Dear Hillel Day School Community,
For the past 22 years, I have been blessed in my professional life to work at two schools that are at the forefront of Jewish and independent school education. They were innovative; they challenged the status quo; they inspired a love of learning among their faculty and students; most importantly, they fostered a true sense of Derech Eretz among faculty, staff, students, parents, Board members, and the wider school community. Guided by these principles, I am extremely humbled, honored, and excited to serve as the next Head of School at the Hillel Day School of Metropolitan Detroit.
For over 62 years, Hillel has provided an unmatched secular and Jewish day school education to Jewish children in the Detroit area. At a time when our children’s connection to Judaism and the State of Israel is being challenged in new ways, an ongoing commitment to Jewish literacy and Hebrew fluency has never been more important. I firmly believe that the mission of a Jewish Day School education is to transform the lives of students, create the next generation of Jewish leaders, and ensure Jewish continuity. This should be accomplished through a robust curriculum focusing on Torah and Rabbinic literature that fosters an appreciation for the history of the Jewish people, and brings timeless Jewish values and text into modernity. There must be time set aside for tefillot in traditional and creative forms so that students learn ritual practice and develop an inner spirituality. Hebrew language is taught to all students to emphasize its centrality as the language of the Jewish people, and so students can study Torah and commentary in their original language. Hillel’s strong Jewish studies program will ultimately instill a true sense of Jewish pride in our children -- one of the most effective means to combat the sharp rise of anti-Semitism here in the United States and across Europe. It is also critical that we foster an unwavering commitment to the State of Israel, accomplished through classroom education about ancient and modern Israel’s history, celebration of important Israeli holidays, and experiential learning opportunities through trips to Israel that form a resolute connection to the land.
The solid foundation that Hillel students receive in Hebrew language and Judaic Studies complements an excellent General Studies education. Through a modern learning philosophy that focuses on the development of the whole child, Hillel has become a national leader in educational innovation. None of this would be possible without the outstanding faculty and staff who strive to meet the individual learning needs of each student. Hillel’s key strengths and core principles resonate so closely with my own as an educator, a father, and a Jew.
From the moment I stepped into the building, I immediately understood Hillel’s tagline, “Mind and Soul - Better Together.” During my visit to campus, I found students, teachers, administrators, support staff, and Hillel parents who are proud to be associated with Hillel. The joy in the classrooms and hallways was palpable. I suspect there are thousands of stories you want to share that bring to life what Hillel has meant to you and your family, and I am eager to hear all of them.
Let me tell you a bit about myself. I have been married to my bashert, Dr. Marsha Pincus Katz, a small animal veterinarian, for the past 25 years. We are the proud parents of two amazing young men who went to Jewish day schools for their entire education. Our older son, Eli, is 22, and a senior majoring in applied math and statistics at Johns Hopkins University. Eli has served as President of Johns Hopkins Hillel for the past year. Jonah, our younger son, is in 11th grade at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in the Philadelphia suburbs, and just returned from a three-month study abroad program in Israel. As a father, I witnessed firsthand how my sons’ day school education was transformative for their development as Jews, how it inspired a love of Torah, mitzvot, and the Hebrew language, and helped them to become staunch supporters of Israel.
I want to thank Ellen Folbe, President of the Board of Trustees, and Eric Bronstein, Vice President of the Board of Trustees and Search Committee Chair, and the entire Search Committee for their warm welcome to Detroit and to Hillel itself. I am eager to join the Detroit Jewish community this coming July. Marsha and Jonah will remain in Philadelphia for the 2020 - 2021 school year so that Jonah can finish high school at Barrack; they plan to visit Detroit often throughout the school year. We all look forward to meeting you soon, and becoming an integral part of the vibrant Detroit Jewish community.
Five times throughout the year, as we complete a sefer (book) of the Torah in synagogue on Shabbat morning, the congregation declares out loud in unison “חזק חזק ונתחזק” (chazak chazak venit chazek), which can be translated as “Be Strong! Be strong! We will be strengthened.” Coming from a position of strength in the Detroit Jewish community, I look forward to working together with the entire Hillel community to take this extraordinary school from strength to strength as we write the next chapter of its story. It will be an honor to be on that journey with you.