USA: Mandel JDS’ Leberman: ‘Day school is in my blood’
USA/August 08, 2020/By:
The road to become head of school at the Joseph and Florence Mandel Jewish Day School took Jay Leberman around the world and to Israel prior to his return to his native land.
Leberman, who was in the first class of Hebrew Academy of Albany and attended a day camp run on the concept of the Ramah system, said he had a turning point as a graduate student in Liege, Belgium. He was studying to become a veterinarian at the time, having graduated from Hebrew University in Jerusalem with a bachelor’s degree in history.
During a Belgian Yom Kippur service, someone sneezed and the congregants laughed. He said to him, that response demonstrated that decades after the Holocaust, there remained a lack of Jewish knowledge in Europe.
“They didn’t know anything. They were a generation without knowledge, meaning Hitler had succeeded in Belgium,” Leberman told the CJN, in his first interview as head of school. “These were the remnants of once a prestigious Jewish community.”
That was the moment that he decided to pursue a life of Jewish education.
“It was an epiphany,” he said.
From Israel to Beachwood
Leberman came to Mandel JDS in Beachwood from Kivunim, an accredited gap-year program based in Jerusalem that embraces world Jewry and teaches world religions. He was director of Kivunim for seven years.
“I’ve had the privilege now of having over 400 students, graduates of which 70 (to) 75% were day school graduates, to see the outcome of day school education across the board from North America,” he said, adding he intends to use his international connections to Jewish communities in Europe and India to establish ties to Mandel JDS.
At the middle school level, Leberman plans to teach about world Jewry.
“We don’t have to be narrow in how we teach Judaism, Jewish culture, Jewish history,” Leberman said. “We can embrace the other without becoming the other.”
Leberman said his entire family is interested in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. One of his sons, Boaz, lives in Nazareth and brings together Israeli and Palestinian high school students in a non-governmental program.
“I don’t want children to be afraid of the world,” he said. “I don’t want to be us against them. And, yes, we have enemies. It doesn’t mean everyone’s our enemy – and we need to seek ways to create dialogue with people we don’t agree with.”
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