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Issue Date: September 2010 Issue


Jim Rogozen

Headmasters at Jewish day schools typically last three to five years in one school. Rabbi Jim Rogozen is now on his 18th year as head of the Gross Schechter Day School in Pepper Pike, where 333 students (pre-K through eighth) focus 50/50 on general and Jewish studies.
Interview by Sarah Hollander
When I was growing up, so much of the rationale for being Jewish was about, We just had the Holocaust and we need to replenish the Jewish people. That's a great motivator when you're 9 years old. It's like, finish the food on your plate; there are people starving in China.

A lot of what we're trying to do now is make Judaism something you celebrate, not just commemorate.

Schools like this didn't exist in L.A. where I grew up. People learned in what you would call Sunday school, or afternoon religious school, which is just a couple of hours a week after regular school. And they were generally pretty negative experiences.

I hated Hebrew school.

My wife, who's a teacher, a Jewish educator, actually got expelled from Hebrew school for being rowdy and rebellious.

Here, it's a natural, kind of holistic, way of raising kids. So there's no add-on that's Jewish. It's just part of their day.

Students learn the Bible in the original Hebrew. If you can just imagine the difference between Shakespearian and Chaucer English, which is 500 years old, imagine trying to learn Hebrew, which is 3,700 years old.

In the class of Schechter alumni who graduated high school in May, we have one young lady going to Yale, a young man going to the Culinary Institute of America and a third person going to study in a yeshiva in Israel for a year. And, what's good about it is they're really great people, too. They're not just study machines.

We tell our people that our competition is not the other schools. Our competition is Lands' End, where for $30 you buy a sweater and you have 24-7 customer service and you could beat that sweater into threads and they'd still give you a new one. If our parents are giving thousands of dollars for their children's education, then everybody here needs to be responsive to that.

My time in Boy Scouts really gave me, at an impressionable age, a sense of competency and responsibility. I'm always struggling with how to teach that to our kids here.

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