Shalom Torah Academy Has New Principal

Shalom Torah Centers Moshe BakShalom Torah Academy is hoping to launch a better era for the school under new leadership, after a rocky year of financial troubles, layoffs and the hasty departure of its principal of 26 years. Rabbi Moshe Bak, 36, took the reins at the private, largely Orthodox Jewish school Sept. 25. He replaces founder and longtime rabbi Eli Lapa, who parted ways with the school to start his own special education academy in June. Prior to Lapa’s leaving, Shalom Torah had been plagued by a drastic drop in donations upon which the school had come to rely — a slump officials blamed on the economy. It saw the layoff of nine teachers, and the school was at least two months behind in paying teachers by the end of last school year. Shalom Torah enrollment, now at 200 students, is down nearly 20 percent from last year because of the academy’s uncertain future, school board members said.

 “Many times (leaders of faith-based organizations) do things that perhaps the owner of IBM or Steve Jobs wouldn’t do in the investments and decisions you make financially, but you do it because you believe it’s the right thing to do, and you believe somehow it will all work out,” Bak said.

 In Shalom Torah’s case, Bak said, “It didn’t work out.”

But the school is keeping the faith, and officials believe the young rabbi can breathe
new life into the 26-year-old academy. Bak moved to Lakewood from New York last year with his wife and six children, ages 2 to 14, before learning about the opening.

Formerly a dean at Rabbi Jacob Joseph elementary school in Staten Island, Bak said his first order of business as Shalom Torah’s new leader is “opening the school to the community.” He said in the coming months he plans to begin inviting parents into the academy for evening adult lectures on subjects such as Jewish history and Hebrew reading.

“A good school is a transparent school, where parents can come in and it’s not a
show, not, ‘Once a year you come in and watch me teach,’ ” Bak said.

The rabbi already has been restoring confidence among families and teachers, many of whom had felt left in the dark about Lapa’s exit and the school’s financial situation.

“Rabbi Lapa was the heart and soul of this school,” said Estee Hebel, general
studies principal. “But now that they see change is here .T.T. there’s a palpable
excitement among the fellow administrators. Everybody here in the building was eager to bring in new leadership.”

Goldenberg said school trustees are hopeful Bak’s experience in working in
communities of orthodox, conservative, reform and secular students will help the new rabbi reach out to the community and bring back families who left the academy during last year’s turmoil. The school already has cut 20 percent of the $5 million budget it shares with its sister school in East Windsor, and teachers still are not being paid on time, he said.

 Bak also has led teacher training workshops, owned and operated a teachers’ resource magazine with a circulation of about 20,000, and founded Project Innocent Heart, a New York nonprofit aimed at combating child abuse and neglect.

“I think we really picked an excellent principal, and we hope the relationship
continues for many, many years to come,” Goldenberg said.

Bak said he won’t handle much of the school’s finances — he’ll leave that to the 20
or so new board members with financial backgrounds brought in last year. But he says, above all, he hopes the new energy he’s brought into Shalom Torah helps make it a “joyful place” for students to be.

 “The Jewish community wants its children to not only become great citizens in
America and their communities — they want their children to be great Jews, who are
mindful of and love Israel,” Bak said. “When you’re able to come to a school that has
an outstanding curriculum and very rich Judaic curriculum, you get the best of both
worlds, and that’s really something special in my opinion.” Alesha Williams Boyd/APP

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  1. what happened to our tiereh rabbi Lapa was inexcusable with all due respect to rabbi bak and we wish him much hatzlocha on bringing shalom back to its glory rabbi lapa’s exit created a big void.

  2. I know Reb Moshe Bak, he is a mechanech par excellance, comes from a family dedicated to chinuch habonim v’habonos the Bak/Teichman families. I’m sure he will be matzliach in Shalom.

  3. I personally know Rabbi Bak and many people that he has helped with diffrent chinuch issues in the past and he is a wonderfull person / mechanech and i wish you lots of hatzlocho !!! Tizku L’mitzvos

  4. hatzlocha to rabbi bak . hatzlocha to shalom . if there’s anyone donors (philanthropists that can read this please help shalom , they really deserve it .)

  5. Mr Involved:
    I agree; lets not allow this to become a forum for Lason Hora. That said, your comment was totally unnecessary. The entire saga is too complex for you or anyone to announce what happened and why.

  6. This is obviously an article from the secular press who do not know anything about this wonderful school or the Choshuve Rabbi Lapa who was Moser Lev Vonefesh to build it. Enough stupid inuendos about what a school should be (trying to say that it wasn’t). We wish them well but don’t try to insinuate that there was any problem beside money.

  7. I am a friend of a parent at Shalom and she can’t express enough how excited the parent-body and community are with Rabbi Bak. His energy is contagious. In the short time he has joined Shalom so many families have a renewed interest in yidishkeit. I agree with Anonymous and daven that Rabb Bak can bring Shalom back to its glory days.

  8. Rabbi Bak hired me at my first job, in the world of Chinuch. He molds Rebbeim and Children alike, with skill and care. Fourtunate are those who call him “Our Menahel” What a special man and amazing Mechanech! Hatzlacha Rabah! Hatzlacha!

  9. R’ Bak’s praises cannot be sung enough. Most of his tireless work in the field of Chinuch is unknown. We hope STC will appreciate the gem who is their new dean and reap the benefits! Hatzlacha!

  10. I am fine with either of these fine Rabbis for my son, Robert. But I don’t understand why they ever needed so much money to run these schools and all their programs
    I am a Controller of a large company and know well what things cost! We realized very well that there has been some Hanky Panky going on and getting a new board and new principal will not change that

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