Dear Berman Community,
This past Monday, July 24, I drove directly from New York to Berman. After two weeks attending Prizmah’s Day School Leadership Training Institute (DSLTI), a two-year, cohort and mentor-based leadership training for new heads of Jewish day schools, Monday was going to be my first official day in the office. DSLTI had been an intensive and meaningful experience: for two weeks, our cohort of incoming school leaders, among many other things, shared our Jewish and professional journeys, developed leadership language that was both conscious and framework-based, considered the convergence of our stories with our schools’ missions, and worked through the challenges of cultural change in schools.
From the moment I started the drive from Long Beach until I opened the front door of the Berman lobby, a number of thoughts, questions, and tefilot flashed through my mind. What would this year bring for me, for my family, and for the students, teachers, and families of the Berman community? I felt much excitement and, if I’m being honest, an equal sense of apprehension about the multitude of unknowns ahead. I then thought back to my own years growing up in Silver Spring and attending the Hebrew Academy’s Elementary School, and how critical our work would be for the present and future lives of so many Jewish children.
With the myriad possibilities of the year ahead, I found myself davening for a good, sweet, and blessed year for the children of the Berman community–and my own family.
As I reached to pull the door open, the father of a family passing through the lobby opened the door to welcome me in. I stepped into the lobby, and I was shocked: before me was Aryeh and Zahava Altshul, former classmates of mine and graduates of Berman’s Class of 2002, along with their four children. Aryeh and Zahava had made aliyah over 15 years ago, and they were visiting the school themselves for the first time in a very long time. And perhaps most poignantly for me, Aryeh, my old childhood friend, is the son of former Berman Head of School, Rabbi William Altshul.
After two decades, I couldn’t escape the hashgacha pratit, the divine providence, at that moment. After our initial shock and a hug, I said to Aryeh and Zahava that this was exactly the bracha that I needed–not just any childhood friend from our earlier days at “The Academy” greeting me, literally opening the front door of the school and welcoming me in, but a shliach, an emissary, of his storied father, of Berman’s past. Indeed, I said then, I would be standing on the shoulders of giants, but I felt reassured, somehow, how the Berman lobby had turned into the crossroads of Berman history.
On the academic schedule, the summer is a time for reflection, restoration, and reorientation. My serendipitous encounter with Berman history, by way of the Altshuls, offered a certain reminder of the great place and mission of this illustrious institution. With my time at DSLTI before that, and our planned administrative meetings this week, faculty and student orientations in the weeks to come, and continued opportunities for me to meet with and listen and learn from our faculty, parent, and student leaders, b’ezrat Hashem, there will be many more opportunities to continue to look for, build on, and celebrate Berman’s historic strengths.
Rabbi Dr. Hillel Broder