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October 05, 1990 - Image 101

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-10-05

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vices, is better than anyone
When he's not giving his
daily sermon, Dr. Smiley is
often found in the classroom
giving mini-lessons on Jew-
ish topics. He also teaches a
Jewish values and concepts
class to seventh grade
students and an eighth-
grade Talmud course. He be-
lieves teaching is another
aspect of his commitment to
Jewish education.
Rabbi Elliot Pachter of
Adat Shalom Synagogue,
who became friends with Dr.
Smiley while at the Jewish
Theological Seminary, said
Dr. Smiley "gives the
• students a sense of love for
Judaism." His educational
efforts aren't reserved for
just the children. Dr. Smiley
begins every board meeting
with a 10-minute Torah
study session.
Rabbi William Gershon of
Congregation Shaarey
Zedek, another seminary
friend who now teaches at
Hillel, said he is continually
amazed by Dr. Smiley's
knowledge of Judaism and
the seriousness of his com-
mitment to education.
"I was impressed by his
perception and ability to get
at the heart of the issues,"
Rabbi Gershon said. "He's
very up on everything con-
cerning Jewish education.
He's literally on the cutting
edge of Jewish education.
Not only does he know the
Jewish sources, but he has a
sense of leadership."
Terran Leemis, a Hillel
board member, said it was
Dr. Smiley's strong educa-
tional credentials and
leadership abilities which
prompted the board to re-
cently name him head-
The title is new, but Dr.
Smiley is no stranger to the
duties of headmaster.
Although his official title
for the past two years has
been principal, Dr. Smiley,
has been acting the role
of headmaster which in-
cludes overseeing educa-
tional programs and being
an advocate for the school in
the Jewish community.
The new title is a recogni-
tion of what his position has
been and will continue to be,
said Dr. Smiley, who was
named principal in 1988
when Rabbi Robert Abram-
son left to take a job as direc-
tor of the department of edu-
cation of the United Syn-
agogues of America. His ap-
pointment will not diminish
Rochelle Iczkovitz's role as
principal, he added.
Dr. Smiley's interest in
Jewish education began long
before he came to Detroit in

1987 as Hillel's assistant
His parents, Holocaust
survivors, taught him the
importance of Judaism and
education, he said. His
father, a Chasidic rabbi,
reinforced the lesson while
he was growing up in Toron-
In 1976, after attending
high school at the Commun-
ity Hebrew Academy of
Toronto, he enrolled in the
University of Toronto, where
he spent one year at Hebrew
During the late 1970s, he
was heavily involved in the
fight to release Soviet Jews,
marching in demonstrations
in Ottawa, Canada's capital.
He got a chance to travel to
the Soviet Union. The condi-
tions Soviet Jews faced, fur-
ther influenced his decision to
become an educator. "I still
see myself as a Jewish ac-
tivist," Dr. Smiley said. "It's
kind of funny to see myself
as the leader of an estab-
lished Jewish educational
In 1980, he entered the
Jewish Theological Semi-
nary. After completing a
master's degree in Jewish
education in 1982, he began
working on a doctorate and
took a position at the
Solomon Schecter Day

School of Westchester, N.Y.,
as teacher and coordinator of
computer studies.
Although he had known
his future wife, Aviva
Silverman, in Toronto, they
began dating while they
were earning masters'
degrees at the seminary and
married within a few years.
The couple now have two
children, Yeal, 3, and Dov, 1.
Rabbi Pachter, who lives
near the Smiley's Farm-
ington Hills home, said,
"He's a wonderful father."
At Dov's brit milah last
year, Rabbi Pachter said, "It
moved me to see the love and
the awe he had of becoming
a father. He's become a role
model for me now that I'm
going to be a father."
Much of Dr. Smiley's
knowledge and educational
inspiration come from his
participation in the three-
year Jerusalem Fellowship
program in Israel. It was
during this experience
which began in 1984 that his
philosophy on Jewish edu-
cation took shape. "The
Jerusalem Fellowship
underlines who I am," Dr.
Smiley said. Long interested
in seeking ways to use the
computer in the classroom,
Dr. Smiley spent his
fellowship years meeting
with prominent educators to
discuss classroom tech-

niques and working on the
problem. But he discovered
advance technology is not a
substitute for the warmth of
a teacher, advice he still
follows at Hillel. The school
has computers in the
classrooms, but they are not
the primary educational
"Computers can teach
facts," Dr. Smiley said. "A
computer cannot ask a stu-
dent how he's feeling or cat-
ch a tear in a child's eye and
offer help."
"Computers give the sense
that everything is black and
white. I don't believe in that
vision," he said.
Instead, he believes Jew-
ish ethics teach that not
everything can be neatly
divided into right or wrong
answers, only better ones.
He encourages students to
seek out those better an-
swers, not just within the
school setting, but to look
outward to the world and
find ways to improve it.
Hillel students are
reminded to improve the
world every day as Dr.
Smiley recites the aleynu
during morning service.
While students are silently
reading the prayer, Dr.
Smiley reads out loud the
words which remind us of
our obligation to improve
God's kingdom. It's a phrase

he takes to heart and expects
his students to do the same.
"He envisions people
treating other people with
respect. That's what he be-
lieves in," Rabbi Pachter
Since being named prin-
cipal, Dr. Smiley has in-
troduced social action pro-
jects including Open
Minds/Open Arms, which
matches Hillel students with
those in Detroit's Ilene
Elementary School.
Whether Hillel children
are working with Jewish
Association for Residential
Care, raising money for
Operation Exodus, making
200 mezuzot for newly arriv-
ed Soviets, or spending time
with the elderly, Dr. Smiley
believes the social action
programs sensitize children
to the needs of the world.
Dr. Smiley is well aware of
charges from the general
community that Hillel
parents are wealthy and the
students are more interested
in their new pair of expen-
sive running shoes than in
others. But those accusa-
tions are untrue, he said.
While two-thirds of Hillel
parents can afford the school
tuition, one-third get finan-
cial assistance, he said.
Children from homes in
Farmington Hills and West
Bloomfield learn that not
every Hillel student comes
from a wealthy family.
"We are living in a time
where we need to teach Jew-
ish children how to live in a
world of affluence," he said.
"We need to teach them they
are not owners of the world,
but caretakers and super-
visors. In a world of af-
fluence, we need to limit the
spending and materialism. I
think we do it quite well."
"I think we try to make
our students into sensitive
and caring Jews, what
Maimonides calls a ment-
sh," he said. "We want them
to be a major part of the
community, be knowl-
edgeable in all aspects of
Jewish literature, and have
a love for Israel and the Jew-
ish community. We try to
educate them to see them-
selves as the Jewish leaders
of the future!'
The children aren't the
only ones involved in social
action projects, Dr. Smiley
said. He encourages parents
to participate in helping Yad
Ezra, Detroit's only kosher
food pantry, feed the hungry.
It's an offshoot of the
school's family education
Dr. Smiley believes
parents must play a strong
part in the education process
at Hillel, he said. Hillel


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