Back-to-school season is always a little chaotic. All the more so for Torah Day School, which in addition to preparing a new school building this fall had about three months to hire a new head of school.
The Orthodox day school in South Seattle lost its temporary Columbia City home when Seattle Public Schools decided to re-commission the building for a middle school. The school came upon more hard times when one of its teachers was charged with child molestation in May. Head of school Rabbi Sheftel Skaist stepped down, leaving a vacancy with three months to fill.
Despite a delay in permits for the new, semi-permanent school on Beacon Hill — leaving students to spend the first month of the new school year between Bikur Cholim Machzikay Hadath and the Seattle Kollel — everything seems to be under control. Three days before the first day of school on August 28, Rabbi Moshe Abady moved to Seattle from Los Angeles to take the reins.
When JTNews connected with Abady, he had been up since 2:30 in the morning.
“It’s not an easy transition for us,” said Abady, who with his wife Leora has eight children between the ages of 1 and 17. However, he feels leading Torah Day School is an opportunity and a responsibility for personal growth not available in L.A.
“I’m seeing a community which is very ripe for growth. I’m seeing a lot of real people,” he said. “I’m coming aboard…at a very unique time in Seattle’s history. We have an opportunity to embrace the new leadership and to use it as a springboard for growth. I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Abady spent 12 years as a middle school Judaics teacher at the Maimonides Academy in Los Angeles, where he also served as director of co-curricular activities, adult educator, and program coordinator for parent learning. In addition to serving as rabbi at two Sephardic congregations, he was the Sephardic Studies Chair at Yeshivat Shaarei Yerushalayim in Har Nof, Israel, before coming to Los Angeles. He holds a master’s of educational leadership from Bellevue University.
This is Abady’s first head of school position.
“I’ve developed a passion for leadership,” he said. “I’ve always felt I’d go into leadership. Even though it is my first experience bring head of school, it feels very natural for me.”
TDS board president Binyomin Edelstone said the search committee worked with several organizations to come up with a candidate pool so late in the year.
Abady, Edelstone explained, had started thinking about a change in the early spring, and his rabbinic mentors encouraged him to pursue the job.
An initial 12 candidates yielded four or five serious ones, and two, including Abady, were invited out. The position was initially offered to the other candidate, who turned it down.
But Edelstone is happy with the outcome.
“After the first interview we felt great,” he said. “There were a lot of things that attracted us to him….Since coming here there’s been great chemistry between him and the people he’s met.”
Abady is technologically savvy — he has his own YouTube channel and encourages technology as a learning tool — and though he lacks prior head of school experience, Edelstone thinks his fresh perspective could work to his advantage.
Abady will also be more involved in school security. After the spring scandal, TDS brought out the director of Aleinu Family Resource Center, a program of Los Angeles’s Jewish Family Service that educates, counsels, and sets policies regarding various issues, including abuse in Orthodox schools, for a two-day seminar with kids, parents and staff. The school also received a comprehensive physical security assessment.
“Rabbi Abady has plans to be a lot more present in the classrooms,” Edelstone said. “He knows and the teachers know that the doors are open and the he can walk in at any second.”
Maimonides Academy is “a school with very high academic standards, very organized, very professional,” said Abady, and he intends to carry those standards into his new role. He also hopes to introduce more education about Sephardic Jewry, to continue “the Seattle tradition of mutual respect but individual pride [in students’] own customs.”
Abady’s main passion is helping teachers become those that students remember, teachers who are excellent educators but who also deeply care for every student.
“That’s a culture that already exists in many of the teachers at TDS,” he said. “My goal is to help them maximize this part of themselves.”