Meet Rabbi Yona Margolese: Moving TDS forward

Emily K. Alhadeff, Associate Editor, The Jewish Sound

Torah Day School has had no shortage of changes and challenges over the past two years, and it has met each one swiftly and, so far, successfully.

This fall marks another season of change for the little Orthodox elementary school that could. Following a long search, Seattle-based rabbi Yona Margolese will take the helm as interim head of school, with the hope that this will become a permanent position.

“We needed a new head of school, and they had an ongoing search for a while,” Margolese said by phone from Israel, where he was visiting. “I offered to take that position.”

Margolese is a parent of students in the school and was on the search committee before he threw in his hat. In August of last year, the school, rocked by a scandal and the resignation of its longtime head, hired Rabbi Moshe Abady of Los Angeles, but he proved not the right fit and left the school midway through the year.

In taking the job, Margolese is leaving an eight-year career at Northwest Yeshiva High School, where he was the student activities and recruitment coordinator and taught introduction to prayer, Jewish law, and introduction to Torah.

“It’s very bittersweet for me, actually,” he said.

Not only does Margolese bring education and administration experience to TDS, he also brings a deep experience with relationship building. Margolese is a licensed family and marriage therapist who owns his own practice, Pomegranate Therapy. He has worked extensively with children, teens, and families, with an emphasis on issues facing Jewish teenagers. As head of school, he wants to look at students not just academically, but emotionally, too.

“We’re very big on having the teachers give homework that’s going to be relevant to the students, and not busywork,” he said. “We believe strongly that students should have time with their families.”

When the students leave the school, they should have time to play sports and just “be themselves,” he explained.

Margolese expects to spend the first year of his tenure getting to know the job and what the community wants.

“Year one is always good to learn things,” he said. “My first step is just to learn.”

Beyond that, Margolese said he hopes “to find a way to concretize the mission of the school in a clear and measurable way” and articulate the school’s uniqueness.

“TDS has a really diverse group of families,” said board vice president Yossi Babani. “What that requires is someone who knows the community well. Having someone who is well-rooted here, like Rabbi Margolese, is a huge plus.”

Babani added that Margolese’s experience as a community member, a former TDS board member, a teacher and administrator and family therapist make him situated to deal with students, parents, and teachers effectively.

“We need solid and stable leadership, and we also need a relationship builder,” said Babani. “Rabbi Margolese fits that bill well.”

“It may sound cliché,” Margolese said, “[but] I love Jews. I love people. I see in this position the opportunity to bring Jews closer together, I think to bring the community together. I would love to be a part of that.”