Yeshivat Kadimah welcomes new principal

Rabbi Naftali Rothstein

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

Rabbi Naftali Rothstein has assumed his duties as the new principal at Yeshivat Kadimah.

“The board was quite unified in terms of the sort of person we were looking for,” said Jimmy Fendelman, president of the Yeshivat Kadimah board. “When Rabbi Rothstein came to town, there were many things that he said. He was very interested in establishing meaningful relationships with the children and really drawing them out, helping them to discover…how they can grow in their own way.”

Rothstein, 35, is the first full-time rabbi to lead the 3-year-old school. He was hired last month after a lengthy search for a successor to Rabbi Moshe Shulman, who helped create the school and acted in an interim role as its head.

Rothstein is a native of Los Angeles who moved to Israel for his teen years and eventually became a sergeant in the Golani Brigade during his service in the Israel Defense Forces. He later earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Lifshitz College in Jerusalem. After being ordained at Meretz Kollel, he served as the Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus rabbi of the Orthodox Union at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and as director of education for a boys’ post-high school program in Efrat.

Sima Oberlander, chair of the search committee at Yeshivat Kadimah, said Rothstein’s experience with a broad community made him an ideal choice.

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“He has interacted not only within the Orthodox community and connecting with Orthodox students, but also with Jewish students on campus in general,” she said. “We thought that was a really wonderful thing.”

Heschel Raskas, chair of the Yeshivat Kadimah board, said that the institution on the H.F Epstein Hebrew Academy campus has experienced explosive growth. It expanded from 10 students at its inception to 27 this year. He said he believes that Rothstein will continue that trend.

“He brought a great deal of passion for the

mission of the school, not only building a school that makes a real contribution to the Jewish community as a whole but being concerned about how that helps building a community in the long term to be stronger and more vibrant in the future,” Raskas said.

He added that the school has just attained status as a beneficiary agency of Jewish Federation.

“That’s really a very important recognition for the school to receive that after only two years,  beginning our third year,” Raskas said. “That’s exceptionally fast.”

Oberlander said she knows a couple of families who wouldn’t have considered relocating to the area if it did not have a school like Yeshivat Kadimah.

Rothstein, a father of four who met his wife, Tali, in Israel, said he didn’t initially aim for a rabbinic career or one in education. Growing up, he wanted to be everything from a weather forecaster to a park ranger. But ultimately, the rabbinate drew him in and, during his time on the Illinois campus, he began to think about becoming an educator. 

“I got the chance to meet Jewish students from very diverse backgrounds and to build relationships, study and learn with them,” he said. “It was a new beginning to step to the high school level and really work with these same kids before attending college.”

He said that helping each student to actualize his or her potential will be his main focus at the school.

“Everybody has their A, which is their starting point, their B, which is their middle point, and their C, which is their next point,” he said. “To help every single high school student move and make progress and grow — to do that you really have to build relationships with these students, get to know them and have a healthy environment at the school.”

Rothstein said his time in the IDF taught him a great deal about leadership.

“A lot of times people think, ‘Oh, I can’t be a leader, who am I?’ I think every single student, every person, can be a leader,” he said. “It’s really a matter of encouraging students to see their talents and say, ‘You have a talent. You can express it and share with others.’ ”