May 21, 2024
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May 21, 2024
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Bergen County Native Leads Drive For Visionary New Jewish School in Miami

A rising star in the field of Jewish education, with firm roots in Bergen County, noticed a glaring deficiency in the gamut of Jewish day school options. Fortunately for him, and the rest of the observant American Jewish community, this leader met other leaders who shared his vision and together, they are working on a very promising solution.

Rabbi Dr. Gil S. Perl went to the Moriah School in Englewood for the elementary school grades and the Frisch Yeshiva High School in Paramus, and then spent two years at Gush Etzion. He attended the University of Pennsylvania as an undergraduate, then got a masters and doctorate in education at Harvard University while also participating in a Lakewood affiliated kollel in Brookline. He and his wife, Melissa, moved back to New Jersey, living in Bergenfield for four years while Perl taught undergrads at Yeshiva University as he also earned semicha at RIETS and Melissa taught Tanach and served as Israel guidance counselor at Frisch Yeshiva High School.

After receiving semicha, Rabbi Perl first became director of admissions at Marsha Stern Talmudic Academy (MTA)/Yeshiva University High School for Boys in New York, then was recruited to serve as head of school for the Margolin Hebrew Academy/Firestone Yeshiva of the South in Memphis, a role he served in for seven years. He was subsequently recruited to serve as the head of school for Kohelet Yeshiva High School in Philadelphia.

In the next few years Rabbi Perl managed the Kohelet Yeshiva HS while also helping to establish a yeshiva elementary and middle school in Philadelphia, which merged with the Kohelet Yeshiva High School in 2017 to form the Kohelet Yeshiva, serving grades K-12.

Rabbi Perl began consulting work in the field of Jewish education, talking with educational and lay leaders looking to form new schools. In that capacity, he met Gisela and Daniel Ades, Miami-based philanthropists with decades of experience supporting Jewish education. As he spoke with them, he learned that they shared a few gnawing concerns about the current field of Jewish education that troubled him as well:

Why do so many of the most gifted Jewish high school students end up leaving yeshivot and attending private non-sectarian schools to find the academic challenges they seek?

Why do so many yeshiva high school students graduate without a strong proficiency in speaking Hebrew (which impedes their capacity to build firm connections to the State of Israel)?

Why is community service seen as an add-on at many yeshivot and not an integral part of the curriculum?

Why are too many families priced out of being able to afford high-quality schools?

As they talked further, Rabbi Perl and the Ades family developed a concept for middle and high school that would better serve our community’s most gifted children and more effectively address concerns about Hebrew proficiency, the centrality of community service, and affordability. The Ades family enlisted Rabbi Perl to help make this vision a reality, and in July 2021 he started work as the founding head of school for a new Jewish Leadership Academy (JLA) in Miami, Florida, slated to open in fall 2023. Rabbi Perl also serves as CEO of the Ades Family Foundation.

As a press release announcing the initiative in April 2022 stated: “The school will offer students in grades 6-12 a highly academically rigorous alternative to the local secular private schools and existing Jewish Day Schools, by employing a unique blend of service-based, project-based, and competency-based learning, designed to unleash the potential in each of its students. The school is dedicated to building the skills, nurturing the values, and igniting the passion among students for a life of leadership within the Jewish community and beyond.”

The release also stated: “One of the Jewish Leadership Academy’s primary objectives is instilling in its students a strong foundation in the fundamentals of Judaism and fostering within them a connection to and a sense of advocacy for Israel. Through a unique partnership with JNF’s Alexander Muss High School in Israel, each school year will kick off with an immersive 3.5-week Judaics and Hebrew program for students in grades 8-12.”

Yamit Linde, communications director for the JLA, shared in an interview with The Jewish Link that the JLA state-of-the-art facilities will occupy six acres in Miami and more closely resemble a college campus. Grades will be capped at 45 students, with 10-16 students per class. All classes will be taught at the honors level, with high standards of achievement. Fridays will be dedicated to advocacy, leadership and service, with students directed that day to attend hands-on community service efforts and passion projects.

Speaking with The Jewish Link, Rabbi Perl explained that the JLA’s service entrepreneurship program will focus students to each select one of six areas of need—poverty, homelessness, environment, the elderly, education and local community concerns. Each student will be tasked with developing solutions to address their chosen problem area, which can be prototyped, vetted with expert feedback, designed and implemented as 501(c)(3) organizations with funding from the school.

Students will be admitted through a rigorous admissions process, with no fixed expectation of Jewish observance outside school and an intention to create a diverse student body at JLA. Rabbi Perl stated that the admissions process will include a portfolio section, a Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) exam, interviews with the prospective student and his/her family, a character assessment and a full day of activities on campus. And as the April press release notes, the Ades family “is firmly dedicated to making JLA accessible to all mission appropriate Jewish students, regardless of their ability to pay.”

Asked what the JLA’s measure of success will be for its students, Rabbi Perl shared that years later, after their graduates finish college, get jobs and start families, “if they are meaningfully dedicating substantial time to service and community,” then the school will know that they had a lasting impact on their students’ lives.

For more information on the Jewish Leadership Academy, see:

By Harry Glazer

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