Oct. 28 gala will honor school, those who helped it grow
By Rachel Gross Weinstein
Akiba Academy of Dallas officially opened its doors with 23 students in September 1962. Fast forward 50 years, and the Modern Orthodox day school now boasts 368 students from all sects of Judaism, has classes in a shiny modern facility and has became a face for Jewish education in the community.
The school will celebrate its 50th anniversary at its annual gala at 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 28 at the Westin Galleria, 13440 Dallas Pkwy., in Dallas. Past galas have honored specific individuals in the community, but this time, the school itself is the honoree, according to gala co-chairs Adriana Meyerovitz and Peta Silansky.
“This is a way to celebrate the past, present and future of the school, starting with the people who were at the groundbreaking to the kids who are now filling up the hallways,” Meyerovitz said. “The theme of the evening is also ‘a journey through time,’ but we will be focusing on the future of the school as well.”
A live and silent auction, and music will be featured, and Rabbi Mendel Bernstein, Akiba’s first head of school, is expected to attend. Many Akiba graduates are treating the event as a reunion of sorts, Meyerovitz said.
The gala will kick off the 50th anniversary celebration, which will be highlighted throughout the 2012-2013 school year in classrooms and with other smaller events, which have not been determined.
Akiba’s uniqueness and the fact that it has been successful for so long is something to be honored, Silansky said.
“To go back 50 years and realize how the history of Dallas has changed and to have someone start a Jewish day school was amazing,” she said. “There is a neshama (soul) to Akiba; it has its own spirit, heart and soul that is communicated to the children every day, and they feel it and grow from it. The school creates wonderful memories and to me; that’s what Jewish education is about.”
Akiba was founded by the late Marcus Rosenberg, with support from his wife, Ann; brothers, David Rosenberg and the late Manny Rohan; and friends, Sol Schwartz, the late Sol Prengler, the late Harry Goldman and the late Bernie Gerson. Marcus Rosenberg also received support from Joseph Kaminetsky, director of the National Society for Hebrew Day Schools.
The idea for Akiba came about in 1960 when the Rosenbergs’ two children were entering preschool age and they wanted them to go to a Jewish day school, which didn’t exist at that time in Dallas. While a previous day school, Hillel Academy, operated during the 1950s, the community did not support it, and it closed in 1958.
Akiba was first known as Preston Hollow Day School and was located inside a small home on Northaven Road in North Dallas. It officially became known as Akiba Academy in 1966 and in 1968 moved to a new building, on a lot of more than three acres, on Churchill Way. By then, enrollment was 150 students. Akiba moved to its current location, the Schultz-Rosenberg campus, in 2005.
“I am very proud of the fact that we have come so far and I am pleased that people have worked so hard to make the school what it is,” Ann Rosenberg said. “Getting this far and being successful is a great earmark. When we started Akiba, we believed in Jewish education and that Dallas could use educated Jews, and the school took off from there. It’s a good, warm, nurturing place to learn, and I am so proud that it has been successful.”
Rosenberg is an honorary chair of the 50th anniversary celebration, along with Leslie Schultz. She and her husband, Howard, and their children, Jaynie and Andy, are all past presidents. Jaynie, Andy and their brother, Dan, all attended Akiba, and so did eight of Leslie and Howard’s grandchildren.
The continuity of the Dallas Jewish community and everyone working together is what Leslie Schultz said has lent to the success of Akiba and believes that what will take it into the next 50 years.
“Things don’t last 50 years anymore — to find what started as a small school in a house that turned into a modern, cutting edge, up to date, school with children in kindergarten through eighth grade from all walks of life is amazing and astounding,” she said. “We are still growing and it’s exciting to be part of the Akiba community. Seeing the growth and how much the students love Akiba, I can’t help but feel a huge sense of pride that this is happening in Dallas, Texas. Who would have ever thought that could happen?”
Looking to the future, the hope is to continue giving Jewish children in Dallas a wonderful secular and Jewish education and giving them tools to succeed, Meyerovitz said.
“Obviously, something right has been done and we want to replicate the formula for that to continue,” she said. “At the end of the day, it really is all about educating children and making them good people.”
Added Silansky: “Akiba is really a treasure chest, and I believe Akiba is the most wonderful treasure Dallas has.”
Tickets for the gala are still available and can be purchased for $180. From Oct. 21-26, there will also be a fundraiser at Zinga Frozen Yogurt, located at 18208 Preston Road, Dallas. One dollar from every purchase made will be donated back to Akiba; flyers are available to bring to Zinga.
For information, call Jennifer Sutton at 214-295-3411.
Q&A: Akiba head of school Rabbi Zev Silver
By Rachel Gross Weinstein
Q: How does it make you feel that the school is celebrating 50 years?
A: Since Akiba came into being, it has transformed the Dallas Jewish community. Our founders understood that the key to the continuity of Judaism is to educate our children about their heritage.
Q: What do you think has lent to its success over the years?
A: Akiba is known to have an outstanding general studies department that prepares children for “the real world.” Our students have graduated from leading universities and have been very successful in their professional careers.
Akiba engenders a love of Judaism through its hands-on curriculum that focuses on making Judaism come alive in real and practical ways. Children are taught how to connect Judaism to their every day lives. In our unique environment children not only learn about Judaism, they live it.
Akiba inculcates within our students an Ahavat Eretz Yisrael, a love for the state of Israel. Through top-quality spirited programs, innovative educational programs, visits by prominent personalities from Israel and many other experiences, our students develop an appreciation and love for Israel.
Q: How do you believe Akiba can be a model for other Jewish day schools?
A: Akiba is very unique in that our students come from a broad spectrum of Jewish backgrounds and affiliations. It is an environment where children of all backgrounds come together and grow from each other. There is a tremendous amount of achdut (unity). There is also extensive connectivity, collaboration, integration and cooperation between the Judaic and general studies departments. Our very cohesive staff exhibits the kind of respect and unity toward each other that our students learn to model. Our staff is composed of people of all walks of life who learn and grow from each other and who exhibit genuine love, care and concern toward each other.
Q: What are some specific highlights you have of the school in your time at Akiba?
A: This is my 18th year at Akiba, my eighth as an administrator. During the past number of years, we have experienced unprecedented growth in our student population and families particularly with new young families (who are the future of our school). This is especially significant in light of challenging economic times when enrollment in many day schools nation-wide is down.
We have a focused approach to bringing out the strengths in each and every child in a child centered environment; we focus on retaining top notch teachers and on recruiting new top teachers; our teacher retention rate in the year that we celebrate our 50th is 97 percent, which is very rare to find in any school; our teachers are constantly learning innovative ways to enhance the experiences that they give over to their students. We are up to date with new educational research and we implement new approaches and methods accordingly.
Q: What do you see for the next 50 years?
A: I see a bright future ahead for our school with a continued influx of young families coming to our school because it is and will continue to be a haven for top-notch educational experiences in a loving and nurturing setting. I am thrilled that some of my former students are moving back to town with the intent of sending their children to our school. This is very validating in that they want their children to experience what they experienced — and even better then that.
Memories from Akiba’s past presidents
Some of Akiba Academy’s past presidents share their fondest memories about the 50-year history of the school. Quotes supplied by Akiba Academy from school archives and recent interviews.
Ronald Gruen (z”l), 1969-1971
“I followed founding president Marcus Rosenberg and had the pleasure of working with Rabbi Mendel Bernstein and Rabbi Shlorno Jakobovits. We continued to work on the grounds of our new building completing the landscaping, sprinkler system and lighting the front of the building. Together with the PTA, we had a lawn party and each Akiba family purchased a piece of sod, which was placed on the front area of the school. We also received our first grant from the Jewish Federation.”
Howard Schultz, 1978-1980
“There are a few things that stand out in my mind in reflection. There was the excitement of completing and dedicating a major building expansion. For the first time we had a gymnasium, a separate library and even a chapel. The other important remembrance relates to people-the ones who preceded me and those who followed, all of whom worked as one family to ensure that the school would grow and flourish.”
Carole Hoppenstein, 1984-1986
“My term saw the continuance of bringing fruition of many of the excellent programs formulated in earlier years. In 1984, a Jewish education program for the learning disabled was available at Akiba Academy. In response to the demand, a summer camp program was offered at the school. As our children excelled and achieved in the classrooms, so did they shine in sports. The varsity boys basketball team won the Private School League championship, to our delight and pride. In keeping with the philosophy and values of the best private schools, the board voted to require uniforms as part of the dress code. Additionally, the school grounds were re-landscaped, and a new parking lot was built.”
Richard Rohan, 1996-1998
“I was privileged to be the second Akiba graduate to serve as president. My term coincided with the beginning of Bob Scott’s eight-year tenure as head of school. With Mr. Scott, the school broke new ground in having a professional leader who was not an ordained Orthodox rabbi. I believe that step was and remains an important precedent both from a symbolic and a practical perspective. During my term, the school graduated one of its smallest (three) and its largest to date (23) classes, and one of my fondest memories was charging those graduates at their commencements. It reached its largest enrollment (411) in its history during that term. One of the most rewarding aspects of serving as president was addressing the particular needs of a diverse Jewish population, from unaffiliated to Orthodox, and (hopefully) helping all of them realize that accommodation of that diversity is a tremendous strength that distinguishes Akiba, locally and nationally.”
Jaynie Schultz, 2002-2005
“I was blessed to experience what I believe was the beginning of the Akiba Academy we are today. We designed and built a campus thanks to the help and financial support of the entire Dallas Jewish community. We sold our Churchill Way, campus thus helping another school flourish. We conducted a successful search for a new head of school, greeting Mark Stolovitsky and his family to Dallas. We accepted the creation of Torah Day School of Dallas, which was such a gift for all of us. So many more children now attend Jewish day school and Akiba was able to renew our commitment to modern orthodoxy, focusing on strong general and Judaic studies, equal learning opportunities for boys and girls, serious civic involvement and our everlasting commitment to the state of Israel.”
Andy Schultz, 2009-2012
“As I reflect back on my time as president I can think of many successes we realized. Akiba’s faculty continued to grow stronger than ever, with several teachers winning national educational awards. Enrollment grew by nearly 20 percent, which countered the trends in the national day school world, and resulted in our having wait lists for multiple grades which is unprecedented in our first 49 years. Our business acumen dramatically improved in finance, marketing, development and admissions as a result of our shared services partnership. Finally, The reputation of Akiba as an important community leader and vital asset in our Jewish community continued to strengthen. These successes Akiba experienced were the result of the passion and dedication of everyone at Akiba, teachers, students, parents, trustees and other volunteers.”