Meet the Bay Areas newest Jewish educators

Four Bay Area Jewish schools will have new captains at the helm in the fall. Here’s a brief introduction:

Bathea James

Hometown: Johannesburg, South Africa

Age: 53

Previous job: Head of Tuscon (Arizona) Hebrew Academy

New job: Head of Tehiyah Day School in El Cerrito

Favorite Jewish teacher: Her mother, who was a Jewish teacher. “She was passionate about Judaism, she lived every single aspect of Jewish life in the correct way.”

Worst aspect of religious school: A teacher who spent the afternoon screaming. “I was so frustrated that I couldn’t do the after-school activities I wanted to do because I had to attend Hebrew school every afternoon.”

Proudest Jewish artistic moment: Making a mezuzah out of clay.

Bathea James became a Jewish educator accidentally.

A pediatric psychologist by training in her native South Africa, she accepted a job at a new Jewish day school, helping to establish clinical and counseling services. She knew it would be quite different from her job lecturing at a university.

It was. She vividly remembers walking into the auditorium on her first day and seeing 1,500 teenagers singing and praying.

“I realized that Judaism, for these kids, played such an important role in terms of their success and ability to deal with what was a very stressful time to grow up in South Africa,” she said. “It was there that I became very passionate about Jewish education, because I saw that living a Jewish life was possible.”

Her husband accepted a job in Tucson, Ariz. in 1992. She and her two sons followed. James found work as a counselor and part-time administrator at the Tuscon Hebrew Academy, where she eventually became head of school. It was the only day school in the area.

“It’s exciting for me to have colleagues I can work with,” she said. “It’s exciting for me to come into community that recognizes the importance of Jewish education.”

Julie Smith

Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y. and Sherman Oaks, Calif.

Age: 48

Previous job: Head of the Portland (Oregon) Jewish Academy

New job: Head of Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School in Palo Alto

Favorite Jewish teacher: Shoshana, a madricha (group leader) in Habonim Dror, a Zionist youth movement. “She was really inspirational.”

Worst aspect of religious school: “I struggled with too much desk time after a long day of school.”

Proudest Jewish artistic moment: Sewing and embroidering a matzah cover.

Julie Smith is thrilled about leading a Jewish school in the Bay Area. Her previous school, in Portland, was one-of-a-kind in the community.

“To have colleagues that are so close in this area, to work with and learn from and collaborate with will be wonderful,” she said.

Smith, who began teaching in secular elementary schools, never intended to make a career out of Jewish education — until she realized the potential.

“I saw that day schools create this opportunity where Jewish education is an integral part of education,” she said. “It’s not this separation, like, ‘Now I have to do this other thing after school.’ Judaism is engaged and integrated into all of their learning, and it hits at such a core level for them.”

Smith was attracted to Hausner because her Portland school — where she worked for 11 years — had a similar environment. During her tenure at the Portland Jewish Academy, the student body grew from 195 to 370 students. She also oversaw the creation of a middle school.

Hausner has grown in a similar fashion.

“I’m impressed by how Hausner does things, so I want to come in and really take time to listen and learn,” she said. “I want to build on the strong start that’s there.”

Lillian Howard

Hometown: Chicago and Southern California

Age: 44

Previous job: Founding head of Shoshana Cardin Jewish Community High School in Baltimore, Md.

New job: Head of Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto

Favorite Jewish teacher: A Hebrew school teacher named Marilyn Lubarski. “She was engaging and made what we were studying meaningful to us.”

Worst aspect of religious school: Being the first girl to have a bat mitzvah in her Conservative synagogue. “It took a lot of time and study to prove myself. In a sense I was a pioneer.”

Proudest Jewish artistic moment: Making a ceramic Kiddush cup and painting it in honor of her family.

Lillian Howard entered the world of education as a teacher at a secular, independent school. Then, about eight years ago, she transitioned to a Jewish school.

“Independent schools didn’t speak to my heart and soul in the way Jewish day school does,” she said.

Today, her truest passion is pluralistic Jewish education. She’s shared it with students at Kehillah since March, when she became new head of the school.

“A successful Jewish, pluralistic educational community is one that not just supports all of its members — whether students or faculty or parents or board members — but one that really affirms for each person who that individual is,” she said.

Since joining the staff at Kehillah, she has found that her role is to build on “an already strong foundation.”

She’s guiding her staff as they continue to be more interdisciplinary in their approach to academics. The school is also growing its arts program, including dance, yoga, theater, photography and music.

Howard has also helped to expand the school’s beit midrash program, which periodically brings all students and faculty together to learn and debate. Upcoming themes of the beit midrash will include war, peace, health, kashrut and Jewish perspectives on current events.

Steve Bogad

Hometown: Encino and Santa Barbara, Calif.

Age: 59

Previous job: The private sector, and high school principal at the Donna Klein Jewish Academy in Boca Raton, Fla.

New job: Head of Yavneh Day School in Los Gatos

Favorite Jewish teacher: His childhood cantor, Cantor Cane. “He made Judaism meaningful to my life.”

Worst aspect of religious school: “Listening to a teacher drone on and on about a subject that was not interesting to me.”

Proudest Jewish artistic moment: His children’s Passover creations (seder plate, matzah cover, candlestick holders).

Steve Bogad is no stranger to Jewish education. Since 1982, he has served as the head of Jewish day schools in Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Southern California, and now, Los Gatos.

“Yavneh is one of those schools that has tremendous potential but hasn’t recognized it yet,” he said. “It excites me to come in and be a part of that growth.”

Until recently, Bogad had left the Jewish world to work in the private sector. Yavneh needed a new head of school, heard about Bogad’s lengthy resume, and contacted him to see if he’d be interested in applying for the job.

The allure of returning to his passion — Jewish education —proved irresistible.

“I really want to create a model for Jewish education that spans the large diversity of our Jewish community,” he said.

Bogad and his wife, Sheryl, have four children, ranging in age from 35 to 14. His youngest, Kayla, will be a freshman at Kehillah Jewish High School in the fall.

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.