By Carl Zebrowski
Editor of Hakol
“You have shown us the importance of building community and putting Judaism first,” said Ari Zighelboim during the Jewish
Day School’s 69th Evening of Tribute on December 3. “My classmates and I are forever thankful.”
Those were the words of gratitude from son and JDS student to his parents, Dr. Israel and Valeska Zighelboim, early into the live-streamed
fund-raising event held in their honor. The couple received the school’s Pillars of the Community award for their continued support of
JDS over their years in the Lehigh Valley.
“As lay leaders,” said Amy Golding, JDS head of school, “Israel and Valeska give generously of their time and their financial resources to
our beloved community. As professionals in the medical field, they heal those in need and support their patients. As role models they show us
how to live by doing.”
The Zighelboims arrived in the valley a decade ago with their two young sons and immediately got involved in the Jewish community. Valeska began
volunteering at JDS, a natural fit considering that she and Israel had attended Jewish day schools growing up in their native Venezuela. She soon
became vice president of development.
Besides working with JDS, the Zighelboims have combined to serve on the JCC board, the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley board and
the Community Planning Board. Jeri Zimmerman, executive director of the Federation, said, “From the time that I arrived in community, they’ve been just
tremendous leaders in all aspects of our agencies, our synagogues and in setting the pace for the future.”
In their professional lives, Valeska is a registered nurse with the St. Luke’s University Health Network, and Israel is chairman of the St.
Luke’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
The fund-raising results of the Evening of Tribute showed that JDS supporters followed the Zighelboims’ example of generosity. More than 200 donors pledged
$222,416 to the school. Golding said the funding was critical at a time when expenses are rising. It will help the school keep doing what it does best: provid-
ing children a top-notch, well-rounded education and strengthening their connection with Judaism and Israel.
Hebrew class is “hallmark” of the curriculum, Golding said, one of the things that obviously sets JDS apart from other schools. The classes “help us to form
a deep connection to our homeland,” she explained. They also improve overall education by honing critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.
The particular project that will benefit most from funds pledged for the night is renovation of the school library. Multifunction space will be
created, with pieces that can be moved around to accommodate various uses. One of the JDS students elaborated on the plan: “We will have quiet space for research
projects, a little amphitheater with elevated rows where our librarian can read aloud or our students can bring out the page of a book by acting it out.” The project will also
include the purchase of new furniture and books.
One of the highlights of the evening was an interview with a Ukrainian family with three kids who relocated to the Lehigh Valley. As news of Russia’s
invasion of Ukraine spread, JDS students began asking how they could help, said Golding. Ukraine had about 200,000 Jews.
“Several months later, a family was welcomed and their oldest child, Anna, enrolled in JDS kindergarten,” said Golding. The mother, Anastasiia, said she was very
“Teachers are trying to show that the Jewish traditions are cool and how to be a proud Jew,” she said. “The words ‘proud’ and ‘Jew’ were very unusual to me.
“This is a place where my children can learn about their nationality, about traditions. I didn’t have that, and now I will learn that from my children.”
It sounds similar to the Zighelboims’ early experience with JDS. “Valeska and I never imagined that we would ever be relocating our family to Allentown, Pennsyl-
vania,” Israel said. “Once the opportunity came, we only considered it because this place already had this wonderful Jewish day school.”