This is the last post in our Chanukah Sparks blog series. The series has featured the moments that sparked educators and leaders to pursue careers in Jewish day school education — becoming beacons of light for their schools and communities. We hope that telling these stories has not only helped brighten this Chanukah, but that it will also lead to inspiration that burns strong for the rest of the year. Chanukah Sameach!
Chanukah Sparks from Rabbi Ari Leubitz
Head of School, Atlanta Jewish Academy
Why did I become a Rabbi and what sparked me to head down this path? Here goes. You may want to get comfortable, it’s not a short answer.
I was raised by an Orthodox mother and Conservative father in Cleveland, Ohio, where the options for school were either Orthodox or public. There was nothing in between. Attending the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland gave me a foundation that I cherish to this day. I felt such a connection to Judaism, but still wasn’t sure where my place was. I suppose, in hindsight, that I have always questioned the “why,” even starting from childhood. After my gap year in Israel, I felt a pull to answer my own “why.” I knew I was moving down a path to find my Jewish identity, and wanted to know what that exactly would look like.
When I moved to Riverdale, NY with my wife Florence, the Orthodox community was like nothing I’d seen. It was fused with a spirituality and love of music which, as a son of a chazzan, truly resonated with me. This community was open to questions. They were inclusive of all levels of religious commitment. I felt the the history, tradition and love of Torah, mitzvot and ivrit, and it was intertwined with the intellectual piece I was also drawn to. This was my home. This was the answer to my personal “why.”
I found myself more involved in the shul, studying and teaching. It was my decision to switch to the 12 am – 8 am shift at the call center I managed so that I could spend every morning at the Yeshiva after minyan. I’d study there all day, head home to say a quick hello to my new bride, rest for the blink of an eye, and repeat. It was frenetic. Looking back now, I have no idea how I maintained that pace. Clearly something was fueling me. It was my passion and connection to Judaism.
As part of this journey, my beautiful wife helped pave the way for the type of Rabbi I’d one day choose to be. I was in the midst of the most complicated topics in my studies when she asked me the most simple question: “Ari, what are you learning?” It sounds basic, but I couldn’t answer it simply. At that moment, I made myself a promise. This pact was to always ask myself what the spiritual meaning and message was in anything I learn or teach. This realization empowered me to personally reimagine how my own learning would take place. I ask this of myself, of my children, and of the children at Atlanta Jewish Academy. I believe that we must all ask and answer the “why” in every area of our daily lives.
Hopefully, this has given you a glimpse into my personal journey, and one of the reasons for my inquisitive nature. This background has served to develop my Jewish educational vision. It is my belief that our vision has to start with our precious students. They must understand “why” everything we teach and practice is meaningful and relevant, and to learn not just what they are doing, but to wonder “why” it’s important. We want them to grasp “why” Judaism is relevant to help them grow as human beings, citizens, and as Jews in their service to G-d and family.
May we all continue to ask the “why’s” in our personal and communal lives, so that we can foster deeper, richer and more meaningful connections to our families and each other.