By Michael Sudhalter
It’s been 20 years since a group of dedicated philanthropists transformed a former Food Lion grocery store in Far North Dallas to a school for lions of Torah.
Torah Day School of Dallas (TDSD) Principal Dr. Chana Ruderman has served in her current position since the school opened in 2003.
“The school still feels young,” Ruderman said of the daycare through eighth grade campus. “We have a Torah perspective to everything we do. We have amazing teacher retention. The teachers stay here unless they’re moving out of town.”
Six of the original teachers from 2003 have remained on the staff. There are currently 85 staff members, including full-time and part-time teachers. Many of the classes have co-teachers.
Last month, the school celebrated its 20th anniversary with a program, “Roots & Wings,” that included a dinner reception at the Dallas Arboretum. The event featured an alumni committee comprising graduates who completed their studies at TDSD between 2004 and 2016.
The school has expanded nearly threefold, from 170 students in 2003 to 470 today. The oldest graduates are in their early to mid-30s now, and some TDSD graduates are now parents of current TDSD students. Other TDSD alums have returned to teach at the school.
Ruderman and TDSD Head of School Rabbi Avi Pekier said the staff regularly fields phone calls from California, New York, Ohio, Israel and other places inquiring about a Dallas school with a strong emphasis on Judaic and Torah-based studies.
“Our kindergarten students can read English and Hebrew by the end of the year,” Ruderman said.
The school offers basketball for boys and girls, as well as dance for girls.
Pekier arrived at TDSD five years ago after working at a Torah-based school in Wisconsin for a quarter-century.
“I’m extremely grateful to God and the founding fathers of this school, such as David Winston, Richard Glazer and the Rosenberg family,” Pekier said. “We’re living off their hard work and dedication and seeing their vision in reality. The founders chose this location because they foresaw the growth of the school. The school would not be what it is today without Dr. Ruderman as principal.”
The coming growth, Pekier said, has school leaders planning for an even larger campus at some point in the next few years.
Starting in first grade, boys’ and girls’ classes are separate. Upon graduation, almost all of the female students attend Mesorah High School for Girls. The boys attend either Texas Torah Institute or one of several Orthodox boarding schools across the United States.
Students have a dual curriculum where they spend half the day with Judaic studies and the other half with a secular curriculum of English, mathematics, social studies and science.
Pekier said the school puts a great deal of emphasis on “character development” through knowledge of the Torah.
He said this year’s theme is “Selfless vs. Selfish” and he speaks to TDSD’s middle school boys about expressing gratitude toward their parents, teachers and each other.
“We talk about how to think of other people and how to put it into practice,” Pekier said.
Pekier grew up in an Orthodox family in Brooklyn with plans of becoming a pulpit rabbi. Once he entered rabbinical school, Pekier knew that education was the right path for him. He taught for many years before entering school administration.
“I’m very fortunate and grateful to do what I do,” Pekier said.
Pekier said his most impactful Torah verses are Joshua 1:8 — “Toil in the Torah day and night” — and Leviticus 19:18 — “Love your friend like you love yourself.”