On November 22, at the annual gala dinner, Valley Torah High School honored Rabbi Avrohom and Mrs. Peshy Stulberger for over 30 years of dedication to the school. When Rabbi Stulberger came to Valley Torah as the Torah Studies principal in 1986, the school only had 27 students total. Within a few months, Rabbi Stulberger became Head of School and began to build up the school. Currently, there are 90 girls and 120 boys at Valley Torah.
Rabbi Stulberger’s first challenge was the divisive atmosphere in the Valley due to the community leaders’ different visions for its schools. Rabbi Stulberger approached a rabbi outside of the Valley Torah circle and requested permission to teach a daf yomi class in his beis midrash. The rabbi not only readily agreed, but committed to attend the shiur, together with other rabbis. Slowly, the rifts in the community began to heal. “There was a new sense of achdus, a new ruach,” says Rabbi Stulberger. “I knew we would make it. Torah grows in the atmosphere of achdus.”
Rabbi Stulberger feels very blessed to be part of Valley Torah and to work together with its incredible staff and board members. The school’s mission, he explains, is to prepare its students for college in an atmosphere where they can grow spiritually. In the age of rapid change, the school strives to keep up with the latest trends in education so that the students would be prepared to pursue a career in today’s world. In addition to using technology in the classrooms, the school developed an IDEA lab. “IDEA” is an acronym for “innovation, design, entrepreneurship, art.” At the lab, the students have opportunities to experiment, innovate, and collaborate on various projects, and make presentations about their work. The lab is equipped with the latest tools, including 3-D printers.
While Torah learning at Valley Torah has remained constant, the way the material is taught has also changed over the years. “The old system doesn’t work,” says Rabbi Stulberger. “Our job in today’s world is to sell Torah to kids, to excite them about the Torah life.” He explains that today’s Torah teacher needs to be an entertainer. Rabbi Stulberger teaches 12th grade boys. “When I finish a shiur I am sweating, I had a workout,” he says. To make the gemara alive for his students, he brings cases relevant to them, such as a fender bender where the gemara is discussing an ox and a cow.
Rabbi Stulberger also gives a mussar shmuess at both the boys’ and the girls’ schools. The students get a chance to ask questions in an accepting, open environment. “One of my roles in the school is to address the Torah’s stance on contemporary issues,” he says. “Today, every school needs to be a kiruv school.”
In addition to his work at Valley Torah, Rabbi Stulberger also serves as head of the local yeshiva principals’ council – an organization comprised of about twenty principals of Orthodox Jewish schools in the Greater Los Angeles area. The council meets to discuss issues relevant to all the schools. “We try to create a sense of achdus among the schools,” says Rabbi Stulberger.
The principals’ council also convenes a beis din to determine school placement for children in complicated situations. “We feel the collective responsibility,” says Rabbi Stulberger. “Each Jewish child belongs to a Jewish school.” The beis din determines which school should accept a child who doesn’t have a school to go to. To keep the process unbiased, elementary school principals handle high school cases, while high school principals handle elementary school cases. Once the beis din reaches a decision the school is bound by the terms of the council agreement to accept the child. While there have been cases where no school was able to accommodate the child due to special needs, the council and the schools do their best to accommodate as many children as they can.
When it comes to school placement, Rabbi Stulberger’s advice to parents is to choose an elementary school based on their own goals, but to choose a high school based on the student’s. “It is a terrible disservice to many kids to push them into a too religious environment, which begins a slow process of drifting away,” says Rabbi Stulberger. “There is no such thing as a better school. There is only the right school for that child.”
Rabbi Stulberger also served on the halachic advisory board of Aleinu, the Orthodox division of the Jewish Family Services. As part of the board, he was involved in issues of molestation and abuse in the community. “It’s challenging when people don’t want to press charges,” says Rabbi Stulberger. He feels strongly that the Jewish community is not equipped to deal with abuse on its own. “If a crime has been committed we need to let the authorities know,” he says. “We can’t expect rabbis to be crime fighters.” While people might hesitate to report members of their own community, it is the only way to ensure that the perpetrator doesn’t cause any more damage. “One more victim is one too many,” says Rabbi Stulberger.
Another area of Rabbi Stulberger’s community involvement are issues relating to gender and marriage. Behind the scenes, he helps struggling young adults get the help they need. “It’s not easy,” says Rabbi Stulberger, “but if there is a desire on the part of the individual to live a life of marriage and children then it is possible.”
Besides his official duties, Rabbi Stulberger impacts the community members by his own example. Mrs. Stulberger recalls that a student who had recently transferred to Valley Torah was asked to help set up chairs for an assembly. The student was stunned to see Rabbi Stulberger himself also setting up chairs. He knew that this was the school where he belonged.