What’s Going On With Emek Hebrew Academy In The San Fernando Valley?

A source tells me Feb. 12: “Emek is getting rid of its two principals (Judaic — Rabbi P. Wachsman and Secular — Gabriella Shapiro) after this year. They are claiming that Wachsman is retiring, but the word around the valley says its happening for a completely different reason and he’s getting the boot. Look into it…”

An Orthodox rabbi tells me Mar. 14: “The school has been foundering for several years and the board seems to have decided that they have to make some strong changes to move the school forward. There has been no scandal, just stuck in the mud.”

A source says Mar. 14:

The two principals have been dumped. Torah studies principal R. Wachsman was there for 35 years and let go without severance. Secular studies principal Gabriella Shapiro was let go after three years. And it’s not because he was past his prime or that her lack of an educational background was a problem.

By all accounts, they put Emek on the best academic footing it has seen in years and raised test scores for all grade levels. But they did so by stepping on a lot of toes — Shapiro in particular. They got rid of lots of longtime teachers and assorted hangers-on and pissed off a lot of people in Valley Village. Shapiro didn’t treat the big givers with much kavod (honor), and she didn’t mind taking on the sainted Rabbi Eidlitz, purportedly the school’s fundraiser, which apparently means he goes to the same eight machers ever year, puts on a few events, and learns with the bal habattim (the congregation). He pretty much does what he wants. Along with his Torah studies teacher wife, he just takes off for days at a time without explanation, and no one knows what’s going on. But he’s got a mystique in the community and it wasn’t smart to take him on. Rabbi Wachsman, who is smart, should have seen where this was going and silenced Shapiro.

In the end, here’s what’s happening: the only solid administration the school has seen in years is out, money is not coming in, and a lot of teachers are going to get axed, lowering morale across the board, tuition was increased, registration is down, and someone at the school committed a big no-no by using withheld income tax to pay the bills instead of the IRS. The IRS found out. Big fine. And now the board is hurrying to hire a head of school who will hire his own principals in a school that is bleeding money and gutting programs.

In December of 2009, I wrote about Shalhevet: “Shalhevet could’ve had Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz as head of school. They chose Rabbi Elchanan Weinbach instead. He’s there every day. Rabbi Steinsaltz would’ve appointed a representative and flown in to give lectures every couple of months.”

A source says Mar. 7:

The secular principal is a mommy with about 4 kids who does this to supplement her husband’s income – she was a lawyer and figured out that getting fee tuition for her kids plus a nice check is way better than writing briefs. She is a nice woman, but Emek nees a professional educator.

As for Wachsman, he has been there since before aron tendler started trolling for YULA girls. He has never been that friendly or gregarious and the new upsets the old, it would not hurt to have new blood. Wachsman must be in his late 60s, and it is time for him to retire to Israel.

Wachsman’s nose is very clean and he knows where all the bodies are buried so no one would want to oust him.

The money involved in the Valley would not be worth the time of a city attorney let alone a federal prosecutor. Financially, the valley is nothing. It may be that Wachsman just wore on too long on people – he may want too much salary, could be a whole lot of things. The guy has been at Emek for like 40 years, it is enough.

Emek does not want to be too secular, so it does not grind its students too hard. It does not want to be black hat, because it wants the israelis and persians who like the school and not having to be too religious. So, if secular is important to you, you send your kids to Adat Ariel or other day schools. If religious is important to you, you send your kids to Yavneh or Toras Emes. So, what you are left with is a great unwashed mass of rather mediocre types, kind of like Conservative Judaism. Also, if you are cool and think that Emek is home to the great unwashed, you do the absolutely knucklehead thing and drive your kids to Maimonidies (or in the old days, Shalhevet). Emek should make itself a real deal place, and if necessary have a separate track for kids whose moms wear hot pants to carpool and a separate track for kids whose moms wear shabbos robes every day of the week.

You should know that your old nemesis – Shaarey Zedek – is on something of an upswing. Sure, Aron Tendler is gone and there are no phone sex sessions with the rabbi anymore, but the community has responded favorably to the plea of the shul to pay off the mortgage on its disastrously planned and built new building. It is entirely possible that the debt will be repaid and the shul will be on a very firm footing. There is no question but that the Tendler episode, which shook the community, is now irrelevant history and those who accused him should just come out and give times and dates for comic relief.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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