Alexandra Katz ’03

I am who I am today because of the values I learned at Rashi. As a second grader in Stephanie Rotsky’s class, I honored Tzedakah Heroes, sang to nursing home residents, and participated in the Tamchui project. Rashi taught me that I had a responsibility to make the world a better place.  Today I put these values to use by fighting against injustice.

I graduated from Barnard College and became a paralegal at the Federal Defenders of New York, an organization whose mission is to provide high quality (affordable or free) legal representation for defendants accused of federal crimes. My job entails fighting for clients and supporting them as they navigate the legal system. When incarcerated, whether awaiting trial or sentencing, these individuals are in a tortuous state of limbo and few prisons provide support programs for inmates.

Out of this need, I helped create The Focus Forward Project, a 12-week course designed to provide both an intellectual and emotional outlet for federal inmates awaiting trial or sentencing. A small class sizes allows for the creation of a community. A variety of tools give participants the confidence in themselves to take charge of their lives. Those in the program closely read and discuss a book, keep a journal, and learn life skills such as creating a resume, public speaking, conflict resolution, and goal setting. When I teach this program, I incorporate meaningful aspects of my experience at Rashi, such as giving them a voice to be heard and instilling within them a love of learning. The goal is to help these individuals believe in their own abilities and their right to a better life. Our model is simple: treat inmates like human beings. Give them the potential to succeed and they will.

Today, we have three graduating classes at two facilities and both men and women participate. Our goal to expand across the country and create Focus Forward Project reentry centers to assist graduates once they are released from prison. I truly believe that my time at Rashi influenced me to center my life around tikkun olam. I am so thankful to all the teachers, students, and entire school community for instilling these values in me.