History of LA Hebrew High School
Los Angeles Hebrew High School was organized by the Bureau of Jewish Education in 1949 through the efforts of Dr. Samuel Dinin, who was then the Executive Director of the Bureau.
The school opened its doors at the Menorah Center in Boyle Heights in September, 1949 with an enrollment of 36 students. Dr. Jacob Sokol, a serious Hebraist, was the first president. He was determined to see that a Hebrew high school would grow and flourish in Los Angeles and took it upon himself to make certain that it happened.
Dr. Michael Slatinsky was the first and only teacher; Dr. Dov Bin Nun was the principal. In September 1951, as the Jewish population shifted westward, the school moved to the Beverly Fairfax Jewish Community Center.
In 1953 Dr. Michael Slatinsky assumed the principalship of the school and persuaded Samuel Farkas to become its president. Within a year, the school had moved its classes and administrative offices to the Olympic Jewish Center, now known as Temple Beth Am. Rabbi Jacob Pressman worked closely with the school and on behalf of the school, championing its cause within his congregation and in the community at large.
Under the leadership of Dr. Slatinsky and Samuel Farkas, the enrollment began to grow, and soon Hebrew High realized there was a need for other “branches.” The school had to expand to meet the needs of an expanding Los Angeles Jewish community, which was becoming increasingly widespread in its geographic layout.
In September 1954 a second branch of Los Angeles Hebrew High School opened at the Valley Jewish Community Center, now known as Adat Ari El, and in 1957 branches opened at Valley Beth Shalom and at the Alhambra Synagogue Center (now known as Shaarei Torah).
Maxwell Markwell assumed the presidency in 1958, Samuel Farkas returned in 1959 for another term and Sol Rosenberg became president in 1960. Those years saw continual and steady growth in the school’s enrollment. In the 1960 – 1961 school year, there were 230 students enrolled in the school. It was at that time that United Synagogue, Pacific Southwest Region volunteered, along with the Bureau of Jewish Education, to cosponsor the school.
By the 1964 – 1965 school year there were 295 enrolled students. An agreement was reached between the school, the Bureau and the University of Judaism whereby the educational program of L.A. Hebrew High would be supervised jointly by the Hebrew Teachers College of the University of Judaism and the Bureau of Jewish Education.
Matthew Berman was president of the school in 1961 and served until his death in 1968. During that time he secured from his friend Samuel Fryer, the philanthropist, a significant endowment. Samuel Fryer bequeathed 10% of his estate to Los Angeles Hebrew High School; the $250,000 endowment became the foundation for the school’s secure future.
In 1963 the Bureau of Jewish Education established a ten-week summer Ulpan in Israel for qualified upper grade students. Hebrew High enthusiastically joined this program and continuously provided the overwhelming majority of its participants.
Between 1968 and 1970, during the principalship of Dr. Slatinsky and the presidencies of Fred Fine and Herbert Abrams, the school’s enrollment climbed to 500 students. In 1970, during the presidency of Erwin Lebow, Rabbi Sheldon Dorph was appointed as school principal; a new era of growth and renewed commitment to Conservative religious practice and ideology had begun.
Lebow was succeeded by Francis Mintz as school president and during those years, under the dynamic and energetic leadership of Rabbi Dorph, the school expanded and flourished. Rabbi Dorph recruited and trained a new exciting cadre of Jewish educators and created a vibrant community of administrators, faculty, students, parents and lay leaders. Hebrew High faculty developed, wrote, and published materials that ultimately became nationally known textbooks for the teaching of Hebrew Language (The Shlav Series).
Additionally, Hebrew High faculty developed a set of materials for the teaching of the books of Genesis and Exodus utilizing classical Hebrew texts (The Kriatenu Series). The Shabbaton Weekend Program as a nonformal educational tool was developed and a book detailing how to run a Shabbaton Weekend Program was published by Hebrew High faculty (Taubman and Warmflash).
The late 70’s and early 80’s brought many changes to the Jewish community of Los Angeles. Suburban “sprawl” moved large numbers of Jews to outlying communities. Suburban synagogues became “mini Jewish Community Centers” and to attract more members, began offering a range of programs including enhanced classes for Jr. and Sr. high school students. To assist the synagogues, the Bureau of Jewish Education began offering standardized teenage programs which incorporated formal and nonformal experiences (Dor Chadash,Havurat Noar, Chalutz.) Many Hebrew High students transferred to these programs which were closer to home and required less hours of study.
Rabbi Phil Warmflash lead the school from 1984-1988. Rabbi Yaakov Rone served as principal for one year in 1988 – 1989 followed by Arlene Lepoff Agress as Acting Principal in 1989-1990.
From 1989 – 1996, the presidency was assumed by Dr. David Farkas. He was not only the first alumnus to serve as president, but also the first “second generation” leader. This was a great source of pride for the school, for it signaled the realization of one of our major goals – “To develop the next generation of Jewish community leadership thereby ensuring our spiritual survival.”
In July 1990 Ben Zion Kogen became principal. Under his direction and Dr. Farkas’ guidance, the school strengthened its curriculum, expanded its branches, created more flexible programming and initiated a Senior Seminar program. This college style seminar provided Hebrew High seniors with the opportunity to learn from and interact with prominent Conservative rabbis and educators from the community.
The president’s mantle passed to Jules Porter for two years, 1996 – 1998. Carol Askuvich assumed the presidency in 1998 and the following summer Bill Cohen was hired to be the new Los Angeles Hebrew High School principal. Howard Lesner succeeded Carol Askuvich as president in 2002.
The 1999 – 2000 school year ushered in a new Hebrew High principal as well as a new branch in the West Valley. Sixteen students attended the West Valley branch the first year. By 2003, in only its third year of existence, it grew to be the second largest Hebrew High branch with 90 students (exceeded only by the Agoura branch with 110 students).
In 2001, Dalia Orion-Oz our current Head of School joined the Hebrew High administration as Hebrew coordinator and Assistant Principal and began creating a new standardized curriculum of Hebrew study. Levels 1 – 3 have been written and implemented entitled “Ot ve Od”, “Gesher le Bet”, “Kesher le Dalet” and “Kevar Begimel”.
In April 2003, the Los Angeles/Tel Aviv partnership of the Jewish Federation was launched and LAHHS hosted 15 Israeli students from Ironi Dalet High School in Tel Aviv. Israeli and American students joined together for 10 days to learn about Jewish religious pluralism in Los Angeles. Throughout the year, our student participants in the program learn with their Israeli counterparts about what it means to be a Jew in the Diaspora, Israel history and our shared heritage. A highlight of this program is the December trip for the LAHHS students to fly to Israel and experience first-hand the lives of their new Israeli friends. .
Today, Hebrew High boasts an enrollment of nearly 350 students. Students study at nine branches across the greater Los Angeles area including Santa Clarita, South Bay, Agoura, West Hills, Encino, Pico/Robertson and West L.A. Our Sunday location at Pierce College provides us with a large campus to learn and grow together.
For the 2008 – 2009 school year and on into the future, Los Angeles Hebrew High School will continue to provide an excellent level of academic scholarship to its students as it has for the past 61 years.
Adapted from the Accreditation Report of Los Angeles Hebrew High School, 1997