Though Conservative herself, Ann Goldman is clearly comfortable with her new role as head of Olam Academy, the grade school opened last month by Chabad of Somerset, Hunterdon, and Union Counties in Basking Ridge.
“They approached me, so I knew from the start that they were open to hiring someone who didn’t belong to Chabad,” she told NJ Jewish News. “All Jewish children are welcome at the school, no matter what their background or what denomination they belong to. And in appointing me, I think they made that clear.”
Chabad-Lubavitch, the hasidic movement based in Brooklyn, is known for its outreach to non-Orthodox Jews.
At a time when so many have been battling to find a job, this past summer Goldman, who lives in Red Bank with her husband, Fred Stone, found herself with an embarrassment of riches. Looking to move on from a position in New York City with the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, where she had served as executive director for three years, she had three different offers.
“The league job was great, but I wanted to have a more direct, tangible connection with the people I’m trying to help,” she told NJ Jewish News last week. “With the school, that’s what I’ve got. It was amazing, but I believe life is about serendipity, and making the most of the opportunities that come your way.”
She will be working closely with the Chabad center’s director of education, Malkie Herson — whose husband, Rabbi Mendy Herson, is its executive director — and with a first-grade teacher.
So far, the school has seven first-graders, all graduates of its Zimmer pre-school and kindergarten program. The plan is for the Olam Academy — the only Jewish day school in Somerset County — to grow by one class a year, as these children — and any others joining them — move forward.
A big part of Goldman’s job will involve outreach to the community. She has been making contact with local synagogues and the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey. “It will be my role to articulate our mission, and to explain what a non-denominational Jewish education can offer,” she said.
Federation executive vice president Stanley Stone welcomed the creation of the school and said it is an indication of the maturing of the Somerset community and its potential, and the sense of community that Chabad has created. He added, “As everyone knows, the more formal Jewish education and the more Jewish life experiences we provide, the greater the vitality of the community and the stronger Jewish continuity is.”
Key to Goldman’s acceptance of the job was the match she found with the director. “Malkie and I have the same educational philosophy. We see eye to eye,” she said. She talked with equal enthusiasm about the religious education the school is offering, with an optional enrichment program before school and other learning integrated into the regular day, and the interdisciplinary lessons, like those based on material from National Geographic’s Scholastic Division.
Goldman received her MA in learning disability and reading at Teachers College, Columbia University. She taught in Manila, the Philippines; New York City; and in Irvington before moving to West Palm Beach, Fla., in 1989. While there, she taught reading to elementary students at the Arthur I. Meyer Jewish Academy, while doing doctoral work on the impact of head injuries on reading skills. She also worked as an adjunct instructor at Florida Atlantic University’s Education Department in Boca Raton. She moved back to New Jersey in 2000.
She clearly relishes new challenges. Moving out of the classroom, Goldman accepted the position as director of planning and allocations at the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County. In that capacity she helped create Monmouth’s Commission on Jewish Education, before moving on to work for the Women’s League.
She brought up her own children, a daughter of 29 and two sons, ages 21 and 18, with a mixture of Jewish day school and public school education. “Having been a public school teacher myself, obviously I believe in the value of public education,” she said. “But the public schools — because they deal with such diversity in the classroom — are shackled when it comes to teaching values. They’ve foregone the responsibility for teaching civics.”
On the other hand, she said, a school like Olam “offers a safe environment in which to be exposed to Jewish values. The beauty of it for parents is that at home you can take your Judaism as far as you want; you don’t have to be any more observant than you choose to be.”