TORONTO — The new head of Bnei Akiva Schools – Yeshivat Or Chaim for boys and Ulpanat Orot for girls – says he’s working hard to rebrand the two campuses.
“I’m trying to revitalize the schools and bring in a new energy,” said Rabbi Seth Grauer, a native of New York City.
Most recently he was assistant principal for Yeshiva University High School for Girls and associate rabbi at the Fifth Avenue Synagogue, where one of his congregants was author Eli Wiesel.
In Rabbi Grauer’s application to Bnei Akiva, Wiesel provided the search committee with a glowing reference.
“I spoke with him often, and he became a type of mentor in terms of decision making, goal setting and priorities,” the rabbi said.”
Grauer, 35, who is married with three children, told The CJN that as part of the restructuring he has become head of both schools.
“Administration is now campus specific, because I recognized that it was inefficient to have staff who travel back and forth between schools. It doesn’t lead to an effective academic environment.”
Although this is his first year at the school, he was hired in December 2012 and worked behind the scenes.
“I told the board in January that the administrative structure is not sustainable,” he said.
Grauer’s teaching career started almost by accident. “I was in rabbinical school in New York, and at night I was taking courses for law school. To finish my rabbinical ordination I had to take part in a work study, and I met someone who told me he needed someone to teach an 11th-grade Talmud class once a week.
“I loved it, and at the end of the year the school offered me a job. I was supposed to start work at a law firm but I stayed at school.”
He eventually went on to become assistant principal, but never stopped teaching.
“I’m continuing that policy here. All administrators have to teach. If they don’t get into the classroom, they lose the pulse of the school,” he said. “The classroom motivates you to think of new ideas, and be innovative. You can’t be an effective administrator if you’re not a teacher.”
Grauer said Bnei Akiva Schools give students a top-rate education. “Classes are challenging and engaging, and about 99 per cent of the students go on to university. The vast majority spend time in Israel when they graduate.”
He said that he’s trying to encourage teachers to become mentors to their students.
“A formal Judaic studies curriculum is based on best practices and making intelligent decisions. We raise our standards of instruction through mentoring. I’m very excited about it.”
As a born-and-raised New Yorker, he said that coming to Toronto has been a big change, “but in a positive way. There is a wonderful community here, and I’m proud to be part of it.”