Debbie ‘Mrs. Hershey’ Herskovitz shares ‘Feelings’
Photo: Courtesy Debbie “Mrs. Hershey” Herskovitz 
Kaan Bilhan, 9, “Feelings” co-illustrator, with Debbie “Mrs. Hershey” Herskovitz.

By Deb Silverthorn

Debbie Herskovitz, aka “Mrs. Hershey,” has spent years teaching children their ABCs and 123s. Now, with the publication of her first book, “Feelings,” she’s teaching how to turn dreams into reality.

“As a teacher and a parent, I’ve found that children have a difficult time expressing their feelings and emotions,” said Hershey, who has taught preschool and second grade for over 17 years at The Lamplighter School.

“They know happy and sad, but not pride, jealousy or empowerment. Not exploring these feelings and emotions in the formative years can potentially lead to social and emotional challenges as an adult,” she added.

“Feelings” delves into specific and different experiences from a child’s perspective and is a resource for parents, teachers and counselors. By initiating conversations with children in a safe and fun format, its aim is to foster emotional intelligence.

When “Feelings” co-illustrator and co-author Kaan Bilhan was just 4 years old, Hershey gave an assignment for her students to draw their families. His work depicted 20 people with a variety of expressions and emotions; it touched Hershey immediately.

“I had always wanted to write a book,” Hershey said. “When I saw how well Kaan shared the faces he wanted me to know, I thought I could work with him to create something special.”

With the permission of his parents, Aysegul and Erkan Bilhan, the two went to work in early 2020. In months, they had a basis for their book. Then the world shut down and they were separated because of COVID-19.

“We went to homeschooling and Kaan continued to homeschool for the following year,” said Hershey. “By the time we were back together, he was in an older classroom, but we kept going. Now, it’s out there and we’re proud.

“Kaan’s illustrations brought each emotion to life through relatable scenarios that help children identify and understand their own feelings and those of others,” she said.

Bilhan, now a 9-year-old third-grade student who publishes his grade’s student newsletter, says he’s happy with the outcome.

“Most people who have published a book are way older. Probably they have at least a driver’s license. I used to be much quieter. Mrs. Hershey really taught me how to present myself and how to connect to people.

“I love Mrs. Hershey and wish she could be everyone’s teacher because everybody needs someone besides our parents to believe in us,” said Bilhan, who plans to become a businessman, attorney or animator. “It’s fun having people come up and tell me they like our book and a couple of people even asked me to sign their copy. I hope it helps lots of people.”

Bilhan’s parents are grateful for their son’s time in Hershey’s class and their work. “People of all ages will benefit from this,” said Aysegul, her husband echoing her sentiments. “As a family, we plan to donate some books to children in DISD because we truly believe it will be impactful.

“We’re engineers and expected our son’s success in science and math, but we love how he has flourished in social sciences,” she added. “We know Mrs. Hershey is responsible for much of that. She brings out the best in him.”

Photo: Courtesy Debbie “Mrs. Hershey” Herskovitz 
At an April 16, 2024, book signing, Debbie “Mrs. Hershey” Herskovitz’s “Feelings” co-illustrator and co-author, 9-year-old Kaan Bilhan, shared his autograph.

Hershey is married to Jonathan Herskovitz and is the mother of Jake and Mitchell Weiner. She is a Sherman Oaks, California, native and Grant High School graduate. As a teen, Hershey worked at Temple Beth Hillel, where she was raised, and participated in the L.A. Bureau of Jewish Education’s Havurat Noar program.

The former Levine Academy librarian and preschool teacher also taught in Southern California before moving to Dallas in 1998. She said the impact of her childhood teachers Mr. Sosa, Mrs. Speak and Mrs. Yankovich laid the groundwork for her dedication and lifelong desire to teach.

“I bleed teaching. It’s not a profession to me. It’s what I do,” said the San Diego State University alumna. “I can’t imagine my life any other way.”

Mitzvah work is ingrained in Hershey. She’s volunteered for eight Habitat for Humanity Global Village projects in seven countries. She has collected thousands of pairs of shoes and delivered them, through Soles4Souls, to needy residents in Costa Rica.

She’s fundraised for and participated in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s “Big Climb” three times. Next summer, she will volunteer with Discovery Corps’ Elephant Experience in Thailand.

She’s also connected through many local programs. Most Friday afternoons, she distributes pizza from The Lamplighter School’s “Pizza Fridays” to homeless people in the area.

Working out at Orange Theory is a self-described “addiction” for Hershey, who also enjoys baking and spending vacation time with her family on any body of water.

Hershey has been to Israel twice. In 1982, she went on a summer trip with the Southern California Federation of Temple Youth and spent time at Kibbutz Nir Oz. That kibbutz was one site of the Oct. 7, 2023, massacre; more than 100 of its residents were killed, taken hostage or declared missing. Her second trip was last summer with her husband, joining a tour with Houston’s Congregation Beth Yeshurun, where her husband was raised.

“Kids aren’t the only ones who need to feel their feelings. We’ve all been doing that a lot these last many months,” Hershey said. “The book was written with children in mind, but it certainly is something to help us all through all of our feelings.”

To order “Feelings,” visit tinyurl.com/Feelings-Herskovitz-book or email mrshersheyabc@gmail.com.

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