For Leibovic, that influence has been far-reaching: Today, she is in her final year of rabbinical school at American Jewish University, an ambition she attributes in part to the formative education she received at Sinai Akiba. “I was the kid in kindergarten who volunteered to lead services,” she laughs. “I was always really into Jewish education.”
It is a theme running through Leibovic’s life – finding ways to incorporate Jewish learning into her everyday experience. From Sinai Akiba, she went on to Milken Community High School. Then, after a year at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, she transferred to a joint program at Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, where she delved into Jewish women’s studies.
After college, she got a credential in special education and taught but found herself wanting to deepen her Jewish knowledge even further. Ultimately, she says, she wants “to help people using the Jewish tradition in some way.”
Tradition and community are, in Leibovic’s view, two of Sinai Akiba’s biggest selling points. For her, there was something incredible about a place that showcased “how beautiful Shabbat could be” and that offered “a curriculum that was based on serious Judaism. It was like a breath of fresh air,” she recalls.
She also felt embraced by a warm family feeling. “Because of Sinai Akiba, I felt like I had a million 'second' moms and dads,” she says. “It was the kind of environment where, when you were struggling, you had other people to turn to. It was really like we were raised by a village.”
Leibovic notes that the feeling is clearly a common one. “I was visiting with Shelly Lawrence, who was my second-grade teacher and was amazing; I loved everything we learned in that class. And she was listing all her former students who are coming back with their own children, and it just feels like family,” she says.
She leaves open the possibility that she will send her own two girls, Eve and Nora, to the school, as well. “It would be so special to give them what I had, and for my kids to have relationships with my friends’ children,” she says. “Sinai Akiba is definitely high on our list.”