The following is adapted from a speech delivered by Aaron Sarfati, President of TASA, at Congregation Rodfei Sholom on April 11, 2015, announcing the renaming of TASA.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach.
I am tremendously humbled by the opportunity to make the announcement I’m about to make on behalf of the Torah Academy of San Antonio, particularly because of the meaning this announcement will have on the Rodfei community.
But before I get to the particulars of the announcement, I’d like to take a moment to talk about what we’ve seen with the school so far and where we hope to take it. It’s important that I discuss this first as a prelude to the announcement to set the foundation for why this is so meaningful.
Last time I spoke to you from this bimah, TASA was nothing more than a vision with a website. But TASA has been open for almost two full school years, and in that time we’ve seen a dream become a reality. We’ve done a lot of things well and we’ve learned a lot from what I will call “growing pains”. We still have a lot of growing and learning to do. But the one thing we’ve gotten 100% correct from the very beginning was to establish a fundamental understanding of what we want the school to be and what kinds of students we want to have walk out of our doors. Our mission statement, written almost three years ago during our exploratory days, says in part the following: we want to provide high quality “Torah and Secular education for our students by instilling in them strong Torah values, ethics, and Middot.” We knew from the very beginning that it wasn’t sufficient to open a school that taught high quality secular studies or in-depth Judaic studies without incorporating a strong emphasis on living an ethical, moral, and Torah values-based life.
We’ve taken this part of our mission seriously. From our Middot Marathons, to our Tzedakah projects, our holiday programs, our family projects, to our new CHAMPS classroom & behavior management, raising our students with strong Torah-values, ethics, and Middot is not just something we preach – it’s something we practice. And the results are impressive. For example, those of you who had the privilege of having a TASA student at your Pesach seder know exactly what I’m talking about – the manners, the insights, the interest…it’s amazing to observe.
We grew over 30% from our first year to this year and we anticipate similar growth for next year. That means expanding our footprint here at Rodfei, purchasing additional curriculum materials, increasing our lab and technology capabilities, hiring new staff, and many other needs.
We have an excellent administrative team leading us in Mr. Michael Tamaren and Rabbi Yossi Marrus, who have really taken us to the next level – our first year test results for many of our grades showed performance in the top 10% nationwide compared with other private schools. We’re a few months away from receiving full academic accreditation, and we’re a school driven by actionable data. Our teachers are trained to quantitatively assess each student, and in conjunction with administration, develop appropriate academic plans, whether those plans are corrective to bring a student up to and above grade-level expectations or take top-performing students and push them even further. And this methodology doesn’t simply apply to our secular studies, but has also been implemented in our Hebrew and Judaic studies. Using these data sets, we’re able to help each student perform at the peak of their ability.
I spoke earlier about how we’re not only proud of our strong, high-quality academic programs, but principally focused on the middot expressed inside our school and by our students. We believe it is important to focus on Torah values, ethics, and middot not simply because they are morally good things to do, but because we believe those are foundational attributes of our future Jewish leaders. We’ve recently adopted a new motto for our students – “Enter to Learn, Exit to Lead”. Being a good and honorable person, we believe, is a quality that is an absolute necessity for our new generation of leaders.
So what does this have to do with our announcement? Well, we take this part of our mission so seriously that we’ve decided to change our name to more accurately reflect our dedication to raising our next generation of morals-based leaders.
About a year and a half ago, this community lost a pillar of chessed, of loving kindness. Someone for whom the monikers Tzadik & Chassid are purely accurate. He was a person as humble as they come, with an enormous heart and an even bigger smile, with a great love for the Jewish people, and with a great love for this community.
He was someone who poured his heart and soul into everything he did, never expecting anything in return – preparing countless Shalosh Seudases, serving as Rodfei’s lead gabbai for many years, baking thousands of Challahs, preparing literally hundreds of Mishloach Manot, handing out candies to the children (always making sure they remembered to say Shabbat Shalom and Thank You), taking care to water the Shul’s plants, providing a Siddur turned to the correct page to someone who didn’t have one – the list goes on and on. And that’s only a partial list of the things most people knew he did.
In his final months, which consequently were TASA’s first months, he worked tirelessly making sure the school was ready. From buying school desks at auction, to providing laptops and printers, to helping decorate the classrooms, he was there making sure TASA was a success.
And in one of his final public moments, many of you will remember that for Neilah, he was standing by the Aron and was offered a stool to sit in. But he refused. He refused because he wanted to show his pride and strength as a Jew and as a member of this community.
Shmuel Bass, z”l, was someone who embodied the very essence and ideal of who we want our students to become. Humble leaders, filled with a joy for life, a drive for the Jewish people, a passion for goodness and kindness. We want to instill our students with the values Shmueli espoused and lived innately on a regular basis. It gives me great pleasure to announce that the Board of Directors of TASA unanimously approved honoring and remembering Shmueli’s life by renaming our school to the Shmuel Bass Torah Academy of San Antonio.
I can’t think of a better way to memorialize such an important staple of our community than with this honor.
We are about to recite the Yizkor service. Yizkor is a prayer established on two basic principles, according to our Rabbis: that prayers, combined with Tzedakah, have the ability to spiritually elevate the neshamas of the departed and that Hashem’s mission for every person is, succinctly put, “olam chesed yibaneh”, “to build a world of kindness”.
Many in this room in just a few minutes will recite as part of Yizkor the following words: “Etayn tz’dakah ba-ado. Bis-char ze T’hay nafsho tz’rurah Bitz-ror hacha-yim”, “I shall give to charity on his/her behalf. In this merit, may his/her soul be bound in the Bond of Life.” With the unconditional blessings of Shmueli’s family, I invite each and every one of you to take part in elevating Shmuel’s neshama in Gan Eden by taking part in this name change. In the next few days, you will receive a letter in the mail from TASA explaining how you can participate. I ask you to please consider this appeal – to remember Shmueli and to ensure the high quality education of our next generation of leaders continues.
Shmueli would not have wanted this honor, unless he knew the community would support it and that it would benefit the community and our school.
I also invite the community to attend our annual closing evening on June 7. We’ll have a little showcase of our school with our students, describe our plans for the future, and unveil the plaque with our new name and recognizing all those who took part in this moment. There will also be one more surprise at the end of that night.
I also invite the community to visit our website to take a peek at our school and find out more about our upcoming events, including our Kinder Round-up on April 24 and our big Casino Night Celebration on May 10.
As we close the Chag of Pesach, a holiday whose primary purpose is “Higgadeta levinchah”, teaching our children, our progeny and our future leaders, the stories of our ancestors, it is my sincere hope that you will join me and the Shmuel Bass Torah Academy in remembering and honoring a life to be emulated by all of us and by the future leaders to be educated in the halls of our school.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach.
A copy of the letter presented to Ronen Bass, on behalf of the Bass Family: