Toronto-born educator to head Ramaz School in NYC

Rabbi Eric Grossman

Rabbi Eric Grossman, 43, a graduate of the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto (CHAT), has been named incoming head of school at the Ramaz School in Manhattan, a modern Orthodox day school encompassing preschool through Grade 12.

He will replace Paul Shaviv, who served for 14 years as director of education at what is now known as TanenbaumCHAT before joining Ramaz three years ago.

Shaviv described Ramaz at the time as “sort of the flagship Jewish high school” in New York and the United States. Shaviv, who was on contract at the school, said his future plans include “more independent work, and some writing.”

“I have greatly enjoyed my three ‘transitional’ years, and wish Rabbi Grossman every success,” he added.

Ramaz, which has 1,150 students, has “a wonderful reputation in the day school world,” Rabbi Grossman told The CJN in an email interview. 

For the past seven years, he has served as head of school at the Frankel Jewish Academy (FJA) in West Bloomfield, Mich., a multi-denominational high school with 225 students.

In a letter to the Ramaz community, Jacob Doft, Ramaz’s chairman of the board, welcomed Rabbi Grossman and cited his “thoughtful and organized management approach, inspiring teaching style and dynamic speaking skills.”

The rabbi, an alumnus of York University and Yeshivat HaMivtar in Efrat, received rabbinic ordination from Rabbi Daniel Channan in Jerusalem. His early Jewish education took place at Adath Israel Congregational School, and he joined CHAT’s “new stream” program for students who had not previously attended day school.

Rabbi Grossman, whose wife Karynne Naftolin also grew up at Adath Israel and attended CHAT, is still in touch with Sam Kapustin and Gary Levine, two of his high school teachers, whom he credits with inspiring his career path. 

As well, York University professor Martin Lockshin has also inspired him and guided his career, he said. Lockshin described Rabbi Grossman, who served as his research assistant in the late 1990s, as “a gifted educator.” Rabbi Grossman continues to publish in the field of biblical studies.

Adath Israel’s Rabbi Steven Saltzman, who died last September, was another mentor, and the shul’s cantor emeritus, Eliezer Kirshblum, Rabbi Grossman’s former Hebrew School principal, has also been a role model. 

“The greatest gift my parents gave me was taking me to the Adath Israel every Shabbat,” said Rabbi Grossman, who became Orthodox while studying at yeshiva in Israel. He has, however, retained a strong connection with his home synagogue, which is Conservative.

Rabbi Grossman said his priorities as head of school stem from a focus on students as well as the school’s “mission,” which is based on Zionism, American values and Jewish law at both Ramaz and at FJA.

Early last year, Ramaz faced two high-profile issues that were reported on by Jewish media. In January 2014, in response to an announcement by another modern Orthodox high school, Ramaz stated that girls would be allowed to wear tfillin at the school’s morning prayers if they wanted to. 

A month later, the school revoked a student-initiated invitation to Rashid Khalidi, Columbia University’s Edward Said Professor of modern Arab studies, to speak at the school. Students protested the decision in an online petition.

Rabbi Grossman did not comment on those issues at the time, but told The CJN last week that whether an issue is political or religious, it is essential to consider what’s best for students and what’s consistent with the school’s mission. He noted that the rabbis of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, with which Ramaz is connected institutionally, “are available to help Ramaz navigate these complex issues.”

Addressing the high cost of Jewish day school tuition, Rabbi Grossman said that both Ramaz and his current school “are blessed with magnanimous donors… The high cost of day school is driven by the resources needed to hire the best teachers, so the difference must always be made up in financial aid dollars.”