This coming August, I hand over the mantel of leadership to Dr. Jonathan Levy, the current Principal at TCW. Although I will be assisting him with his transition until my wife and I make aliyah in December, Jonathan is eminently capable of leading this great school on his own. In addition, he inherits an institution from predecessors who helped shape a strong and mighty TanenbaumCHAT.
I never met Rabbi Pacino. He served as Head of School from 1979-1997. What I learned about him shortly after my arrival is that he took the time to get to know every student and his/her family. He built our school to be not just a school but a family.
Paul Shaviv arrived in 1998 from Montreal and served as Director of Education for 14 years. I knew Paul before I came to TanenbaumCHAT. Paul is a gifted manager, and he developed comprehensive systems and procedures that have made TanenbaumCHAT a model of professionalism. Everyone knew that the “trains ran on time at CHAT.” Even more, he helped establish TanenbaumCHAT as a premier educational institution capable of competing with the finest private schools.
A year after Paul arrived, our school moved northward to Richmond Hill. It was, from what I’ve read, a tumultuous move. There were protests and petitions (sounds familiar?). Shortly thereafter, Paul tapped Rhona Birenbaum to serve as CFO. Rhona’s attention to detail, outstanding fiscal oversight, integrity, willingness to take on any task, and wisdom made her the right choice years later to serve as interim Head of School during the twelve months after Mr. Shaviv left and before I arrived.
In my four years, it was my goal to clarify something that should have been obvious: that we are a Jewish school. When I arrived, it seemed that many people were defensive about our Jewish mission. They were apologetic whenever Jewish practice was supposed to dictate a course of action. Jewish standards were observed grudgingly; when we represented ourselves in the outside world, many tried to cover up that we were a Jewish school.
My position was the opposite. If we don’t affirm the centrality of our Jewish mission, how do we distinguish ourselves from other fine secondary schools? If we don’t connect kids more deeply to Jewish values, the Jewish community, and the Jewish State of Israel, wherein lies our uniqueness? If we don’t recognize that our unique contributions is that we help the Jewish community achieve its mission, who will take on this role?
I was fortunate that all three presidents with whom I had the privilege of serving, Les Fluxgold, Ellen Chaikof, and Ray Rubin, spoke openly about the centrality of our Jewish mission. They not only supported me in this vision but helped lead the charge.
The world we live in puts before our children a host of alternative value systems, all of which are presented in a compelling and attractive manner. To be true to our Jewish mandate, we must offer something that is at least as satisfying, fulfilling, and attractive. Our job is to build an educational program where students’ Jewish identity shapes their choices about the kind of person they aspire to be and ultimately whom to marry. It is to build a program where students see that Jewish tradition and Jewish peoplehood can bring meaning into their lives. That’s what our students want from Judaism, not just from TanenbaumCHAT: to see how Judaism relates to life, their lives.
That mandate is what I hope will be my legacy. I can boast other accomplishments–creating the engineering and robotics program, expanding the possibilities of Israel experiences to include not just heritage trips but programs in marine biology and robotics, working with the administration to understand that professional development must be tied to students’ learning needs, not just to teachers’ interests, and more. However, if I have helped to clarify our powerful niche as a school and have done so in a way that all stakeholders will be more proud of who we are as Jews, then I will have made my contribution to the fine legacy that Rabbi Pacino, Mr. Shaviv, Ms. Birenbaum all leave to Dr. Levy.
Teachers planning the revised curriculum for next year.