By Deb Silverthorn
When Fred Nathan first walked the halls of the then-Solomon Schechter Academy, on July 9, 2003, he was welcomed with open arms. In the six years since, Nathan has wrapped his arms around his students, faculty, their families and much of Dallas’ Jewish community. As he leaves the Ann and Nate Levine Academy on June 5, the community will forever hold onto his grasp.
“When I arrived, the most important thing to me was that our students come to school feeling safe and positive, that they love their Jewish lives and learning and that they maximize their potential,” Nathan said.
“As my years here have come to an end, I feel certain that they do, and I know that we’ve never taken cuts in what builds our children.”
During his tenure, Nathan has overseen the development and growth of programs including the “In Studio” musical CD production, “Challenge of Discovery,” a school-wide project designed to enhance academic offerings and challenges and to expand students’ learning experiences through a Math Lab; Writers’ Workshop; Editor’s Desk (for the student-run school newspaper and “Visions” student-published book of poetry and art); tutorials; and Individual Learning Plans (ILPs), where each sixth- and seventh-grade student has their own academic profile, which notes strengths, special interests and learning styles, as well as areas that might require special attention. In addition, Nathan oversaw the enhancement of the music and Hebrew programs, and students have continued to enjoy the experience of an eighth-grade trip t o Israel.
Nathan has also overseen Middot, the school’s Ethical Covenant initiative, in which parents, teachers and students as partners define the core values — responsibility, respect, justice, citizenship, caring, holiness and integrity — and learn to carry them throughout their lives.
“Fred is a kind and gentle soul whose goal is to be a missionary to bring Jewish education to as many children as possible in the most inclusive way,” said Dr. Susie Wolbe, Ed.D., principal of kindergarten through eighth grade. “Throughout his career, and most definitely here at Levine Academy, he’s certainly achieved that goal.”
“I lucked out with an outstanding administration, faculty and staff, as well as a lay leadership team who have been the greatest of supporters,” said Nathan, who has worked closely with Board Presidents Steve Rudner, Barbara Altman and Sheri Goldberg. “They have let me follow through with my plans and goals for the school and I couldn’t have asked for more.”
“Fred’s love of Judaism, of Jewish education and of children has driven him to be the force that he is,” said Shari Goldberg, current president of the board of directors of Levine Academy. “His soft-spoken leadership style is effective and appreciated. I’m so glad I had the honor to serve the Levine community under his guidance.”
Nathan, one of three sons of Yetta and the late Abraham Nathan, almost became an attorney like his brothers Harvey and Wallace. “It was our mother’s dream to have her sons become attorneys. But from the time I took a job teaching at Temple Emanuel in Borough Park [Brooklyn, N.Y.], at first to earn some money while in school, I knew that education was what I was meant to do.”
Nathan is himself a product of Jewish day school education, from his earliest studies through Yeshiva High School for Boys in Brooklyn, as well as his college career at Yeshiva University as an undergraduate student and then a student of the Teachers Institute and the Bernard Revel Graduate School. Nathan also received a Master’s of Education at NYU.
It was during his studies at the Haim Greenberg Institute in Israel that he first met Esther Cohen, who would soon become his bride and partner in teaching, Jewish education and life.
The two first brought their magic to Adas Kodesch Shel Emeth in Wilmington, Del. Before coming to Dallas, they taught and led schools and learning in Connecticut, where they were among the founders of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Hartford, and in Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Houston.
Married for 45 years, Esther and Fred are the parents of Alysa (Eric) Segal, Tamar (David) Halberstam and Aaron. Their grandchildren, who range from toddler age to college students — Dana, Brian, Becca, Josh, Avrumi, Shalom, and Tzvi — follow their grandparents’ heart and dedication to Jewish education as they all attend Jewish day schools.
While the Nathans may be leaving the local workforce — in 2007 Esther retired as the director of the Department of Jewish Education of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas (now the Center for Jewish Education) — they aren’t leaving Dallas. “We’ll be here, and we’ll remain a part of the lives of the friends and all those we’ve come to love in the last six years,” Nathan said. “This is a beautiful city with warmth, caring and a great Jewish community. In the summer, though, I can promise we’ll pack up our dog ‘Bo’ and hit the road to visit the kids and grandkids.
“I couldn’t have chosen a better place to end my career,” he added. “It’s incredibly rewarding to hear our graduates tell of their growth as Jews and to see the development of their self-worth and the positive attitude they have toward their Jewishness.
“Levine has been challenging, fulfilling and an incredibly exciting place to come every day,” said Nathan, who will always treasure Shabbat mornings filled with dancing in the aisles, songs and prayer from the children’s souls, and the heart with which “his children” perform mitzvot and acts of tikkun olam, repairing the world.
“Every head of school comes in with a vision. I’m incredibly proud of the work that I’ve done here and I wish the school, and its entire community, only the best.”
By Deb Silverthorn