Reprint permission: Jewish Scene Magazine/jewishscenemagazine.com
By Holly Marks
Memphis is in the midst of a booming revitalization to make the city of grit and grind an even better place to live, work and explore. Our own Jewish community is experiencing positive changes, too; changes that are bringing even more strength and ruach to an already incredible community.
Bornblum Jewish Community School is thrilled to have acquired Daniel R. Weiss as the new Head of School last year. He is already doing big things to make a positive impact.
I caught up with Dan to learn firsthand about his story… and it’s an inspiring one, to say the least.
Holly: Tell us about your background and how you decided to work in the Jewish realm.
Dan: I am a day school alumnus, from the Solomon Schechter Day School of Cleveland where I was a student from kindergarten through fifth grade. I went to public school through high school graduation and attended Akiva Hebrew High School two evenings a week for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. I spent a semester as a high school sophomore in Israel on Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim. At Ohio State University I majored in Jewish Studies, spent my junior year at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and have a master’s degree from Siegal College in Cleveland, Ohio.
My first-grade teacher, Mrs. Thorpe, would tell you that she knew I was going to be a teacher when I was her student, since I would tell everyone what to do during class. I don’t think that there was ever a time that I did not imagine working in a school. When I first entered the profession as a college graduate, I worked at the elementary school I attended. Rabbi Jim Rogozen, who was Head of School at the time, knew that I wanted to eventually go into school leadership. He mentored me and put me into a different classroom each year with the desire that when I entered leadership, I would speak with authority when teachers of different grades would ask me questions.
Holly: I’m sure there have been many wonderful moments in your career… describe one of those times that was truly inspirational and made you proud to be doing what you do.
Dan: This is a great question. Each position has afforded me an opportunity to find moments where I have drawn inspiration. The one that has had the biggest impact on both me and my family occurred during my first year as a Head of School while living in Las Vegas. A potential parent had asked me to consider enrolling his son in our first-grade class. His son has Down Syndrome and would come to our school already able to read and with a shadow to help him continue his educational journey. I learned more about myself as a leader, an educator and a person from working with that young man. His heart was everywhere, and there was never a time that his desire to learn and be a part of school was lacking. He was in class with my youngest son, and I thank God every day that their friendship and the life lessons that my son, and in turn the rest of my family, gained from having this young man in his class. It reminded me why I went into education.
Holly: Was Memphis on your radar or was it the right opportunity at the right time?
Dan: I had always known that Memphis had a strong Jewish community with great schools. There were people in and out of my life who have at one time or another called Memphis their home and would speak about what a special place this is. When my oldest son was getting close to high school age, we decided to look at cities that had strong Jewish high schools and where I could find an amazing job. The timing worked out perfectly that Bornblum was looking for a Head of School to begin the same year that my oldest son was entering high school. I jumped at the opportunity.
Holly: Speaking of Memphis… when did you feel like an official Memphian?
Dan: It did not take long. This community was extremely welcoming to our family and made us feel at home right away.
Holly: Describe your most exciting Memphis moment.
Dan: It’s the sense of family that I find in Memphis. It is when we get together with other families and see multiple generations together. It is those moments where our new friends tell us that we are “adopted” members of their families.
Holly: What is your vision for Bornblum Jewish Community School? What do you hope to achieve as the Head of School?
Dan: I spent much of my first year building relationships. As a community school, it is essential that everyone sees what a Bornblum education provides. Telling the story of Bornblum and hearing from members of the Memphis community about their connection to the school has been incredible. We have a strong school where every child comes to learn, and every teacher puts the needs of their students at the forefront.
My vision is that our school continues to have strong academics in General Studies and in Jewish Studies, and that we are able to share that with the entire community. I envision a school where students create families within the school across grades to help foster leadership, modeling, social emotional growth and character values.
As a leader I hope to be strategic and innovative, always putting the students and families at the center.
One of my favorite quotes is from Or Taicher, founder of Koolulam, a group that brings communities of divergent people together to create amazing music. He says, “Inspiration creates movement. Movement creates life.” That is my goal of leadership.
Holly: Tell us something unique or unexpected about you.
Dan: I won a poetry contest in high school, which provided a small scholarship for college. The poem was about multiculturalism.
Holly: You have a day off… how would spend it?
Dan: Cooking dinner, watching TV with my family and finding a mountain view.
Holly: What are three words to describe the Jewish community here and why?
Dan: Cohesive, Diverse, Committed.
I love that our community is so committed to being a part of the Jewish Community. We are a small community, with many different temples, synagogues and shuls, two incredible Jewish day schools, Jewish institutions like, MJCC, Plough Towers, Memphis Jewish Home & Rehab, Hillels of Memphis, Jewish Family Service and JCP. Everyone sees the value of Jewish education and Jewish living. No matter who you are, there is a way to be connected. I am so inspired by the level of commitment in this community.
Clearly, Dan is committed to Judaism and to making a difference. We are extremely lucky to have someone as invested as he is to join the ranks of local leadership. Plus, he’s an all-around down-to-earth, genuine guy. I encourage all of you to get to know him if you haven’t already; you’ll be glad you did.