Paramus—Ben Porat Yosef, an Orthodox yeshiva day school in Bergen County, announced this week the appointment of Rabbi Saul Zucker as head of school. Rabbi Zucker, an experienced Torah scholar, administrator and school head, will replace Dr. Steve Lorch, who has been serving as interim head of school since the departure of Rav Tomer Ronen last year. Rabbi Zucker is set to begin his tenure this August.
While Rabbi Zucker spent many years as an educator, administrator and head of school at The Frisch School and as day school program director at the Orthodox Union, he comes to BPY from Magen David Yeshivah High School in Brooklyn, where he has served as head of school since 2011. He is an advocate for progressive education, and worked at Magen David to implement an award-winning progressive pedagogical approach, including active-learner methodology and inquiry- and project-based learning.
“We were looking for someone who was passionate about our values. We were looking for the best leader to harness all the passion and the talent in the building,” said Cheryl Rosenberg, president of Ben Porat Yosef’s board of trustees.
Rosenberg explained that BPY was particularly in need of Rabbi Zucker’s experience in bringing together diverse teams and working with them collaboratively. “We have Rabbi Ilan Acoca and Rabbi David Bassous (who serve as rabbanim-in-residence) to infuse the school with a love of diverse heritage and spirituality. We have all of our shlichim who bring the Hebrew language and love of Israel to life every day. And we have an incredibly strong academic leadership team who understands our progressive pedagogy and will learn so much from Rabbi Zucker’s experience in this area,” she said.
“I truly believe that what’s happening at BPY is nothing short of miraculous,” Rabbi Zucker told The Jewish Link. Rabbi Zucker said he was amazed by BPY’s shattering of four conventional myths about Jewish education. “American kids going to [yeshiva day] elementary school for eight years can have a passing familiarity with Ivrit, but they’re not going to emerge as fluent comprehensive Hebrew speakers. BPY shows that this is a myth; the students emerging from there are amazingly fluent Hebrew speakers,” he said.
Second, Rabbi Zucker explained that the conventional wisdom indicates there are “invisible walls” between the communities of the Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews, and BPY shows that that is a myth as well. “Not only can you learn and appreciate, but also cherish and live and experience the majesty of the heritage of each different community,” he said.
Third, Rabbi Zucker explained that in education, conventional wisdom indicates the most important thing is giving students a plethora of facts to memorize and master. “But BPY says that if you really want to prepare students for the future, giving them skills with which to apply the data is far more important, and this goes to the heart of education.”
Finally, “conventional wisdom is if you set up rigorous standards of educational excellence, that comes at the expense of warmth and heart. Or, if you focus on being warm, that that comes at the expense of the rigorous standards of excellence. BPY shows that is a myth as well. I have never seen any of the warmth and heart that I see at BPY,” Rabbi Zucker said.
“Any one of the things would make a school special, but the combination of all these things makes BPY a singularity,” he concluded.
Rosenberg shared that the search for BPY’s head of school took seven months. “It was incredibly thorough and methodical, but also extraordinarily creative and thoughtful. We had a group of diverse stakeholders from BPY who created and led a meaningful and successful process under the leadership of Daniel Cohen of Englewood, who was the search committee chair and is the vice president of the board,” she said.
“Rabbi Zucker is talented at building and growing his staff both from within and without; he has vast experience in diverse communities as well as within homogeneous institutions with both wholly Sephardic and predominantly Ashkenazic populations. And, of course, he is intensely Zionist and brings with him a love of Israel, its language and its people,” Rosenberg said.
Under Rabbi Zucker’s leadership, Magen David Yeshivah High School has been awarded two Young Pioneer prizes by the Jewish Educational Project, two Pomegranate Prizes from the Covenant Foundation, and two of its outstanding educational administrators have become Joshua Venture Group Fellows. In addition, Magen David was one of the founding schools in the I.D.E.A. Schools Network.
Rabbi Zucker, a Teaneck resident, is a member of Congregation Beth Aaron. Rabbi Zucker and his wife, Cindy, who is the middle-school Judaic studies assistant principal at Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, have two daughters and a son: Temimah Zucker Lobl (a Jewish Link contributor) of Teaneck, Orah Zucker Chait of Edison, and Moshe Zucker, of Washington Heights.