Day-school head plans to blend U.S., Israeli cultures

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In his spare time, Rabbi Charles Abramchik is a matchmaker with more than 40 marriages to his credit. His latest match weds his own lifelong interest in youth, education and Judaism to a new position as headmaster of the South Peninsula Hebrew Day School.

David Levine, president of the board, considers Abramchik a great catch.

"After a 3-1/2 year search, Rabbi Abramchik is the only candidate who has a background of education and mastery of both English and Hebrew languages, as well as running a Jewish day school. His unique background makes him suited to our school," he said.

Abramchik assumed the position July 1 at the Sunnyvale kindergarten through eighth-grade school, which has been operating with interim directors for several years. David Fleishhacker previously held that position.

For the past 12 years, Abramchik has been an assistant principal at Hannah Sacks Girls High School, a Jewish school in Chicago.

A longtime educator and counselor as well as an Orthodox rabbi, Abramchik, 52, became deeply involved with youth during his teenage years. He served as a camp counselor and an active participant in Bnei Akiva, the religious Zionist youth movement.

His primary goal is to expand the 310-student South Peninsula school, retaining the students through high school. Another is to add adult-education programming.

The school, where about half the students are the children of Israelis living in Silicon Valley, has dual Hebrew- and English-language tracks.

While the school is Orthodox in orientation, most of the students are not. Abramchik sees "a mixture of all kinds of Judaism here from Reform to the unaffiliated to Orthodox. There is also a large Israeli population. I want to blend the two cultures, American and Israeli, together for both the children and adults," he said.

"My goal is to bring them under one banner so that the children can make choices out of the knowledge they will acquire, and decide what they will do religiously."

In addition to serving as an educator, the rabbi has been a family counselor for more than 20 years. For the past 15 years, he has freelanced as an unpaid matchmaker in the Orthodox community. With a data bank in his computer, he matches couples across the United States and Canada. He often ends up officiating at their marriages.

He feels the service, which he plans to continue in California, serves an important need among the Orthodox. "It's a void that needs to be filled," he said.

Born in Shanghai, Abramchik is the son of parents who met in China after they escaped Nazi terrorism in Poland. In 1947, when he was a year old, he came to the United States. His father is a rabbi who serves as a ritual slaughterer, traveling throughout the country.

His family settled in Chicago where he attended a yeshiva. Later he graduated from Yeshiva University in New York, where he was ordained. While there, he majored in education and minored in sociology. He taught at the university, then took a year off in 1966 to study in Israel

Two years later, he returned to Chicago and married wife Harriet, whom he had known since his youth. After their first child was born, he and his wife, a nurse, made aliyah in 1970, living on a religious kibbutz. Following that experience, he became the principal at a boys' high school near Haifa and served in the Israeli army as a soldier at the Lebanese border.

In an educational career that involved service in America interspersed with work in Israel, Abramchik ran a religious public school in Jerusalem and served as a principal in Milwaukee, Connecticut and Los Angeles.

"I have always maintained good relations with youth," he said. "I enjoy giving information to them, and find their responses gratifying. I want to continue helping children, using my text knowledge and many experiences."

He will continue to study Judaic text, spending his free time with his family, which includes five daughters and six grandchildren.