Growing up in New York in the 1970s, Perry Tirschwell wasn’t too happy in junior high.
“I was listless in eighth grade,” he said. “I wasn’t interested in anything.”
His mother took action, and one medical diagnosis of “boredom” later, the young Tirschwell found himself in a Jewish day school.
“It changed the trajectory of my life,” said Tirschwell, now a rabbi and educator who will start this summer as new head of school at South Peninsula Hebrew Day School in Sunnyvale.
Tirschwell has been in education for a long time. He founded Katz (Weinbaum) Yeshiva High School in Boca Raton, Florida, as well as the teachers’ association Torah Educators Network. He said his background has exposed him to the cutting edge of Jewish education, including how technology and translation is changing textual studies, allowing greater access to commentaries.
“Everything is available in English now,” he said.
And not only in English, but online, with the references available through hyperlinks. That makes finding a textual connection a lot easier, unlike in his generation.
“Someone had to go read a whole page of Talmud to figure out where it was,” he said. “Now it takes you right there.”
South Peninsula Hebrew Day School, founded in 1972, goes from pre-K through eighth grade, and its location in Silicon Valley sets it apart: Although the school is Modern Orthodox, the mix of families who work in the area means students are all kinds of Jewish, from the children of Chabad emissaries to secular Israeli families and everything in between.
Tirschwell said that’s one of the challenges he’s excited about.
“The school services a wider spectrum than any other Jewish day school in this country,” he said.
Ari Tuchman, an SPHDS board member, longtime parent at the school and head of its search committee, said the members really thought about that element when choosing someone to take the school forward and build on the growth SPHDS has seen in the past few years.
“I think we found a great leader to keep that momentum going,” said Tuchman.
Tirschwell will replace Rabbi Shaye Guttenberg, who was at the post for the past five years and is moving to a school in Florida. Tirschwell said it was Guttenberg who alerted him to the opening and that the two have been having weekly phone meetings to discuss the transition.
As for how Tirschwell sees the future of SPHDS, he said that a capital campaign to update school facilities might be on the horizon. He added that making sure the school stays strong is important so that observant families who come to Silicon Valley for work can find a place to call home.
“A robust day school is a No. 1 priority,” he said.
Coming to the Bay Area also has a personal element for Tirschwell. His daughter Meira lives in Oakland with her husband, Rabbi Gershon Albert of Beth Jacob Congregation, and Tirschwell is anticipating spending more time with his three grandchildren. But he’s also looking forward to starting his own new chapter at SPHDS, where he can continue to help teach kids what he considers most important: to truly learn Judaism, not just about Judaism.
“In the long run, making an impact on young people pays dividends,” he said.