PROVIDENCE – Adam Tilove, the new Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island head of school, is relieved that Providence has good pizza. He riffed about pizza and talked seriously about JCDS with The Jewish Voice shortly after he, his wife Marni and their son Naftali arrived in Providence after leaving New York City.
Q. Welcome to Providence. When did you arrive and where are you living?
A. We just arrived (beginning of July) and, as of this writing, we’re under contract for a house within walking distance of the school. We want to live in the community in which I work. We want our son Naftali to grow up here.
Q. Any surprises since interviewing here in March or since arriving?
A. I’ve been happily surprised by how many people have reached out and invited me to their homes for dinner and been willing to meet me and get together. I’m not that surprised, but it has been welcoming and the people have been great.
The other big surprise is pizza! I was worried about not being able to get good pizza. I said to my wife, “What will we do in Providence – half our meals [in NYC] are pizza.” When I learned that Providence was the number two city in the U.S. for pizza, I said, “Whoa, a sign from heaven.” So, I’m looking forward to some good Rhode Island pizza.
Q. What is your educational background?
A. I grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs. I didn’t go to Jewish day schools; I went to public school for almost all my education. My B.A. is from Emory University in Atlanta, Ga.; my major was in religion, my minor in philosophy. I earned my M.A. in education from Brooklyn College.
Q. So how did a public school kid become a Jewish day school teacher? Did a light suddenly go off one day?
A. I’ll tell you the story on a very personal level. I was in a near-fatal car accident and had some serious surgeries. I was 16 and spent six weeks in the hospital, three of them in the ICU (intensive care unit). That was very intense and a life-changing experience. When you almost die … learning how to speak and eat again … I [became] committed to finding more meaning in my life. Also, I had made my bar mitzvah at 16 … and had a head full of Judaism when I had my accident. That’s when the light went off. I become very committed to living a spiritual Jewish life.
While I was in a coma, my mother [said] the age-old prayer, the same prayer that Hannah [said] when she prayed for her son Samuel, “Let my son live and he belongs to You.” This is who I am.
Q. What’s your philosophy of Jewish teaching and learning?
A. Two separate answers. First education – I am a progressive educator. I believe how kids learn is more important that what they learn. I want to see active learning, full engagement … kids developing their verbal skills, doing group work, negotiating problems … inspiring each other … taking joy in their own learning.
And as to Jewish education: I want kids to take Judaism seriously and see it as a religion of love and a way of life … of making us a better people. Second is the concept of mahlakot l’shem shamayim, an argument for the sake of heaven. It is said that the two great rabbis, Hillel and Shamei, fought about everything. It is not that the argument is to be won, but that the argument, that tension, is what Judaism values.
Q. Do you plan on teaching?
A. I love to teach and I have a couple of different plans to teach. I get so much joy and satisfaction from teaching so it’s important for me to get into the classroom. I may substitute or try to schedule something regularly to get to know the kids.
I want to do something with older kids – a class at [Harry Elkin] Midrasha. I’ve already spoken a bit with (Rabbis) Barry Dolinger (of Congregation Beth Sholom) and Elan Babchuck (of Temple Emanu-El) about doing something together. There’s so much cooperation and admiration between the Jewish communities – a vibe of collaboration and excitement – that‘s been a nice surprise.
Q. What are some of the first things you’re going to do?
A. My first job is to try and meet as many people as I can in the community, to really listen as much as I can and hear about why people are involved in the school, why they are involved in Judaism and why they are – or are not – coming to the school. I need to listen much more than I talk.
Second, my goal is to set the direction and help teachers and staff members understand how we can work together to provide the best education possible.
Q. Longer term goals?
A. We’re a small school, around 65 students (pre-K to grade 5). We have room for more. I think we’d be more vibrant, more sustainable, at 100. We’d like to raise enrollment … it comes down to having a really exciting, effective and inspiring product. Our small class size (six to 12 students) is great for teaching and learning. We live by our vision of education and of Judaism. If you like what we like and love what we love, then we’re for you.
Q. What advice do you have for returning students and teachers?
A. Be open to trying new things, learning new skills and using new techniques to grow.
Q. What advice do you have for Adam Tilove?
A. The advice is the same [that] I give my son almost every night: Be nice to people; build good relationships [by] being warm and empathetic and by listening to people.
Adam Tilove (firstname.lastname@example.org) is also at Twitter: @adamtilove.
JCDS: jcdsri.org or 751-2470.
Arthur C. Norman (email@example.com) is a contributing writer for The Jewish Voice.