June 22, 2024
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Readying for TABC’s Next Chapter: Q&A With Rabbi Asher Yablok

Teaneck—As Rabbi Asher Yablok visited Torah Academy of Bergen County this week for the first time after being named head of school last month, he took time out of his schedule to have a conversation with The Jewish Link about his views coming into the school, and his plans for its future development. Rabbi Yablok is a RIETS graduate, an educator and school administrator as well as a practicing mohel. Currently dean of Judaic studies at Atlanta Jewish Academy, Rabbi Yablok shared his enthusiasm for returning to Teaneck where he grew up and to TABC specifically, where he has been struck by its warmth and academic rigor. His vibrance and youthful energy came through as he shared his enthusiasm for his new position.

TABC has been growing in recent years, having grown 15 percent in size over the last three years. How do you see that growth and how do you fit into that?

TABC now has approximately 315 students, but it’s not just the growth that’s important, but the quality of the managed growth. The students here have the same quality of education and the same opportunities to connect with the faculty that they would have in a smaller school. The students are able to build relationships in the same way, with the trademark TABC warmth balanced with an unmatched academic rigor. Having come from schools with 75 students, with 150 students and now in Atlanta, with a school with 350 in K-12, what attracted me to TABC was that the warmth and opportunities are the same as with a smaller school. The opportunities you have to connect with your rabbanim and your learning—it’s amazing how familiar the faculty are with the kids. The faculty host students in their homes, go to their games and academic competitions, participate in their smachot and genuinely care about their students in a deep and personal way. It’s remarkable, really.

Do you plan to teach regularly at TABC?

I really enjoyed attending Rabbi Adler’s shiur the last time I was here, and I know that will continue. (With Rabbi Yablok’s arrival, Rabbi Adler plans to concentrate his energies as Rosh HaYeshiva, and will continue to give shiurim, direct the hashkafa of the yeshiva, serve as halachic posek and mentor the rabbinic faculty.) I love teaching but I don’t see myself teaching more than occasionally at TABC. I see myself as having a more administrative role, facilitating learning.

But, having said that, my entire background is informed by being a teacher. My great-grandfather, my grandfather, my father, my mother (Rabbi Yablok’s parents, who live in Teaneck, have long been educational leaders in various communities and have been associated for many years with Manhattan Day School. Rabbi Yablok’s sister, Esther Klavan, is director of SINAI Schools at TABC) and many other family members are teachers, and conversations at home around the table have always been about learning and student growth. It’s an integral part of me.

As a student, faculty member and then as an administrator, my views have always been informed by research, which I enjoy discussing with my colleagues and family. But what is amazing about Jewish education is that the values don’t change. Aspects of Project-Based Learning (PBL) are, in many ways, already in place. You can take a passage of Talmud, and bring in various writing or physics concepts, even by bringing those instructors into the classroom to explain it. I’ve been in classrooms where this has been a big success. Interdisciplinary studies can create a seamless blend of understanding and encourage students to think creatively. I hope to incorporate much of what I’ve experienced and learned as an educator and an administrator into my new role at TABC, working collaboratively with the faculty and administration here.

What are some of your goals for TABC?

I hope to maintain and nurture the intrinsic motivation that already exists at TABC. I hope to continue TABC’s mission of Torah U’Maddah (Torah and secular knowledge), to continue to help our students to be role models, bnei Torah and to live lives consistent with that mission. The excellence of the programs on each side (both the limudei kodesh and secular curriculum) informs the other so much that neither stands alone.

The TABC mission shows that we stand for what we believe in. We strive for excellence in everything that we do. We seek to build skills as good representatives and leaders of the Jewish community. This goal is built into the fabric of the school, so students think this way as they come in. They conduct themselves that way already and their school pride shows how powerful an influence it is. My educational vision is entirely consistent with these goals and I look forward to adding to a very strong foundation.

Alumni of TABC have come up to me (since taking the job) with such pride in the school, saying they remember certain specific things about the school that affected them profoundly since. “I remember which teachers taught me to do this or that specific thing,” they have told me. I am so happy to hear that many TABC alumni maintain their connections with TABC well beyond their graduation, often calling on rebbeim and faculty to consult on major life decisions. It’s inspiring to see that the relationship goes well beyond their four years in school.

What happens now with your transition until you arrive permanently?

I have already had a chance to meet with students, faculty, parents and even some prospective parents, and I am inspired and energized to have seen what an exceptional, value-driven group the TABC family is. There will be a few more visits. Part of the transition is I will be here more and more and then will be in the building full time by July 1. I’ve already enjoyed a good experience and have already developed a number of relationships. The planning has already begun and I look forward to working with a great team to take the TABC success to new heights.

By Elizabeth Kratz

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