TORONTO — Rabbi Lee Buckman is looking forward to his new position as head of school at what he calls “one of the flagship schools of Jewish day high schools in North America.”
In a phone interview from Atlanta, Ga., where he is head of school at Greenfield Hebrew Academy, Rabbi Buckman talked about his upcoming move to Canada, where he will become head of school at the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto.
He succeeds Paul Shaviv, the school’s former director of education. Shaviv left last year to become head of school at the Ramaz School in Manhattan.
The change in title does not reflect any change of duties, according to Rhona Birenbaum, TanenbaumCHAT’s CFO/executive director and acting head of school. Rather, it was changed so that it would be in line with the title most commonly used by independent schools in Canada and the United States, she said.
Rabbi Buckman – a 51-year-old native of Chicago who says he loves teaching, learning and kids – cited TanenbaumCHAT’s “outstanding reputation for educational excellence” as a factor in his decision to take the job. He begins Aug. 1.
The move will bring him and his wife, Rachel, also an educator, closer to family in Detroit. Some of their four sons, now grown, are alumni of Camp Ramah in Canada.
As well, it will bring him back into high school education, a field he left four years ago when he moved to Greenfield, which runs from preschool through Grade 8. Prior to that, he was at the Frankel Jewish Academy of Metro Detroit, a Jewish community high school.
“My feeling is that high school is a particularly critical time for Jewish identity,” he said. “The teenage years are very turbulent, and a week of adolescence can wipe out the finest elementary day school education. What I like about high school is that it creates a Jewish context for kids to walk through their adolescent years as they’re doubting, challenging, questioning and rejecting.”
In 1999, when Rabbi Buckman was hired to start the school in Detroit, he visited CHAT, as well as a few other schools, because of its reputation for “excellent programs.”
One of the challenges he expects to face is building relationships with a student body of more than 1,000.
Rabbi Buckman was ordained by the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary and has a master’s degree in psychology. He later received Orthodox smichah as well. He served as a congregational rabbi in Milwaukee for nine years before making the move to education.
More recently, he has served as a consultant to Jewish day schools and organizations including Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE).
“I see myself as somebody who can bridge denominational lines, and somebody who stands, on one hand, for a particular expression of Judaism, but at the same time, appreciates that it’s the multiplicity of expressions of Judaism that makes Judaism vibrant.”
His vision for the school includes “an environment where knowledge is being driven by questions that students ask.”
He is cautious, however, about making sure he understands “the context and the culture of Canadian education,” before proceeding in ways that may be more applicable to the United States. He plans to visit local public and private high schools to familiarize himself with the differences between the two cultures.
In addition to his administrative duties, he hopes to have opportunities to teach. “Ultimately, I got into this field because I love teaching.”