July 18, 2024
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Moriah’s New Board Leaders Look Ahead

Englewood—As part of the natural ebb and flow of a community, a new generation of engaged parents at The Moriah School has begun making an impact on Englewood’s Jewish population as well as on the greater northern New Jersey community and beyond. As part of the new leadership of Moriah elected last year, President Seth Gribetz and Chairman of the Board Evan Borenstein have joined with Head of School Rabbi Daniel Alter to make their school more cohesive and vibrant than ever.

In addition to setting goals to prioritize investments in teachers and community partnerships, Moriah, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary, also introduced a chesed volunteer requirement for parents, so parents have more avenues in which to engage with the school in shared projects with their children. Even in the first year, the results have been impressive and the buzz about the school has been both palpable and noteworthy.

Gribetz grew up in Teaneck and is a 1989 Moriah graduate who works in finance and healthcare private equity. His parents, Rhonda and Michael, were also actively involved in the leadership of the school and now also live near their son and his family in Englewood. Gribetz was previously involved with Moriah as part of the finance committee, the board and then the executive board. As he has ascended to the school’s presidency, Gribetz’s four children have now all become Moriah students. “Moriah pride was born and bred with me, and I got involved as soon as my kids started attending. It’s so important that kids love school,” Gribetz told The Jewish Link.

Similarly, Borenstein shared that while he grew up in Brooklyn, he was appreciative of the school pride concept that had been instilled in him from an early age at the Yeshiva of Flatbush. Borenstein moved with his family to Englewood in 2000, and he is a partner in the Corporate Department of the New York law firm Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle LLP. His three children have all attended or still attend Moriah.

Rabbi Alter is completing his first full year as Head of School. He was recruited from the Denver Academy of Torah in 2014, to replace the retiring Dr. Elliot Prager, “who successfully led Moriah for over a decade with an extraordinary combination of genuine warmth and ruach,” Gribetz said. During 2015, Rabbi Alter commuted to and from Denver as part of the transition, beginning at Moriah full time last summer. Rabbi Alter’s wife Rivka (nee Carmel) is a Moriah alumna and they have seven children, four of whom are currently enrolled in the school.

Gribetz and Borenstein noted that as they began their work with Rabbi Alter (“An amazing hire, and a really great fit for Moriah,” Gribetz said), they worked to reposition the board’s involvement and relationship with the administration in a way they felt was appropriate. “We are not educators. We don’t want to tinker with anyone’s education model. We worked to shift the seat of power to the Head of School and the administration, so they understand they are the ones calling the shots,” Gribetz said.

Rabbi Alter added his perspective on the relationship he has built with the school’s leaders. “Seth and Evan have been there for me and my staff on a daily basis. They have been absolutely supportive of the direction we have charted for the school; and have enhanced our already successful efforts to make the Moriah environment a place where every student feels loved, supported and challenged,” he said.

Both Gribetz and Borenstein told The Jewish Link that their leadership together is based on the shared understanding that creating a positive environment for students who have pride in their school is key, and together with Rabbi Alter, they believe that it can be created through distinct strategic initiatives. They also shared that their team-up is a true partnership, with both president and chairman acting collaboratively after thoughtful deliberation and discussion with the board’s executive committee. Harnessing the talents of the parents who comprise the board of trustees and delegating responsibility to committees led by them has also been a primary focus of their strategic plan. “We have an incredibly talented board of trustees, and we’re humbled to be working alongside them for the betterment of the school,” added Gribetz.

Borenstein added that he and Gribetz, in some ways, have been beneficiaries of tough financial and budget-related decisions made by the board over the last couple of years, which paved the way for them to move forward with new initiatives. In recognition of that connection, one thing that they maintained as part of their new administration was to include the historical leadership of the school as part of their team, ensuring that the prior board president Evan Sohn and chairman Jay Goldberg served on their board.

“We were very lucky to come into Moriah at a turning point in our history and when a lot of the change had already been made. We felt like we got really lucky. We are excited that 20 percent of our incoming nursery class is from Teaneck and Bergenfield, and that enrollment is now at approximately 740 students,” said Borenstein.

Early on in their tenure, Gribetz and Borenstein reported they spent a lot of time strategizing and determining priorities for the school with Rabbi Alter. “Philosophically, as we broke down the constituencies of the school, from the students, the teachers to the parents, we made the teachers a top priority, particularly given a lot of the transition that had occurred before us. We realized that if we could create a culture where the teachers were truly excited to be there every day, then not only would that allow us to attract and retain the absolute best teachers, but would also create a culture that the kids would come home pumped every day. And no matter what’s going on, no matter where the parents are, if the kids come home excited from school every day, they’re going to be happy with the school. That is a critical component of a successful school,” Gribetz said.

Borenstein added that the recent addition of The Ramaz School’s and Camp Mesorah’s Mrs. Tzipporah Boim to the Moriah faculty as associate principal for the middle school is just one example of the high caliber of teachers and administrators whose recruitments are key to Moriah’s continued success. He added that “Tzipporah will perfectly complement our highly talented administrative team of Odelia Danishefsky, Divsha Tollinsky, Alana Green, Rabbi Yoni Fein and Erik Kessler.”

The new board put in place a number of different initiatives over the course of the year to prioritize teacher morale, and the results of a recent teacher survey indicated that morale is at an all-time high. Gribetz and Borenstein said they felt the high teacher morale is now trickling down to the rest of the school as well. “The kids are coming home excited, and parents are responding, so we feel really pleased about that outcome,” said Borenstein.

A second priority was to reinforce Moriah’s influences in the local Bergen County communities where a majority of current Moriah students live. They sought to create a much more thoughtful and structured partnership with the community. “We have been working to formalize our connection with as many of the community shuls as we could, and bring our programming outside the four walls of the school,” said Gribetz.

“We did things ranging from partnering with Ahavath Torah and Rabbi Mordy Kuessous, the rabbi of the shul’s Benaroya Sephardic Minyan, who also joined the Moriah faculty. Rabbi (Shmuel) Goldin teaches Names Not Numbers. Rabbi Zev and Rebbetzin Chana Reichman, of East Hill Synagogue, are also involved. Chana is in the building all the time; she is involved in many of the different chesed initiatives that we are working on,” said Gribetz.

“We are in constant contact with the community shuls for programming,” said Borenstein, noting that they frequently hold joint community events and presentations. Rabbi Alter has also involved the local community rabbanim in halachic decisions the school has been faced with, noting that he is a team player and very much a collaborative thinker.

The pair also mentioned how engaged and alert Rabbi Alter is to the community perspective, and to illustrate that, they shared how he recently held a celebration of his son’s bar mitzvah in Englewood, even though his family resides in Bergenfield, so that a large portion of the simcha could be spent in each Englewood shul with the majority of his son’s friends and Moriah families. He even brought the house down with a speech after Shabbat morning davening at Moriah about the funny yet legitimate “downsides” of having a father who is Head of School, Borenstein said.

The third priority the board developed was to introduce a chesed requirement for parents, essentially a formalized way for parents to spend time with their children on volunteer programs or projects of common interest. This is also a way for parents to “model” the middot we are trying to teach our children, recognizing that as good as a school is, education is a partnership between school and family. “Some unbelievably beautiful things have come out of this,” said Gribetz. He explained that there were two tragedies that befell the Moriah family this year, the losses of both Mendel Balk, z”l, a former Moriah parent, and Evan Levy, z”l, an early childhood student. “These unthinkable events showed us the importance of this kind of structure, and it is a testament to the volunteer spirit,” he said, that many families took on chesed projects in the names of those who were lost. One of them, the #smilethruit and Kids4Evan campaign, was created to honor the memory of Evan Levy and was written about in The Jewish Link on April 20, 2016.

The priorities that Gribetz and Borenstein described—teacher investment, community partnership and parent volunteerism, as well as their vibrant and energetic head of school (“who is proving to be a big draw,” Borenstein said)—have together begun to contribute to the school’s rising enrollment and to increased interest from young families in The Moriah School. As part of its 50th anniversary campaign, the leadership team has embarked on a three-year process toward building a new athletic center on the Englewood campus as well as a new early childhood center.

“We’re focused on delivering a first-rate education in a warm, loving and supportive environment that caters to the diverse needs of our student body, because when you have that, everything else will fall into place,” said Borenstein.

Rabbi Alter noted that the past year has exceeded his expectations and he looks forward to the continuing expansion of the Moriah community. “My family and I really enjoyed our first year here and have been embraced by the warmth of the Moriah family. I am privileged to work with such a talented and caring faculty, supportive lay leadership and, most importantly, a great group of students.”

Learn more at http://www.moriahschool.org.

By Elizabeth Kratz

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