting their long-time friends on their graduation trip to Israel.

Lipowich employs a lot of hands-on learning, science, and demonstration in her work with youth. With pre-kindergartners, she introduced the pomegranate as a new fruit for Rosh Hashanah, shared Israeli culture and symbolism around it, taught how to cultivate seeds, and ultimately planted a tree at the J with the children. A year later, the tree is bearing fruit, to the children’s delight. “Now they see the pomegranate, and it’s more than a fruit. It’s a bridge, a connection,” she says.

“Shelley has created a lot of connections through nature,” says Adi Olshansky, WIC’s P2G coordinator. “She really understands the twinning concept.”

In the twinning program, “we bring up what’s different or the same between us. We do FaceTime, Skype, and email with each other. Children, teachers, adults, and families wind up paired. And it is lasting,” Lipowich says. “We give, and they give back.” She is part of the P2G planning and allocation committee, which she calls a true partnership, as the local participants budget and plan together with their Israeli partners for programming. “It gives me a great deal of joy. The relationship is a privilege.” She’s also hosted partnership delegates in her home on several occasions.

This school year, she plans to start conversational Hebrew with THA eighth-graders to further cement their connection with Israeli friends in P2G.

Lipowich has her own bridges with Israel, counting more than 60 family members there. “I visit every couple of years to hug the new babies,” she laughs. She also visits her extended family there through stewardship of P2G. “I couldn’t do this without this organizational structure.”

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