Akiba Head to Leave, Headed to Israel

After almost 16 years as head of Akiba Hebrew Academy, Rabbi Philip Field will be leaving the position and moving to Israel, according to a recent announcement released by the board of the Merion Station school.

Said Field, of Bala Cynwyd: "There were rumors for awhile because my kids were making aliyah, and my love for Israel and the school's love for Israel was no secret. So, more than if, [it] was when."

Field will remain as headmaster until next June, at which point, he and his wife, Diane, now senior leadership philanthropy officer at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, will move to Jerusalem. In the past three years, three of their four children have made aliyah; the fourth will make his move this summer.

But Field's transition will not mean the end of his involvement with Akiba, which is reportedly the oldest secondary Jewish day school in North America, serving more than 300 students in grades six to 12.

His first year in Israel, he will take a sabbatical year, and serve as director of Akiba's Israel programs and as its Israel alumni coordinator.

As part of these paid positions, Field will work to oversee and further develop a program that gives juniors at the school the opportunity to spend their first semester in Israel.

According to Field, a large majority of the class takes advantage of the program each year. In addition, according to the rabbi, more than 200 alumni have made aliyah, providing an opportunity for Field to connect them to Akiba students who participate in the semester abroad.

In addition, during his sabbatical year, the 59-year-old will help coordinate the school's trip to Eastern Europe – covering Prague, Krakow, Lublin, Warsaw and visits to death camps – that many students and parents take each November. He also plans to return to the states several times a year to help with fundraising efforts, and to develop endowment and bequeathal programs.

"Everyone is aware of the impact he has on the school in all areas, including academics and Jewish-study areas, extracurricular activities, its reputation among the university segment, the [Israel] program and fundraising," said Mitch Cohen, president of the school's board. "After [his first] year is over, our hope is that we will continue in a long-term relationship with him."

Prior to his time at Akiba, Field, who grew up in Chicago, served as the head of the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy outside of Kansas City, Kan., and as the head of Kadima Hebrew Academy near Los Angeles.

Cohen added that Field – the longest-tenured headmaster in the school's history – will be named head of school emeritus following his sabbatical year.

According to Cohen, Akiba has already begun the process of searching for Field's successor.

Cohen appointed two past presidents of the board to head up a 12-person search committee, which will represent parents, students, alumni, members of the rabbinate, the administration and the board.

"We decided to have a wide breadth of exposure on the committee," said Cohen. "We wanted to make sure that all denominations of the Jewish community were represented."

The group's first organizational meeting is planned for mid-May; the position is expected to be filled by January.

Though his affiliation with the school isn't over and his departure is still more than a year away, Field said that he will be leaving both an institution and a community that have become a large part of his life.

"I will miss the daily challenges and excitement of working with bright, committed high-school youth," he lamented. "To be a part of that stage of their lives has been a blessing."



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