By Rabbi Dr. Yisrael Rothwachs
Every day I am profoundly grateful for the interconnectedness of my personal and professional lives.
One of my earliest memories is of lying in my bed as a 6 year old boy and hearing lively discussions taking place downstairs around the dining room table. While I did not recognize most of the voices---although I would one day get to know and appreciate them as those of heroic and brave trailblazers---I did hear among them a very familiar voice: that of my mother, Laurette Rothwachs, SINAI’s founding Dean. From my bedroom I could hear the words, but I did not understand the content of the dialogue, and yet I could sense that something exciting was happening – something groundbreaking – and it was occurring in my home. The seeds of SINAI were being planted and sown in my home, and today, 40 years later, I have the privilege and responsibility of being the faithful steward of the beautiful garden that is now SINAI, as Dean of SINAI Schools. I believe that perhaps even more than my decades of professional experience, it is the values that I learned as a child that prepared me for my roles today, both as a parent and a professional.
Each one of us is faced with the opportunity to make choices, big and small, every day. Often, facing an important decision can be overwhelming. I am grateful to my parents for teaching me to view decisions as opportunities to bring our priorities into focus, and that once you narrowly identify your most important and salient goals, your choices become clearer. This is a guiding principle that we actively employ multiple times every day at SINAI. Whether our educators are meeting to discuss the aspects of a particular student’s educational program, or our board is deliberating where and how to invest in our school, each member of our team embraces a single perspective and priority: “It is all about the children.” This simple declaration is powerfully liberating. Politics are discarded. Egos are checked at the door. Instead, clarity of purpose is embraced as the guiding principle. The surging feelings of uncertainty subside and instead yield to calm and confidence. While this approach has become a hallmark of the way we do business at SINAI, I believe that it has become so because of the standards that my mother modeled both at SINAI and at home.
Sustained growth in any area of life is achieved by taking slow and deliberate steps. In the words of Chazal, “Tafasta merubeh lo tafasta,” loosely translated as, “if you try to do too much, you may fail to do it altogether.” Although many recognize the strength of this principle, the pressures of life sometimes cause us to forget it and entice us to act otherwise. At an early age, my mother taught me to resist the temptation of a “quick fix,” and instead to think about my long term goals and to invest in the process in order to attain them. I have brought this approach into my professional life at SINAI; my colleagues and I are regularly engaged in identifying thoughtful and measured steps to achieve goals, both for individual students and for SINAI as a whole. When we consider how to successfully “stretch” a student academically, how to smoothly implement a new curriculum, or when to open a new school, we embrace a disciplined and thoughtful approach, which has, Baruch Hashem, led us to see sustained growth.
Today, as Dean of SINAI Schools, I am responsible for a staff of 170 and a student body with a wide range of profiles just shy of 200. And yet I have come to appreciate that my role today is not so different from my mother’s role 40 years ago, when our school consisted of merely one class of 3 students. She set the tone from the very beginning, identifying and embracing her core values and using them to guide SINAI’s purposeful and steady growth. I imagine that my having assumed the role of Dean brings my mother great nachas (pride). Ten years ago, she entrusted her “baby” with her baby. It may be surprising to some, therefore, that when she and I talk about how things are at SINAI she never imposes her opinion. She doesn’t even share her opinion unless it is solicited. And while I believe that her approach stems from her wishing not to “step on my toes,” it is likely easier for her to do so knowing that she successfully instilled in me these guiding principles of good decision making.
It should come as no wonder, therefore, that my greatest pride is when my children and students demonstrate their having internalized these values as well. As the world around us becomes more nuanced and therefore confident decision-making more complicated, it is ultimately the lessons that I initially learned at home that help to guide me, my dear colleagues, and my precious students with clarity.
Rabbi Dr. Yisrael Rothwachs is the Dean of SINAI Schools, overseeing the educational leadership of SINAI’s eight schools and adult programs across the New York region. He is grateful every day for the opportunity to be part of a team that leads with its heart.