The Jewish community has always been a big part of Shelley Kaplan’s life, from her childhood in Los Angeles to the twenty years she spent living in Israel. That’s where she married, raised three children, and worked as an educator in many different capacities.

When Shelley moved back to the U.S., it was a natural transition to put Jewish education at the center of her career. Now that her children are grown and she and her husband are divorced, she’s settled in Berkeley and is a teacher, mentor teacher, and Jewish Resource Specialist at Temple Isaiah’s Gan Ilan Preschool in Lafayette. She’s proud of creating a learning biblical garden at the preschool that functions as an outdoor classroom for children and families. Planting, harvesting, and playing in the garden provides a hands-on experience of the connection between Torah, Israel, and the Jewish holidays. In 2017, Shelley was recognized by the Helen Diller Family Awards for Excellence in Jewish Education … what she laughingly describes as the “Oscar of Jewish education.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has been a challenging time for Shelley. Even though Gan Ilan reopened for in-person learning last June, Shelley needed to take a year-long leave of absence. It was a hard decision to put her job on hold, but Shelley felt that her age and underlying health conditions put her at too high a risk for Covid. She stayed connected to the Temple Isaiah community, volunteering with daily Zoom classes and organizing virtual all-school Shabbat dinners, but it wasn’t the same. And without a paycheck, it was difficult to make ends meet.

“It was really hard to ask for help, but Hebrew Free Loan treated me with respect and made the process of applying for a loan quick and easy. I feel incredibly fortunate to be part of the Jewish community that has been there for me in my time of need.”

At the same time that Shelley was worrying about how to pay her bills and feeling stress about her mounting credit card debt, her mother was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. Shelley spent a number of months caring for her mother in Los Angeles until she passed away in March. Receiving an interest-free Coronavirus Impact loan from Hebrew Free Loan gave her the freedom to be there for her mother and the peace of mind to sleep at night.

Shelley is delighted to be returning to work at Temple Isaiah in August. She looks forward to reconnecting in person with the children and their families and is grateful for the light she can see at the end of the long pandemic tunnel. The Jewish community welcomed her warmly when she moved to the Bay Area seven years ago, and Shelley is grateful she can continue giving back to create that sense of welcome and belonging for others.