At the end of this academic year, Rabbi Dr. Joyce Raynor will leave the only workplace she has ever known in the United States. But her stepping down as head of school at the Golda Och Academy in West Orange should not be mistaken as retirement.
Raynor, who was appointed head of school in 2007, will be succeeded by Adam Shapiro, now GOA’s high school principal and associate head of school.
Raynor started in September 1984 as a part-time teacher of Tanach (Bible) at what was then the Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union. She had just moved back to the States after spending three years in Haifa. It eventually turned into a full-time position.
Raynor — who holds a doctorate in archaeology and more recently was ordained as a rabbi at the Jewish Theological Seminary — has not yet finalized her post-GOA plans. But retirement is not in the mix.
“My dream job would be to do something Israel-related,” said Raynor, who once worked as a curator at The Israel Museum in Jerusalem. “After 30 years, it’s time for me and time for the school to go in new directions. This is the only place I have worked in America.”
She became head of school after serving as principal of the upper school for 16 years — part of that time also serving as associate head of school. She also put her own children through the school.
Raynor credits her longevity to the fact that “Schechter was part of my larger community. There was a significant intersection between my teaching at Schechter, my children’s experiences as students there, the fact that many of our friends were Schechter families, and the overlap between our Beth El friends and Schechter friends. It all connected into one whole.”
Raynor and her husband are members of Congregation Beth El in South Orange, where they live.
During the course of her tenure, Raynor oversaw major campus renovations at both the lower and upper school campuses; she raised the school’s endowment from $3 million to $43 million.
She expanded the science and general academic programs, most recently launching the Lynne B Harrison STEM program, which is about to expand to become a three-story center on the upper school campus.
During her term, the school received a major challenge gift from alumnus Daniel Och and his wife, Jane, and the school was renamed in memory of Daniel’s mother, Golda, a founder, teacher, and board member who died in 2010. Raynor also held successful capital campaigns for the upper school that yielded a significant gift from Eric Ross, for whom the school is named, and a second campaign that funded lower school renovations.
Raynor intensified the Israel experience of students, adding a ninth-grade trip in the fall of 2006 that has enabled students to establish relationships with Israeli peers that are nurtured throughout the high school curriculum. And in 2011, she added a teachers’ mission. The school’s Israel education program is regularly cited as a model of best practices at national conferences.
Raynor also oversaw expansion of tuition assistance and affordability programs.
“Joyce Raynor is an extraordinary educator,” said Eleanor Kramer, a longtime GOA board member who served as president, 2008-10. “The depth and breadth of her knowledge, culminating with her recent ordination, means she always can elaborate on a point when someone has a question or issue to raise.”
Referring to Raynor’s appointment as head of school following the abrupt resignation of Seth Linfield in the midst of the economic downturn, Kramer said, “She was called upon at a pivotal moment in the history of the school, a moment of such instability…, and she brought to the position her strength, her optimism, and her vision.” She is, said Kramer, “a wonderful, warm, kind, sensitive individual” who is leaving GOA “an incredible legacy of affordability and strength.”
Raynor has been at the school long enough to have had students who have gone on to become Jewish leaders, some with children enrolled at the school. Among these is SSDS graduate Rabbi Jesse Olitzky, who recently became religious leader at Beth El.
“I remember a few occasions (I promise, only a few!) being sent to the principal’s office as a teenager,” said Olitzky. During most of these visits, he said, he was “looking for guidance, as a student leader and as someone interested in Jewish education. Many of those conversations often ended with me picking her brain. I trusted Joyce’s opinion and perspective as a mentor and as a leader.”
Raynor spoke at Olitzky’s installation earlier this year.
“She showed me what it meant to be a Jewish educator, to not only learn text and teach text, but to build relationships and to build community,” he said. “I never imagined then that many years later, I would be privileged to have that principal as part of my congregation.”
Raynor acknowledged the challenges that will face Shapiro. “We can’t escape demographics and national trends [and] the Conservative movement looks different today from 30 years ago,” she said, referring to the drop in affiliation for what was once America’s largest Jewish denomination.
GOA has absorbed students from other Schechter schools that have closed, including schools in East Brunswick and Bergen County. It closed its own second elementary school in Cranford in 2008.
Notwithstanding the challenges, Raynor said, “there are certain things that haven’t changed. Parents still want their kids to have a good secular education, to become leaders in the Jewish community. Israel is important and Jewish identity, and knowing what that means, still matters a lot.
“And from lots of focus groups among many stakeholders and constituent groups, what came home loud and clear is that Jewish values and Jewish identity are still strong pillars for our community.”