In The Limelight
Interview by Teresa Nguyen
“I believe that a teacher has to treat all of his or her students with the same expectations, because you don’t know what a person is capable of when you truly believe in his or her abilities!” ~ Edna Feldman-Schultz
Online Spanish Instructor
Janesville Multicultural Teacher Scholarship Board Member
HealthNet Translator and Community Volunteer
Retired Spanish Teacher - School District of Janesville
Human Relations Club Founder/Coordinator at Franklin Middle School and Parker High School
Founder of the first Heritage Speakers Class
Former Educational Director at Congregation B'nai Abraham
Former Hedberg Public Library Board of Trustees
2008 YWCA Woman of Distinction Recipient
2008 Armed Forces Citizen Award Recipient - Citizen of the Year
2008-09 Lewandowski Award - For promoting racial, ethnic, gender, or sexual orientation equity in the education profession; promoting peace, social equity and justice.
2010 Janesville Education Association WHOO Solidarity Award
The Early Years
I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It seemed we were the only poor Jewish family in Buenos Aires. My mother grew up in a family of Polish immigrants. My grandfather escaped the Holocaust with only his two sisters. His parents died in Poland. He had lived in Mila 17 and his father, a rabbi, led the congregation of the synagogue above of their grocery store. My grandmother left Poland prior to the war. She spoke Spanish without an accent, but my grandfather always carried an accent.
Young Edna in her aunt's wedding
My mother was a very intelligent woman, who always wanted to study. At that time, women didn’t attend college, so they worked in traditional, female occupations as seamstresses and such. My father, on the other hand, came from a very wealthy family in Vienna, Austria. My paternal grandmother's parents left Russia also before WWII, and her father was a welder who helped build one of the first Carousels in Buenos Aires. He also built and welded the windows and top of the Argentinean Obelisk (similar to the Washington Monument in DC) still standing on 9 of July Avenue in the center of Buenos Aires.
My grandfather was born in Argentina. My dad didn’t want to go to school and was rather mischievous. Then, he met my mother, they fell in love and got married.
Dad worked with my grandfather in a factory that made carbon filters for refrigerators. When new technology came along, the demand changed, so the family lost everything. So that’s why we were poor. We were three children with our mom and dad living a one-bedroom house with an outdoor privy.
As a child, I was outgoing, but shy at the same time. There was always a rebel in me. People would say, “Walk like a girl. Sit like a girl.” But that wasn’t really my nature and I didn’t fit the mold, so I became a bit submissive. I was very unhappy.
Growing up poor, compared to many Jews in Argentina, I don’t have good memories of fancy clothing or shoes. My hobby, or more like my escape, was to go to embassies and consulates and collect information; brochures, posters and books from other countries. To me, this was cool and amazing stuff! I guess this has led me to be the person I am now, one who loves to meet people and learn from others. These days, whenever I travel, I love to meet new people, help translate, take photos of strangers and help people. But, as a child, I didn’t have much, so collecting these things allowed me to travel vicariously through the experiences of others.
I enjoyed reading, enjoyed time with friends. I was also involved in the Jewish left-winged movement and in a culture and journalistic club, always inclined to learn about different cultures.
It was a teacher who helped me open my mind to the world. She encouraged me and told me I was smart, which was something I never saw in myself. She noticed that I saw the world differently and said I had a good heart. That turned me around 180 degrees and I became a really good student! I had the special honor of carrying the Argentinian flag and everything!
At that time, Argentina went through a lot of trouble politically and with the military. Things were not good. It always hurts me so much when people say they don’t understand why people want to come here. I never desired to come to the United States.
Edna at age 15 with her grandparents
Before I graduated, I had traveled to Israel with a group of students to work on a kibbutz as a volunteer. I loved the experience! Once I had lived there, I learned so much. And looking back, I saw Israel in a different light. As a young Jewish woman fresh out of high school, I wanted to go back to Israel. I knew things weren’t as bad there as they were in Argentina. So, I left for Israel in 1973.
When I got to Israel at age 18, I suddenly found myself in a country at war. It began when the Arab coalition launched a joint surprise attack on Israeli positions on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism. It was fought from October 6th to the 25th by Arab states led by Egypt and Syria. And there I was without my family!
Yet, I stayed and attended college, earning a degree in Physical Education for Emotionally Disturbed Students. During that time, I was involved in many cultural and political groups then and with my Kibbutz movement Ha Shomer Hatzair.
I worked in music therapy and dance for students in the mental health hospital. On the kibbutz, I also taught regular k-12 education. I lived in the kibbutz for 10 years.
For two years, before meeting Frank, I worked as a representative of my Kibbutz in the Tel Aviv Office of the Youth Movement Cultural Department. I also worked creating and organizing the library for the Ha Shomer Hatzair central office.
Before I met my husband and came to the U.S., I had changed my name because I didn’t like it and didn’t like who I was in Argentina. So, while in Israel, I became Edna.
I met Frank while on the kibbutz in Israel. We were both milking cows in the dairy barn! But he had a girlfriend, I had a boyfriend. Then, I broke up with my boyfriend and Frank and his girlfriend split. Interestingly, our exes ended up together! At one time, the four of us had been friends. In the end, Frank and I became closer, one thing led to another and we became a couple.
Frank was getting a Journalism degree. He couldn’t be a journalist in Israel, so we decided to live in the United States. We were engaged when I came to the U.S., but because I did not have the proper “Fiancé Visa”, I had to pay a $500 fine!
Frank and I just celebrated our 36th anniversary. My students were so shocked asking, “You’ve been married THAT long to the SAME MAN?” I always thought that was so funny.
We have two children. Our daughter, Adelina, has a degree in Musical Theater and lives in Chicago, IL. She’s an actress and now works as Casting Director at Firebrand Theater and for other minority POC theaters. She also works for Harris Investments in the Human Resources department.
Frank and Edna on Their Wedding Day
Adi lived in New York for a while, but I’m glad she moved closer to home. In NY she had a good job and met a lot of famous people working at the Union Square Café. But she was too far from family and friends, so she came back. Our son, Oren, has an undergrad degree in Genetics from UW Madison where he did CRISPR research. He’s now in med school, studying to be a trauma surgeon and lives in Rockford, IL.
Oren and Adelina
Oren, Edna, Adelina and Frank
We’re a very close family. Sometimes we want to kill each other, but most of the time we love to be together and spend time together. As parents, you hope your children will grow up to at least like you. But to hear from them that they love us and think we were excellent parents means so much!
After coming to the States, we settled in Green Bay, Frank’s hometown. I wasn’t really happy there. It was so weird feeling like a minority, after living in Israel. Everywhere I went there was culture shock. We then settled in Madison, when Frank returned to school. I became a preschool teacher for the reformed synagogue. In summers I worked at a Jewish youth camp.
After Frank graduated, he took a job in Boscobel. I became pregnant with my daughter, Adelina, and was very sick, requiring hospitalization. We lived on a farm there for a relatively short time.
Eventually, Frank took a job for the paper in Sunbury, Pennsylvania. While there, I went to work at a shelter for battered women. I also taught sexual assault prevention programs in the high schools. That was challenging and depressing work, especially working with women who were abused and assaulted.
We really longed to return to Wisconsin, so in 1990 we moved to Janesville where Frank began working as a reporter for The Janesville Gazette. It was hard for me to live in Janesville at that time. I had an accent and people saw that I looked and talked differently, so they treated me differently, as if I were a lesser citizen.
I became the Hillel Program Director in Madison, where I did intercultural and interracial programs at UW Madison.
When I became pregnant with my second child, Oren, I didn’t want to commute to Madison. I took a position as a Hebrew instructor and Director of Education at the B’Nai Abraham synagogue in Beloit. I also taught Hebrew at Beloit College. At that time, I was also running my own catering business.
There were complications with my second pregnancy, so I had to quit that position. I knew that I would go crazy if I sat around on my ‘tuchus’, so I went back to school. Here in the Midwest, I realized I couldn’t find a fulltime job teaching Hebrew, but I knew I could find one teaching Spanish.
I had finished the coursework in two years at Beloit College. Then I earned my masters in Curriculum and Instruction at UW - Madison. I was the first teacher to have a website on technology and the first teacher to do telecasting!
My Spanish degree landed me a job teaching Spanish for 11 years at Franklin Middle School in Janesville and 8 years at Parker High School. At Franklin, I founded the Human Relations Club and then took that to Parker when I taught there. In 2019, after 21 years, I retired from the School District of Janesville.
There were some challenges in the field. Education in America is very different from other places in the world. The curriculum is changed quite often, so that presents challenges, especially if after a couple of years, it is decided that the old way was actually better.
Senora Edna's Human Relations Club at Parker High School - Exploring the Tet Holiday
Teachers in our district work so hard, but many don’t feel appreciated. There’s so much paperwork! It seems there’s always someone outside the classroom telling teachers how many students he/she should have. I know there are just a few teachers who do the same thing every year and don’t change it up. But most are like me. You have to see your students first to decide the ways you’re going to teach the subjects. By doing so, the majority of the kids can grasp and learn.
But there are its rewards. I felt really lucky, especially working for Dr. Kim Ehrhardt and Dr. Charles Urness. They are wonderful leaders! They trusted me. They knew I was crazy and loud and people would think I was angry, especially at the start of the school year. It was not anger. I am passionate about what I do!
Edna as WEAC State Representative
Also, I believe that a teacher has to treat all of his or her students with the same expectations, because you don’t know how much a person can do if you truly believe in his or her abilities!
Now I see former students who are grown with their own children and tell me, “I didn’t understand it when you would push me to work harder and I wasn’t happy about it. But now, I get it.” They realize that I was preparing them for life beyond middle or high school. These are my rewards.
I wanted to save everybody, but I knew I couldn’t. So, when you see these kids graduate and do well, or when I go shopping and they shout from the other end of the store, “Señora Edna!” and they’re happy to see you, it’s rewarding. I thought it would be terrible to live in a community where all my students live, but I go to the Y and see them, it’s fun. I tell them, “You can just call me Edna because we’re equal now.” We talk and we laugh, and that’s very special! I even know a few former students who have become Spanish Teachers, so that’s an even bigger reward!
I didn’t get into it for the money. I felt it was my calling. Even my family would say, “We always knew you were going to be a teacher!”
When I decided to retire, it felt kind of special that people were sad when I left. I felt appreciated.
Edna with her students at her last graduation as a Parker High School teacher
Hobbies and Travel
For so many years I worked so hard I barely had hobbies. All I did was read to escape reality. But I do like to read.
I love to cook ethnic foods. We love trying foods from all over the world, so I love to experiment with a lot of different foods. When my kids were little, we always said, “There is a garbage can there. You have to try it. If you don’t like it, spit it out. But, if you don’t try it, you will miss out.” We would go to a restaurant and my three-year-old would say, “I want shrimp scampi.” The waitress would look at me like, “What? This is a toddler asking for shrimp?”
I love to travel. If I had money, I’d travel even more. Not long ago, I took my students to Spain. I loved the south of Spain because of how the Jewish, Muslim and Christian cultures are so intertwined. Unfortunately, if it weren’t for the king and queen of Spain, those three cultures would still be flourishing side by side. When you have power, you conquer. And when you conquer, you don’t realize how you ruin other cultures to make your own more dominant. It’s kind of sad when you see what was once a mosque turned into a church or a plaque on the floor stating, “Here was a Jewish synagogue” because it had been destroyed.
Senora Edna featured in the school newspaper
I’m a history buff, so when we traveled to Petra in Jordan. I loved it! I love ancient history and it was incredible to see all the ancient architecture and the Al-Khazneh, "The Treasury", one of the most elaborate temples in Petra. Of course, I love traveling through Israel and Palestine.
I’ve traveled to Europe, South America and Costa Rica. This fall, Frank and I went on our long-overdue honeymoon to Prague, Vienna and Budapest! We got to see where the Feldmans came from and to see what is left of the Jewish culture there, and to see the paintings by Austrian artist, Gustav Klimt.
Edna with her students on a trip to Costa Rica
In all faiths it is a protective sign. It brings its owner happiness, luck, health, and good fortune, keeping away evil. If you come to my house, you’ll see many of them on my walls.
My other enjoyments are listening to music and spending time with friends. And I love to help people!
As for other hobbies, museums are always a favorite! And I love to collect Hamsas. The Hamsa is an ancient Middle Eastern amulet symbolizing the hand of God.
Edna and Frank on a night cruise on the Danube
At the Jerusalem Jubilee Synagogue in Prague
Edna in Budapest
I’m still involved with the Janesville Multicultural Teacher Scholarship. I’ve been on the board since its beginning, when Senator Tim Cullen started the scholarship. I was appointed by Tom Evert to be the liaison for the school district, but then Cullen brought me on the board as a “community member”. It was important for me to be involved in this project. The students of color in our schools are not well represented by their teachers. They need the opportunity to see leaders who have come from the same backgrounds or subcultures. We give scholarships for minority graduates to go to college for a teaching degree with the commitment to come back to our district and teach for three years.
Janesville Multicultura Teacher Scholarship Board and others involved
Currently, I’m a volunteer for HealthNet translating Spanish for the nurses and the doctors. I had a patient who spoke Arabic, too! The person came with a relative, but I could understand a bit and say a few words. I love the work. I don’t do this for the gratification, but I came home and said to Frank, “I’ve never been blessed by people so many times in a day!”
It’s amazing how one of our first recipients, Daniel Jackson, is now Dean of Students at Marshall Middle School! Another, Nikki Tourdot, became an elementary teacher in the School District of Janesville. It’s very positive and empowering for these minority students. Sue Conley and I have been working on this project together since the beginning and Camilla Owen and Christine Moore, who was our past chair, joined soon after. Tammy Huth serves as the current chair.
A new event I’ve been helping put together for the community is a Latino Festival, which will be at the Janesville Performing Art Center on November 10th! It's a great collaboration with Nathan Burkart, Joshua Grube and Victor Gonzalez. The festival will include games for kids, food and different shows and entertainment. Thanks to my daughter, Adi, I was able to make some great connections with artists.
Where We Are
In my view, the community hasn’t changed quite enough. People around here are still not as accepting of people of color or other nationalities. We’re just not there yet. And it’s sad. When you see it in the children, you know they learned this at home. There is a reluctance to change. When you don’t know something, it leads to fear. It’s hard to change.
I don’t like the word “tolerance”. I don’t want to be tolerated. I want to be respected and accepted. You don’t have to take what I say and agree with me. But think about what “different” means. Different is not synonymous with “bad”.
As far as the community and moving forward, I feel that now that GM is gone, we need to open our minds and find new ways to pay attention to and address the homelessness in our area. Anyone can become homeless. We need more kindness and compassion.
The Bright Side
Janesville is a great community to raise children.
Edna shaving her head for a Relay for Life bet.
It’s close to the bigger cities, so you can go there and then come home. A couple of times I accidentally left my garage open, but we were safe and nothing was taken. My daughter in Chicago couldn’t believe it! They have millions of locks on their doors down there. It’s a safe community.
We have a great theater in JPAC and so much talent in this town. We have wonderful schools with wonderful programs for kids who excel! Our children really benefited so much from our public education here. That’s important to me…a community that gives importance to its education, the arts and the music. It’s extraordinary.
Of course, there have been so many women who have had to fight so much more than I to become somebody. My mom was such a positive person, and she encouraged me to do things. She could never go on to school herself, but she pushed us to reach higher. When she got cancer, I flew to Israel to stay with her by her bedside. We were able to speak together like adults, one on one. She inspired me.
My dad’s cousin was also an ambitious and feisty woman. She always saw something in me. When my daughter went to visit them in Argentina, she told her, “We always knew your mom would become somebody.”
The last visit with her mom.
I’m teaching Spanish via the Internet all over the United States. My first student was a friend of my daughter. I prepare lessons and we speak online for the instruction. They get a week of lessons and we meet once a week online. They have language, audio and video lessons plus a variety of topics.
I’m also planning to substitute teach. You can retire from the schools, but the school doesn’t retire from your system!