Our Administration and Teachers

Administration

OUR EDUCATOR

Cantor David Fair is proud to have joined the United Jewish School in 2021, as its Cantor-Educator. A native of Baltimore, Maryland, he earned a B.A. in Theater and a minor in Music from the University of Maryland College Park. He received a Professional Studies Diploma and an Artist Diploma from the Cleveland Institute of Music. He received a Master of Sacred Music degree from Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City in 2020, where he wrote his Cantorial thesis on the topic, “Tsiporah’s Children: The Music and Lived Experiences of Black Jewish Americans.” He was ordained in 2021.

 

Before coming to Grand Rapids, Cantor Fair served as the Cantorial Intern at Temple Beth Israel in York, PA; Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST) in New York City; and Washington Hebrew Congregation in Washington, DC.

 

As the Cantor-Educator of the United Jewish School, Cantor Fair guides teachers in bringing innovative ideas and techniques to the classroom. He has taught religious school for well over a decade and specializes in teaching Hebrew, Biblical education, Israel education, and of course, Jewish music. He believes that in every lesson, kids can be engaged through a mix of touch, smells, physical activity, multimedia, taste, and of course, music! He believes kids should be doing most of the talking throughout a class—whether to the teacher, or to each other in small groups. If learning isn’t fun and interactive, it isn’t being done right.

 

Cantor Fair is an antiracism educator and has given sermons, lectures, and led workshops in this topic at Synagogues, Hillels, and Jewish organizations throughout the country. He believes that this is holy work. He is honored to have the opportunity to speak to people who are interested and open to learning about how we can all challenge our role in systemic racism. This past summer, Cantor Fair taught a three-class series with the children’s educational organization “Tkiya,” where he focused on teaching how to have these powerful conversations in a developmentally appropriate way for children ages 3-10.

 

Outside of his Cantor-Educator duties, Cantor Fair loves practicing yoga, making vegan feasts, buying cat toys for his cat, Mordechai, and spending time with his partner, Corey.



 

Cantor David Fair

Our Administrative Assistant

We also welcome Cantor Fair’s Administrative Assistant, Ms. Kreenah Dunsmore for the 2021-2022 school year. Ms. Kreenah has earned a Bachelor’s of Music Education from Calvin University, and is a certified teacher in the State of Michigan. She spent 25 years homeschooling her eleven children, and now enjoys twelve grandchildren, who all live in the midwest.

Ms. Kreenah is excited to be involved in the United Jewish School in Grand Rapids. She grew up in Wayland, Michigan, daughter of two musician-teachers. She has followed in the footsteps of her parents. Ms. Kreenah is the owner of KMD Music Studios, from which she teaches private music of all types to all ages. She also enjoys substitute teaching in local school districts during the school year. Ms. Kreenah plays in Sam’s Swing Band on keyboard, and other community bands on clarinet and alto saxophone. You may find Kreenah tickling the ivories in Woodland Mall at Von Maur, too! 

A member of Temple Emanuel, Kreenah is active in Torah Study, Mussar practice, and the Social Action Committee. When not making music or working with students, Kreenah practices yoga, hikes, journals, swims, and enjoys coloring books and painting old used musical instruments. 

 

Administrative Assistant, Kreenah Dunsmore

Teachers

Olga Sukenik (Gan Katan)

Olga Sukenik, Gan Katan teacher, UJS

Kimberly Lemerand Lagstein (Pre-Kindergarten)

Kimberly Lemerand Lagstein, teacher, UJS

Claire Fisher (Kindergarten) has been teaching Kindergarten at UJS since 2017.  Claire is from West Bloomfield, MI and moved to the Grand Rapids area to attend Grand Valley State University. At GVSU, she studied Multimedia Journalism.  Claire now lives in Grand Rapids with her husband Drew and their dog named Grandpa. During the week she works as a technical writer, writing manuals about wastewater equipment for Evoqua Water Technologies. 
 
Claire worked at a Jewish summer camp for six years and loved getting to know all the kids and planning fun activities.  She loves making jokes, playing games, singing songs, doing art projects, and most of all, reading books. Claire is really excited to be a part of the United Jewish School team
 
 
 

Claire Fisher, Kindergarten Teacher, UJS

Lily Thalhammer (First grade)

Lily Thalhammer is a member at Beth Tikvah Congregation in Hoffman Estates, IL. During her formative years she consistently attended Religious School weekly from Preschool through 12th Grade.  As a teen she was active in her temple’s youth group, as well as NFTY, and attended several leadership conferences.  Lily also enjoyed years as a camper at O.S.R.U.I. (Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute) and Mitzvah Corps.  Among all of the other activities Lily was involved in, she spent lots of time volunteering for her congregation’s religious school. 
She currently attends Davenport University in Kentwood and is entering her third year of nursing school.  Aside from studying, she loves taking walks with her dog Brinks and driving an ambulance with her part time job as an Emergency Medical Responder. Lily enjoys spending time with her family and friends and most importantly loves to bake! 

 

Lily Thalhammer, 1st grade teacher

Nicole Katzman (2nd grade) is the Executive Director at the Jewish Federation of Grand Rapids. Her oldest son is a medical student at Wayne State University, two of her children attend college at the University of Michigan and her youngest child is a junior in high school. Nicole and her family moved to Grand Rapids two years ago from Rhode Island. 

Nicole earned her BFA from the Atlanta College of Art, and two Master degrees from The Rhode Island School of Design, (MAT, MAE). She holds a teaching degree in Art Education and is certified to teach grades PreK- 12 in Michigan. Nicole co-authored the PJ Library book, Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles, and is an advocate for children and adults with special health care needs. She has worked on Rhode Island legislation and advocacy for people with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Nicole has over twenty-five years of teaching experience and taught religious school for fifteen years in her former community in Rhode Island. 
Nicole Katzman

Nicole Katzman, 2nd grade Teacher, UJS

Elisabeth Rosewall (3rd and 4th Hebrew) is a native Californian with a BS in Design from the University of California at Davis and has lived in Grand Rapids since 1985. She has taught both 4-7th grades and Hebrew since 1990 both at Temple and Ahavas as well as in South Haven. She currently focuses on Hebrew and tutors b’nei mitzvah students at Temple Emanuel. Elisabeth has a passion for learning and Jewish education and loves teaching Hebrew classes for adults. She especially enjoys those who learn differently and tries to find the spark in each. She feels blessed by her two children, Emily and Eric, (and the presence of cats in their lives).

Elisabeth Rosewall, 3rd & 4th Grade Hebrew Teacher, UJS

Elisheva English (3rd & 4th grade Judaics)

Elisheva earned her B.A. at MSU and her M.Ed. at GVSU. She alternated between Reading Specialist and elementary teacher for 30 years, and did adjunct work at various local colleges.  She loves to read, and is slowly learning how to cook without setting off any smoke alarms. Elisheva is looking forward to the next chapter in her life. 

Elisheva English, 3rd & 4th grade Judaics Teacher, UJS

Shoshana Jackson (5th & 6th grade Hebrew)

 

Shoshana Jackson has been teaching with UJS in the 5th & 6th Grade Hebrew classroom since her family moved to Grand Rapids in 2015.  They are members at Congregation Ahavas Israel.  Previously, she has taught both Hebrew and Judaics for Reform and Reconstructionist schools in Ann Arbor and served the JCC there as their Youth, Teen & Camp Director. Shoshana loves languages: she has formally studied six languages, including Arabic during her time as a linguist in the US Army.  She is neurodivergent and believes all students can be successful with the proper application of the right coping tools!  Shoshana thinks being Jewish is the coolest thing ever and wants to share that enthusiasm with students and their families in UJS.

Shoshana Jackson

Shoshana Jackon, 5th & 6th gr Hebrew, UJS

 Shelby Denhof (5th and 6th grade Judaics)

Shelby Denhof is a certified educator with more than seven years of public school teaching experience. Embedded in her practice is her passion for experiential learning, storytelling, and service. Her reflections on teaching can be found on websites such as Cult of Pedagogy, McGraw-Hill Education, and Edutopia. Shelby is a National Writing Project fellow, a National Geographic Certified Educator, and a two-time National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at both Stanford University and the University of Utah. Outside of teaching, she enjoys the outdoors, traveling abroad, and cooking. She lives in Grand Rapids with her partner Fred and their two cats.

Shelby Denhof, 5th & 6th grade Teacher, UJS

Nicole & Jordan Newman (7th grade)

Jordan and Nicky are excited to be back teaching 7th grade! Jordan is a pharmacist who enjoys cycling, jiu-jitsu and amateur (ham) radio. Nicky is a nurse practitioner who enjoys sci-fi novels, PBS and overpriced spa services. When they’re not teaching their awesome students, they can be found at their home in Grand Rapids, tending both their garden and their 2 spoiled spaniels, Pavlov and Dash (see picture).

Nicole & Jordan Newman, 7th grade teachers

Avi Forstein (8th grade)

Avi (Avram) Forstein was born and raised in Sioux Falls, SD. His father was the only Rabbi in South Dakota for the 1980s and most of the 1990s. Avi moved to Kalamazoo in mid 2002 and moved up to the Grand Rapids area in May 2003. Avi graduated from Grand Valley State University in late 2010. In the summer of 2017, Avi married his wife Leslie and they currently live on the northwest side of Grand Rapids with their cat Marshmallow. Avi enjoys watching documentaries, listening to stand up comedy and podcasts, playing trivia games and card games. Avi is very excited to be teaching religious school this year (this is his 5th year with UJS) is looking forward to a wonderful year with the 8th graders.

Avi Forstein, 8th grade teacher

Na/amah Segal Karas (9/10th grades)

Na’amah Segal Karas is a gender-fluid woman with an extensive background in Judaic Studies. They are Israeli, have a Bachelor’s degree in Medieval / Renaissance history, is an enrolled Rising Kohenet at the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute, and a JEDI Master (Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion). They are thrilled to be teaching again, now in her new home town, Grand Rapids, and loves teaching comparative religion.

 
 

Yehudit (Deet) Newman and John Moga (Art)

Deet and John are experienced artists and have taught art at UJS for 3 years. Deet had spent her career in Jewish Communal Service and John in the Museum industry. Currently Deet is a practicing artist and both are living in Berrien Springs. 

Deet and John, Art teachers