Cousins Amy and Ellen Folbe, presidents of the Board of Trustees for two Jewish schools, are working towards encouraging Jewish day school for kids at every level.
Featured photo by Corrie Colf
Cousins Amy and Ellen Folbe have two very different day jobs. Amy, who resides in Birmingham, is a divorce attorney at Honigman LLP. Ellen of Bloomfield Hills works as a dentist and owns a group practice with two locations.
After work hours, the two happen to share one common goal — to provide more students with the opportunity to have a Jewish education.
Both are currently serving as president of the Board of Trustees for two Jewish schools here in Michigan. Amy is the president at Frankel Jewish Academy (FJA), while Ellen is the president of Hillel Day School.
The cousins began their service as presidents in June of 2018. Ellen became a Hillel board member in 2011 and worked her way onto the executive committee.
“I had great leadership and mentors there, and I found that serving on a board allows your passion to grow for the institution,” Ellen said.
Amy also joined FJA’s board of trustees in 2011. She had a similar path to Ellen’s, holding executive positions and then finding her place as president.
“I love the school still even though I have no kids enrolled anymore,” Amy said. “One of my missions is to encourage Jewish day school for kids at every level.”
Through their own families, Amy and Ellen exemplify that mission. Another commonality is that they each have two sons and a set of twins. Ellen has two older boys (Jonathan, 21, and Eli, 17) and a younger set of twins (Erin and Ethan, 14) while Amy has the older set of twins (Aaron and Elana, 26) and two younger boys (Jonah, 24, and Aiden, 22).
Their children are all alumni of Hillel Day School and have either graduated from FJA or are currently enrolled.
“For the both us, we share the mutual goal of having more students enrolled in Jewish day school,” Ellen said. “The bigger picture that we are trying to accomplish is that Jewish day school doesn’t end in eighth grade, because student’s education doesn’t end there either. We want to bridge their education from Hillel right over to FJA.”
Another shared goal is to break the stigma that these schools are different when they are actually similar in goals and objectives.
“We want to encourage our community to choose Jewish day school at every level. We consider our objectives at FJA to be the same as those over at Hillel,” Amy said. “At Frankel we are encouraging independent thinking and allowing our students to find their own Jewish identity. This discovery of their identity allows our students to go on and promote Judaism. We want to create Jewish leaders and sustain Judaism not only in our communities but also in the larger world.”
A pivotal moment for Ellen stems from her eldest son, who is graduating from the University of Michigan this year.
“He’s a Jewish studies major and has a goal set for attending medical school,” Ellen said. “He came home from his trip to Poland and Israel while at Frankel and he said to me, ‘I know exactly who I am as a Jew in this world.’ I think sometimes it takes longer than eighth grade to develop that sense.”
The cousins are also breaking the stereotype that a child won’t get into a great college after graduating from Jewish day school, or that that Jewish day schools are too focused on religious education.
“Instead of learning French, they learn Hebrew. Instead of learning to analyze text, they are learning how to analyze the text in the Torah,” Amy said. “Our students are expanding their analytical and critical thinking skills all through the lens of Judaism.
“Our students do really well with college admissions, especially for the University of Michigan. Their background coming from a Jewish day school and seeing the rigor of the classes is one of the reasons they are accepted.”
In addition to encouraging the community to enroll children in Jewish day school, both are involved in growing philanthropic efforts.
“Our top goal is to make sure that the school is here for the next generation,” Ellen said. “Honestly, this is one of the best times to serve as president because it enables you to have a different set of eyes. You’re not looking through the lens of your children, but instead looking at what is best for the future of the school.”
Ellen and Amy’s service as president of both school’s Board of Trustees will come to an end in June.
“This process was truly special because it allowed us to communicate about our common goals,” Amy said. “We talk all the time, but now instead of talking about what we’re going to have for Shabbat dinner, we are talking about how we can both work together to promote our schools.”