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Stern Hebrew High School Gets New Leader

August 17, 2006 By:
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Rabbi Mordechai Wecker
Rabbi Mordechai Wecker certainly knows how to relate to high school students. After all, he has seven children of his own -- two boys and five girls ranging in age from 12 to 25 years old -- and has also taught for 21 years at the Maimonides School just outside of Boston.

Wecker began putting all of that accumulated experience to good use on Aug. 1, when he assumed the role of head of school at Stern Hebrew High School in Northeast Philadelphia.

"What I'm seeing so far makes me very, very energized about the possibility of moving this forward to the next step," said the rabbi. "Everyone in the school really seems to be deeply committed to its success."

Wecker served as principal of Judaic studies for the high school and middle school at Maimonides from 2002 until he resigned this past June. The rabbi earned his master's degree in education this summer from Cambridge College in Massachusetts.

Wecker replaces Rabbi Moshe Simkovich, who held the position since the school was founded in 2000. Simkovich will remain on staff as dean of the Judaic-studies program.

"I really don't feel like I'm replacing him," said Wecker. "I'm being given a golden opportunity to work with him and other professionals to make it a really unique school."

Wecker noted that he hopes to make changes to the curriculum; however, he said that it's a bit premature for him to offer any specifics. But while he was at Maimonides, he introduced special Judaic-studies courses for gifted students and mentioned that might be something he'd like to try at Stern.

When asked about the differences between the Jewish communities in Boston and Philadelphia, Wecker would only speak of positive similarities.

"They are two cosmopolitan Jewish communities," replied the rabbi, "communities that both really exhibit a deep commitment to Jewish education, and to filling the knowledge and the pride of what it means to be Jewish to the next generation."

After spending so much time at Maimonides, leaving was indeed "bittersweet" for Wecker, who has since settled with his family in the Northeast.

"We have a lot of friends there, and it's a community and a school I'd been a part of for many years," he said. "But a wonderful educational and professional opportunity presented itself here, and my family and I are very happy to be here."

A Special Niche

Wecker has entered a school that has carved out a niche for itself as the place for Modern Orthodox students to attend.

"Our hope is that we will be able to spread the unique vision of the school that promotes excellence in both Judaic studies and general studies," he said. "It's a school that believes very strongly in offering equal educational opportunities for both men and women, and it's a school that prepares our graduates to be successful in a way very few other schools can."

Moreover, with the conflict in Israel stirring up anti-Semitic sentiments in the world, Wecker said that he considers a Jewish education an increasingly important part of a young person's maturation process.

"I believe very deeply that our Jewishness defines, to a great extent, who we are as human beings," said Wecker. "I believe that it provides us with some stability and an anchor in a world that is, very unfortunately, filled with hatred -- not only against Jews, but against Americans and Western civilization."

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