Simcha Pearl has come a long way since 1997 when he launched the New Atlanta Jewish Community High School housed in a set of trailers not far from Perimeter College in Dunwoody. That makeshift educational experience expanded and became The Weber School in Sandy Springs, headed by Pearl. As schools reopen this fall, Pearl heads the Atlanta Jewish Academy’s high school, also in Sandy Springs.
“I’m incredibly excited” about the new position, Pearl said. He added that it differs on several levels from his perch at Weber. First, he said he had no issues reporting to a supervisor, head of AJA Rabbi Ari Leubitz.
In the seven years since Pearl left Weber, he taught Judaics for a while at The Davis Academy middle school and ran a project with Congregation Or VeShalom for its millennials, several of whom were Weber graduates.
Unlike Weber, which is a pluralistic, trans-denominational Jewish high school, AJA is a kindergarten through 12th-grade Modern Orthodox school, founded in 2014 as the result of a merger between Greenfield Hebrew Academy and Yeshiva Atlanta. Greenfield had been founded in 1953 and was reportedly the first Jewish day school accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Yeshiva, founded in 1971, was Atlanta’s oldest co-educational Jewish high school. The two schools consolidated onto a single campus in 2017.
Pearl defines himself as a Modern Orthodox Jew, so he is looking forward to being in that environment. Weber had included unaffiliated Jewish students as well as those associated with the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox movements. Pearl said he saw the students divide into subcommunities for Jewish practices.
“That became a socialization issue for the Modern Orthodox,” he explained. Some students kept kosher; some did not. “To be in a homogeneous school setting that’s committed to halacha, or Jewish values, is personally a nice experience for me,” he said.
Although AJA has a long history, starting as two different schools, Pearl sees the school today in some ways like a startup. “From everyone I spoke to, the two schools operate as separate entities. There’s no consistent alignment between the two schools in their worldview Jewishly and how their practice is actualized. This high school is not Yeshiva Atlanta any longer. Now the school should become a K-12 thoughtful, Modern Orthodox system that’s exciting and bold. If I can move that along, that’s a dayenu [enough].”
He says he sees himself as a “really good diagnostician. Before you do anything, you need to have a reason. It must be mission-driven. The mission will dictate what you’re going to do. You do a cost-benefit analysis. That’s how I grew as a leader of a school, being able to experiment. That’s what will happen here. But the first step is knowing the mission. It’s an anchor, and from there, there will be evolutionary change.”
Pearl is no stranger to change. “You change or die,” he joked. His professional life started as a dentist. “That fed my family but didn’t feed my soul.” He began teaching part-time at first, along with his dentistry, and then went to Israel to become a Jerusalem Fellow at a program conducted by the Mandel Institute for Jewish Studies and the Department of Education at Hebrew University. He saw the experience as a place to “incubate ideas of how to do significant things in the Jewish world.”
Joining the faculty at AJA “doesn’t feel like an existential gamble.” He is more than content with his new position at AJA. “You can do wonderful stuff without being head of school. For me, it’s completely the mission of the school.” For Atlanta, he said he wants to help grow the Jewish day school pie larger.
“I’m proud and thrilled for Weber and I will be equally as proud and thrilled for AJA, which I see growing by leaps and bounds,” said Pearl.
In fact, he is eager to be among the 80-plus AJA high school students and the entire educational environment. During the COVID-19 pandemic last year, he wrote a psycho-thriller novel that focused on art history and psychology. “It was not Jewish,” Pearl said. He stressed that the writing experience was very isolating. A piano and accordion player, Pearl said he used the downtime during the pandemic to “learn how to play ’50s rock music on the piano.”
- Jan Jaben-Eilon
- Back to School
- The Weber School
- Minsk Gymnasium
- atlanta jewish academy
- Perimeter College
- Simcha Pearl
- Rabbi Ari Leubitz
- Davis Academy
- Modern Orthodox school
- Greenfield Hebrew Academy
- Yeshiva Atlanta
- Congregation Or VeShalom
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
- Mandel Institute for Jewish Studies and the Department of Education at Hebrew University