This first Meet the Community profile of the school year is of our new Principal, Moreh Alan Rusonik. Hopefully you have had a chance to meet him by now, but our interview may help you get to know him a little bit better.
Heschel Hive (HH): Moreh Alan, we know from your letter to the community back in June that you are originally from Toronto, but you’ve been an educator in Houston, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Orlando. Which of these cities was your favourite to live in and why?
Alan Rusonik (AR): Every community that I’ve lived in is special and each has a unique Jewish community. Asking which one of these communities was my favourite is like asking which one of my children is my favourite! They are all special in their own way.
I loved the small and close-knit Jewish community of Houston; all four of my children were born in Houston and it was a great community to raise our children.
I think I had the most rewarding professional experience in San Diego. We were doing some really unique and innovative programs that were very impactful and fulfilling for me professionally.
While I didn’t quite like living in Florida per se (the heat, the humidity and the politics), the Orlando Jewish community was warm and inviting and we created many life-long friendships there. I felt valued and respected in the school where I worked and that I was making a difference in the lives of my students and their families. We found a spiritual home away from home in our synagogue, and we were very active there. Our time in Orlando demonstrated for us the important role that Jewish day schools and synagogues play in smaller Jewish communities.
LA is big and geographically spread out. We liked our little community of Westlake Village and the small Jewish community in which we were active. It was far enough from the hustle and bustle of LA but close enough if you need the amenities of a big city.
All in all, I enjoyed living in four different communities in the US. Life is an adventure and I was grateful for the opportunities I had, the people that I met, and the experiences I had, both personally and professionally.
HH: What is the best thing about being back in your hometown?
AR: So much has changed in Toronto, yet so much has remained the same over the past 36 years. In some ways, it seems like I never left! With all of my professional travels, I never lost sight of the fact that I am a proud Canadian and proud Torontonian! No matter where I lived, I rooted for the Blue Jays, Raptors, and, yes, even the Maple Leafs! My extended family has always been in Toronto and so we were always here for family events, both happy and sad. I would say the best thing about being back in Toronto is being reunited with family and friends!
HH: You have now been at Heschel for around 4 months. How is the school similar and different to those you have been at in the past?
AR: Heschel is a unique school and community, unlike any other school that I have worked in professionally. The methodology, philosophy and curriculum are truly one of a kind and special. But at the end of the day, students are students, teachers are teachers, and parents are parents. Different names, different faces, but similar situations. Students need to be taught and nurtured, teachers need to feel respected as professionals, as well as supported and guided, and parents need to feel heard and to be engaged as partners in their child’s education. The bottom line is: a Jewish day school is a Jewish day school.
HH: What has been one of your favourite moments at school so far?
AR: What I enjoy the most about waking up in the morning and coming to school are the students. I love welcoming them in the morning, being with them in their classrooms, on the playground or at tefillot, or simply sharing a short story, a fun niggun, and a simple smile. I believe as our rabbis taught us that the world exists because of the hope that we have placed in our school children that they will provide a better future for all. To be a part of that process is invigorating to me and sustains me.
HH: How does the job of Principal differ from that of the Head of School?
AR: In the simplest of terms, the role of a Head of School is different from the role of Principal in that the Head of School provides the vision and direction for the school and supervises from a 30,000 foot level, while the Principal is more concerned with the day-to-day operations of the school. The Principal, as such, is the “boots on the ground.” I think these are two very different positions requiring two very different skill sets. While I have served as a Head of School, I like the role of Principal because my style of leadership is very hands-on, and I like to be “in the trenches” with the faculty and staff. As a Principal, I get to build relationships with students, faculty, staff, and parents. Finally, I recognize that as Principal, communication is key, and I am constantly working on this skill so I can be effective and impactful in my position.
HH: Can you tell us a little bit about your own personal educational philosophy?
AR: My educational philosophy begins with a quote from the Tanach: “Chanoch LeNa’ar Al Pi Darko…” “Educate the child according to his or her ability; for even when he or she is old, he or she will never depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6) I have always used the wisdom of our tradition as a guide in my personal and professional life, and when it comes to my educational philosophy, I cannot think of a better verse that expresses my desire to help each and every student reach his or her fullest potential. In Hebrew, “Chanoch” literally means to dedicate, which reminds me that teachers must be dedicated to each and every individual student. “Chanoch” also means educate (as in “Chinuch”). To educate comes from the Latin educatus, which means to draw out. Thus, in a sense, part of my educational philosophy is to “draw out” or “bring out” the best in each and every student in our school.
HH: What was your best class in elementary school?
AR: I went to day school here in Toronto and what I loved about my Jewish day school upbringing was everything Jewish, which is why I went into Jewish education. I loved learning Torah and Nach, and the stories of our ancestors. I loved learning about the holidays, the traditions, and the rituals of the Jewish people. I loved Tefillah and learning the melodies and customs associated with Tefillah. I especially loved Jewish history and still do today. Incidentally, I didn’t love Hebrew at the time, and I wish I had spent more time appreciating the Hebrew language. I do now; it just took me a while. Was I nerdy? I guess so, in a Jewish way, but I also loved sports and I was very social. I would like to think of myself as “balanced,” but it is hard to judge oneself, especially reflecting back so many years later. As a teacher, I have always wanted to share my love and passion for “all things Jewish” with my students.
HH: What is the best piece of advice you have ever gotten at work?
AR: Just like with my educational philosophy, I try to take my advice from the wisdom of our tradition. In Vayikra 19:14, it says “Lifnei Iver Lo Titen Michshol” which means “do not place a stumbling block before the blind.” Obviously, it would be difficult for anyone to argue with the advice the Torah provides here in a literal sense, but I look at this verse a little differently. To me, the verse means we should never let anyone fail, or alternatively, it is the role of each and every individual to help other people succeed. I hate schadenfreude, the concept of taking pleasure in someone else’s pain or misfortune. I see too much of that in our world today and it makes me sad. By seeing my purpose in life to help others succeed, I feel that I am making a difference in our world and in my community. I think it is good advice from our Torah and a very positive and healthy way to live.
HH: What bucket list item do you most want to check off?
AR: I don’t have a huge bucket list, but there is one thing that I would like to do one day: swim with dolphins. Since I was little, I have always been fascinated with dolphins. I remember watching “Flipper” on TV (yes, I am dating myself) and going to the Miami Seaquarium when I would go to Florida each winter to visit my Bubbie. Dolphins are so interesting and intelligent, and I would love the opportunity to swim with them one day. My kids know this, so, if by chance they are reading this, let this serve as a reminder that I am not getting any younger; it is time to start knocking things off my bucket list!
HH: You have quite an impressive Pez dispenser collection in your office. Are these from when you were a kid or are you still a collector?
AR: I have always loved Pez, both for the candy (I have a terrible sweet tooth) and for the unique way that the candy is dispensed. I wish I could tell you that I saved those Pez from my youth, but I didn’t. I didn’t have the foresight. I started buying them again as an adult. Pez is the perfect combination for any child: a candy and a toy. What child doesn’t like candy and a toy? And if you haven’t figured it out yet, I am just a big kid!
About This Column
Our Meet the Community blog column gives Heschel families the opportunity to get to know some of the people who make a difference at The Toronto Heschel School.Browse Column Archive