After more than a decade in New York, Malka Adatto Popper returned to her native Seattle with her family this past spring and wasted no time becoming involved with the local Jewish community.
A new instructor at Northwest Yeshiva High School, she’s one of only two women teaching Talmud on the West Coast. She also directs the youth programs at Sephardic Bikur Holim Congregation, where she says her goal is to give SBH’s younger members “a connection to Sephardic tradition and rituals.”
Prior to moving back to Seattle, Popper worked as a community scholar at the Jewish Center of Manhattan, and in Washington, D.C. at Ohev Shalom – The National Synagogue. She also spent three years working for the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA) in New York, a non-profit that helps Jewish women — usually Orthodox — in contentious divorce situations.
“That’s where my formal involvement began,” said Popper, “[but] my passion is as an educator.” Popper put that passion to work while living in New York, traveling all over the country educating adult women and working with Jewish communities. While she plans to work with adults in the Seattle area as well, her primary focus will be teaching Talmud to the young women of NYHS.
As a graduate of NYHS herself, Popper is excited to put her background in Biblical and Talmudic studies to use. In her secondary role as NYHS’s development coordinator, she is also looking forward to expanding and refreshing the Talmudic curriculum offered at the school.
“To be involved in educating women about Talmud and engaging them in their first Talmud experience is a great opportunity,” Popper said. “We’re really focused on making the discipline innovative, exciting, and relevant to the students.”
Popper is also working with the school’s director of advancement to ensure that the school is well funded and can continue offering the robust programs she enjoyed as a student.
Popper is doing similar work with an even younger population at SBH, which recruited her as soon as they found out she would be returning to Seattle. Now serving as their youth director, she and her team are working to create opportunities for Jewish children ranging in age from two to 12 to participate in the community in a way that is relevant and meaningful for them.
“We’re trying to constantly think of new ways to engage youth and make them feel like they have a stake and a place within SBH tradition and culture,” Popper said. One of the primary ways they’re doing that is by splitting the youth programs into groupings by age to ensure each student is getting exactly what they want out of the program.
“We really have created a program that is unique to each age range,” Popper explained. “We try to create a whole morning program that’s thematically connected, but it’s different for each of the groups.” This allows the students in the parallel programs to play age-appropriate games and even receive tutoring from volunteer high school students, who Popper says really act as student teachers in the SBH lessons.
While Popper clearly has her plate full, she says she’s excited to be back home in Seattle where her 22-month-old son, Ami, can be near his grandparents, and where she is able to give back to the community she grew up in.