Kemp Mill schools name Wecker as principal

Rabbi Mordechai Wecker. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Mordechai Wecker.

Correction: March 9, 2023, 12:40 p.m.
The length of Rabbi Wecker’s career in Jewish education has been corrected in the story.

Rabbi Mordechai Wecker said he has some ideas for the Leo Bernstein Jewish Academy of Fine Arts, a private elementary school, and the Silver Spring Learning Center, a preschool, when he becomes principal this summer.

Wecker won’t implement any changes right away, though.

“I want to know the culture of the school before attempting any changes,” he said, “There’s a number of wonderful strengths that the teachers and the administrators bring to the institution already. I want to get to know those strengths more intimately and then work to make a great product even better.”

The institutions have a total enrollment of about 100 students.

Wecker, 67, who describes himself as “born and bred” in Silver Spring, has worked in Jewish education for more than four decades, serving in head positions at several schools along the East Coast. Wecker lives in Baltimore, but said he is excited to work in the Washington area, especially under the umbrella of the Silver Spring Jewish Center in Kemp Mill, founded by Wecker’s mentor, Rabbi Herzel Kranz.

“This school is very special to me because my parents were members of Rabbi Kranz’s synagogue,” Wecker explained. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to support him and his efforts.”

Wecker attended what is now Yeshiva of Greater Washington. He said he followed the guidance of Kranz, who provided direction and advice from theological Jewish questions to marriage advice.

“Any problem they have, anything they like to discuss, they come and clear it with me,” Kranz said. “I don’t tell people to do anything, but [Wecker] liked my views on Judaism and life. He went on to cater his life to Jewish education. I think I played a big part — I can’t say the only part — in how he wants to dedicate himself.”

Kranz thinks Wecker is a great fit given his passion for teaching Judaism and his extensive experience in the field.

“He’s very gentle, very bright and wholly committed to promoting Judaism. He’s dedicating his life to something very personal,” Kranz said, “Can you get anything better than that?”

Kranz’s daughter, Chaya Kranz, is the executive director of the Silver Spring Jewish Center. Like her father, Chaya Kranz thinks Wecker’s “personable, warm, engaging, team-work” style will bode well for the Jewish Academy of Fine Arts and the Silver Spring Learning Center.

“He makes you feel like a team member, he always wants to work together with you,” Chaya Kranz said, “He wants to know more about the students, about the staff, about how to accommodate everyone. He’s very caring.”

Chaya Kranz said Wecker is interested in starting the school day earlier so school releases earlier on Friday afternoons, giving families more time to prepare for Shabbat.

Wecker believes one of the biggest strengths of the institutions is their individualized approach to instruction. He wants to continue to walk the “fine line” between covering material for the whole class and personalizing education for each pupil.

“My goal is that no Jewish child is left behind. Every child needs an environment in which they’re appropriately challenged,” Wecker said, “The goal isn’t just studying Jewish texts and traditions, but to imbue a commitment to Jewish continuity.”

Wecker is scheduled to start as principal in July, although he’s already been working with the Jewish Academy of Fine Arts and the Silver Spring Learning Center as a consultant for several months.

“It’s been really positive,” Wecker said of his time so far, “There’s a lot of teachers, a lot of parents, a lot of students that are deeply committed to the school.”

Molly Zatman is a freelance writer.

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