By Jacob Hare
For the Back-to-School edition of the Cougar Chronicle, I had the chance to talk with our new Head of School, Rabbi Marshall Lesack. Here is a transcript of our conversation:
What was your favorite memory while you were a student at Akiba?
“My favorite memory was definitely winning a basketball championship with my friends during my senior year.”
Was there a teacher during your time at Akiba who had a strong impact on you during your time at Akiba?
“I would say a few things. Number one, I had an excellent array of teachers, such that I was prepared and relaxed for university. One of the things I would say is generally important was that, as students, we were able to be comfortable speaking around adults by just asking our teachers questions or talking to them during lunch. When I went to Rutgers, having conversations with my professors was just natural and there were an array of teachers who helped foster that. Some of the teachers that I remember were great teachers were Mrs. Levin who was excellent. Mrs. Kaplan who was one of the teachers I had. Mrs. Kaplan was great and I even ended up majoring in history in college. Another one was Mrs.Miller who was my senior year hebrew teacher. When I was in her class something finally clicked for me. All that training in Hebrew led me to finally be able to think and speak in Hebrew more. Akiba’s environment was an environment in which young people could connect with our faculty and have conversations with them. And I think it set me up for success when I transitioned to university.”
How does it feel to be in charge of the place where you're once a student?
“I would say it's surreal. You know, this is a rare opportunity and I am so humbled and honored at the same time to be given this opportunity. I'm extremely excited for it. I loved my time here. I recognized that and you know, schools evolve and communities evolve. And so I know that has been the case as well. I am extremely excited to get started.”
What made the Barrack job so appealing that you decided to accept it?
“It's not the only reason but the fact that you’re going back to the place you graduated from. I would say on one level that has a lot of appeal and how often does that happen? I would say it's pretty rare. And to be able to come back and lead an institution which had such a strong impact on me was extremely exciting. It was just something I wanted to jump at and, for me, I've grown up and been a leader in Jewish educational settings for 20 years or so. So this was naturally the next step for me in my career. Looking at school opportunities, leadership positions at Jewish Day Schools are not common in the U.S. and I knew that when I was looking for a headship. So Barrack’s opportunity to have a middle and high school together met my professional interest. I got into this profession because I care about working with young people and I care about working in environments that raise up young people, and I care about the Jewish future.”
What do you hope to implement in your first hundred days as Head of School?
“I'll say a few things. Number one is I have a lot of listening and learning to do, so I want to make that clear from the outset, you know, listening to you and your peers as students, listening to faculty, parents, administrators. Like I said, the school has evolved. I went to the school twenty-five years ago and that means something, but at the same time, you know, the world does evolve. I haven't been an active part of the community because I've been living my life elsewhere. So a big piece I want to make clear is that I have a lot of listening and learning to do. When you have a strong community and work to build a strong community, a lot of other things fall into place. You gotta work on those things and that is a topic of importance for me. I'd also just say connected to a “rebuilding community.” Because we've all been in this, you know, whirlwind of an experience over the past year and four months of just the breakdown of normalcy for all of us. And so I want to be able to take that time to do that. I will do two things that are important for me, not only in the first hundred days, but in the first year. Community building and community rebuilding. I think, you know, great schools really begin at their foundations. It's about relationships and it's about community. I think it is a great place for young people. It is about community.”
Photo Credit: Rabbi Lesack