After nearly two decades, Simcha Pearl is stepping down as the Weber School’s first and only head of school.
“The school is extraordinary, and has been so supportive of me,” Pearl said. “But it’s time to move on to another project. It’s good to do something different and restart.”
Pearl said he doesn’t yet know what he’ll do next. But he has faith that things will fall into place after he leaves the private Jewish high school that was established in Sandy Springs in 1997.
Pearl believes that sometimes, you have to trust that the time is right, even if you don’t have a plan. He looks to the Biblical story of the Israelites leaving Egypt to illustrate his point. Rabbinical scholars believe that in the book of Exodus, when the Israelites reached the Red Sea, it didn’t part immediately. But after one man jumped into the water in an act of faith, Pearl said, and kept wading until he was completely submerged, the sea parted and allowed the Israelites to cross safely.
Leaving the Weber School is not the first time Pearl has hit the reset button.
He started his professional life as a dentist in Albany, NY. But he was always involved in his synagogue and with Jewish summer camps. One day, he realized that dentistry wasn’t what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
“It fed my family but it wasn’t really feeding my soul,” Pearl said. “I eventually realized you can’t run away from what you’re meant to do.”
He began teaching part time at a Jewish day school in New York. When he decided to devote his time to Jewish education, Pearl moved to Israel to participate in a fellowship program on Jewish educational leadership in Jerusalem.
While he was living in Israel, a friend from Albany happened to talk to someone in Atlanta who was working to establish a new Jewish high school. They were looking for a principal; he recommended reaching out to Pearl.
Pearl calls the whole thing serendipity. He visited Atlanta on a lark, he said, at the end of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games.
He had no ties to Atlanta. But he was inspired by the work of the parents who wanted to establish a new, trans-denominational Jewish high school. At the time, there was only one Jewish high school and it catered to Orthodox Jews. The mission of the new school would be to serve all parts of Atlanta’s Jewish community, Pearl said.
“It was a true leap of faith for me,” Pearl said. “You have to combine some faith with some confidence, with some willingness to jump into the unknown.
“I was trusting that I would meet God halfway.”
Judy Robkin is a member of Weber’s board of trustees. Her daughter was the school’s first student. She said the founders of the school knew almost immediately that Pearl was the right man to lead the school.
“People who meet him are very drawn to him. It was pretty obvious from the first day we wanted him. He’s just an exceptional individual. And he just had incredible rapport with the students,” Robkin said.
Robkin said they didn’t expect the first principal to stay with the school for very long.
“We were incredibly, incredibly fortunate to have had the benefit of his amazing educational experience and innovation for all of these years,” Robkin said. “When we initially hired him, we were told if we got someone dynamic… if he stays with us for three years we could consider ourselves very lucky. If he stayed with us five years, it would be amazing … 10 years it would be extraordinary. We’ve been lucky enough to have Sim for 18 years, which is unheard of.”
Robkin said she attributes much of the school’s growth to Pearl’s leadership. She said there were fewer than 20 students when the school first started. This year, there are more than 600.
“People put their faith in him, put their trust in him. The kids are so drawn to him. He’s very charismatic,” Robkin said.
Over the years, Pearl has grown with the school, leading it from its early days with just a handful of students and teachers meeting in trailers.
Pearl said his favorite thing about being the head of school for Weber is the relationships he’s formed.
“Being able to be in constant, dynamic, evolving relationships with all kinds of people. That’s what growing community is,” Pearl said.
Though being the head of the school has been challenging, Pearl said it’s ultimately been his belief in the mission of the school – to mold students into knowledgeable, thinking, responsible, Jewish adults – that’s kept him going.
“The challenge is not to get caught up in the day-to-day challenges and lose sight of why you’re doing all that stuff,” Pearl said.