A LOSS IN OUR COMMUNITY: Beloved French teacher, colleague, and friend Sonya Rotman passes away

Back to Article
Back to Article

A LOSS IN OUR COMMUNITY: Beloved French teacher, colleague, and friend Sonya Rotman passes away

Katie Goldenberg and Surya Gowda

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

To the great sorrow of the school community, French teacher Sonya Rotman passed away Wednesday morning after a long struggle with cancer. Madame Rotman had shared her love of French language and culture with students and colleagues for nearly 32 years.

“Kind, loving, and always elegant, Madame Rotman was a dear friend to many of us in the school,” Head of the Upper Division Dr. Jessica Levenstein said. “I treasure the conversations we had, which in recent years touched on the topics that meant the most to her: her profound love for her family and her deep devotion to her students.”

Rotman grew up in the Soviet Union and moved to America not knowing a word of English, Morgan Joseph (12) said. After receiving her Bachelors and Masters from the College of Novosibirsk, U.S.S.R, and a Certofocat de Langue Francaise from the Sorbonne, France, Rotman began working at the school in the fall of 1987, according to the Mannikan.

For the majority of her time at the school, Rotman taught the French Seminar course, dedicating special care to the Capstone project of rehearsing and staging a play with her seniors each spring, world languages teacher Susan Carnochan said.

“She cared deeply about her students and advisees, and always let them know that they were cared for,” Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly said. “She had a huge and welcoming heart that made her classroom a safe harbor for ‘lots of different students within our languages department.”

Rotman worked closely with theatre teacher Joseph Timko on these productions, staging pieces from Moliére to Ionesco and inspiring Timko to stage this year’s Rhinocéros production after she directed the French version last year, Carnochan said.

“Her students absolutely loved her and her classes, her rigor, her intelligence, her wit, her humanity, and most of all her love of them,” Timko said.

Edith Herwitz ‘16 recalled how Rotman would begin each year by handing out baskets of chocolates to her classes in order to establish her goal of “bringing the same smile to our faces speaking French as when eating chocolate,” Herwitz said.

Throughout the year, Rotman would also share aspects of French culture with her students by bringing in croissants, letting students listen to French pop hits, and showing her classes classic French films, Herwitz said.

Rotman’s love of teaching impacted both her colleagues and those in her classes.

She cared for her students and the French program with “fierce devotion,” Latin and Greek teacher Dr. Cornelie Ladd said.

“Above all, Mrs. Rotman loved teaching and adored and admired her students,” Carnochan said. “She often said she wouldn’t know what to do with herself if she couldn’t teach.”

“Even more influential for me than her love for French culture was the deep love I knew Madame had for me as a person,” Herwitz said. “She always referred to her students as her babies. She treated us and thought of us as her Horace Mann children, not just as her French students. I will miss her dearly.”

Rotman’s students felt her care for them and would often reciprocate in beautifully designed cards, Head of the Language Department Pilar Valencia said. At the end of the year, students wrote their thanks in paper airplanes and flew them towards Rotman, she said.

“In each of those events Madame Rotman would end up in abundant tears of joy, the same joy that she would nurture and give back to her next group of students,” Valencia said.

“Madame was a fierce and loyal supporter of not only her colleagues, but of this school and its core values – most importantly, the value of striking a balance between Individual Achievement and Caring Community,” Kelly said. “She lived that core value daily.”

Allison Gelman ‘16 and Molly Roberts ‘16, who were in Rotman’s advisory, viewed her love and lessons as a significant part of their school experience.

“She was an advisor, teacher, and friend who always made us laugh and smile,” Gelman said.

“She was truly one of the reasons we look back at HM with such pride and happy memories,” Roberts said. “Love you Madame and miss you already. We are truly heartbroken.”

Rotman also committed her time to helping organize “French Days,” all-day events featuring performances and workshops touching on everything from French food to politics in order to share her passion with the greater school community, Carnochan said.

“Mrs. Rotman was a masterful planner and relished the excitement and sense of pride that this endeavor inspired in her students,” she said.

Faculty and students expressed their sorrow at Rotman’s passing, sharing the wide-reaching impact her presence made on the community.

Rotman’s “quiet and humble” leadership greatly impacted her colleagues, Valencia said.

“She always had a keen insight into everything, especially people’s feelings,” Japanese teacher Mami Fujisaki said. “She gave wise advice to anyone and was eloquent in sharing her thoughts in the department meetings.”

Even outside of class and the school, Rotman created deep and caring relationships with those around her.

“[Gelman and I] were together in Paris just a few months ago, and we consistently referred back to our time with Madame,” Roberts said. “We were able to see all the places Madame had taught us about finally come to life.”

Morgan Joseph (12) would sit with Rotman everyday during H period and talk about French, their lives, and their families, she said. To Joseph, these meetings were one of the main reasons she appreciated Rotman so much because Rotman let Joseph into her life and Joseph let Rotman into hers, creating a safe and comforting space for them to connect, Joseph said.

Anne Rosenblatt ‘16, who was a student of Rotman for four years, spoke of Rotman’s positive energy and influence inside the classroom and out.

“She always came into class with an infectious smile and was such a bright light in the Horace Mann community,” Rosenblatt said. “I know that I speak on behalf of all of Madame’s students when I say she will be deeply missed.”

English teacher Deborah Kassel appreciated Rotman deeply. “Thanks to Madame Rotman, for more than two decades, I delighted in the company of a learned and compassionate colleague who inspired me with her invaluable insight into Madame Bovary, Marguerite Duras, and Jean Racine,” Kassel said. “Thanks to my true friend Sonya, I had a cafeteria confidante to correct my French during our lunchtime tete a tetes, to celebrate with me on the occasion of my finally finished doctorate and arrival of my 29th birthday for the 21st time. May Madame Sonya Rotman’s courage, integrity, and panache live on in both of them—and in all of us.”

“Madame Rotman will remain with us in very many ways: in her love of culture, of literature, in her passion for teaching, in the honest, unlimited friendship that she offered to all of her colleagues,” Valencia said. “We are very thankful for her willingness to share so much of her life with us. She will be remembered dearly.”

Rotman was very special to visual arts teacher Kim Do and his family, he said. “We often quote her words, as a shorthand, to describe some of our life situations. She will remain in our hearts forever.”

“While I’m an admirer of every employee here, I think we’d all agree that Madame was our most elegant, most refined, most dignified, and that she’s left us many a life lesson to consider and learn from,” Kelly said.